Searching for South Africa's real tip

CHRIS PRITCHARD
Last updated 05:15 07/06/2014
Agulhas
Wikimedia Commons

SOUTH OF THE SOUTH: Africa's real southern tip is at a place called Cape Agulhas, 225kms from Cape Town.

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"Welcome to the African continent's southern tip", grins my guide as we park at Cape Point.

Nearly every visitor to Cape Town visits Cape Point, many believing they're at Africa's southernmost extremity.

But they aren't. I know she's wrong yet decide to keep silent. After all, she makes sense: South Africa is the most southerly of Africa's 53 nations and we're in its deepest south.

However, a quick glance at a map reveals Cape Point to be both Africa's south-western tip and also the southern tip of the Cape Peninsula - where scenic Cape Town is the biggest city.

Don't get me wrong. Cape Point is well worth visiting. It's almost a must.

A resident troop of light-fingered baboons waits in the car park. I remember advice to hold tightly onto cameras, phones and handbags if I don't want them flung into a sea swirling angrily beneath a nearby look-out.

Cute wombat-like animals known as dassies - native rock hyraxes, sometimes called rock rabbits - loiter near rocky vantage points look-outs in the hope of being tossed a snack. A funicular railway whisks visitors up to a disused lighthouse.

Charming it may be but Cape Point certainly isn't Africa's southern tip. Frustrated tourism officials say the myth is perpetuated by guides. Reason: it's only 58km from downtown Cape Town so can be folded into day trips also stopping at other diversions.

Africa's real southern tip is even further south at a place called Cape Agulhas, 225kms from Cape Town.

It requires a special trip. At least an overnighter is recommended and there are several pleasant places to stay. As somnolent Cape Agulhas raises its profile, more tour companies are offering trips there.

Reaching Cape Agulhas, where the Indian and Atlantic Oceans meet, means driving through farmland and rural villages of Western Cape province and skirting uncrowded white-sand beaches.

Then, over a slight crest, I suddenly find myself at my destination: a sleepy hollow that's Africa's real southern tip and successfully making so much noise that it's attracting a growing trickle of foreign visitors.

Local activities include fishing, whale-watching (southern rights pass by between July and December), horse-riding, swimming and hiking. Or you could do nothing and just chill out.

One of the shortest hikes, a 1.5 hour circular trudge, takes me takes me from Agulhas Country Lodge to a spot where I gaze into thick ocean mist almost totally shrouding the sea. Below me, frothy waves crash onto rocks. Whether they belong to the Atlantic or Indian Oceans I have no idea - but it's where a pair of great oceans meet.

"This is the true southern tip of the African continent," says a local resident, wiping sea spray from his jaw as he points to wet rocks beneath us.

"In winter the sea's really rough and stormy with huge waves crashing against the coastline - as if the two oceans are at war with each other."

He drives me past a long, empty beach on the way to a Shipwreck Museum in the nearby town on Bredasdorp. It's crammed with bric-a-brac from sailing ships wrecked off this treacherous coast.

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We pass between the vineyards of South Africa's most southerly wine zone en route to the quaint fishing village of Kassiesbaai, which has national heritage listing and is populated mostly by Cape Coloured (mixed race) families living in small, whitewashed thatched cottages.

A large cave is an additional attraction - it's so big, locals boast, that wagons pulled by 10 oxen had no trouble turning around inside. I return to Cape Agulhas for a final night.

Next day, time-warp tranquillity recedes and traffic increases as bustling Cape Town draws closer.

Back at my hotel, a British visitor reminds me to see Cape Point because it's Africa's southernmost tip. I tell him it's no such thing and that he should go to Cape Agulhas if he really wants to get to the bottom of this big continent.

He looks dubious, telling me pityingly that I'm wrong. I sense that he won't bother visiting Cape Agulhas. 

IF YOU GO

STAYING THERE: Cape Town has many options, including luxury hotels, B&Bs, mid-market properties and backpacker lodgings.

South Africa's biggest chain, with five-star and mid-market properties, is Protea Hotels. A good Cape Agulhas option is Agulhas Country Lodge.

PLAYING THERE: On any itinerary, be sure to include Cape Town's top attractions: Table Mountain (with cable car to the summit), Robben Island (reached by ferry, a former offshore prison where anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela was imprisoned) an the wine country just beyond the city.

A reliable driver-guide in and around Cape Town, and also to Cape Agulhas, is Brian Vandayar who runs Jorvan Tours.

MORE INFORMATION: southafrica.net

The writer travelled as a guest of South African Airways and South African Tourism.

- AAP

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