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The Southernmost point of Africa

Agulhas, South Africa

semi-overcast 20 °C

On the South coast of South Africa, about 280 kilometers from Cape Town, two oceans meet at the little town of Agulhas. It is this collision of two very different oceans that creates one of the most dangerous stretches of coast in the world. Divers, explorers and researchers also know this stretch of coast from the Cape of Good Hope to the Eastern Cape as Shipwreck Coast. This weekend we stayed in Arniston which is approximately 40 kilometers and a 30 minute drive away from Agulhas. There are about 4000 permanent residents in this area between Agulhas and Arniston.

Little towns install a different feeling in people. The sky is clearer and bluer and the air cleaner. Life moves at a slower pace than in the city and people practice Il Dolce far niente without ever having heard of it. Il Dolce far niente is an Italian saying which can be translated as “the sweetness of doing nothing”. It describes a pleasant idleness which can only be found when you know the value of doing nothing.

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Driving away from Cape Town, snow can be spotted on the mountains in the distance which could be a sign that we are in for a cold weekend. As we progress through the countryside, the air becomes blue and clear and after a little rain a beautiful rainbow can even be seen.

1. Pre-rain skies
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2. Countryside
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3. Double rainbow outside Caledon
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4. The rainbow seen from the house
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5. The house in Arniston that we stayed in
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On the first night we didn’t do anything, but relax inside the house under blankets in front of the fire. On Saturday we drove to Agulhas. This area was named Cabo das Agulhas by the Portuguese in the 1500’s. It means Cape of Needles, because the Portuguese navigators noticed that Magnetic North coincided with True North in this region. The name can also refer to the jagged edges of the coast. Until the 20th century the area was known as Cape L’Agullas. Today the town is known as L’Agulhas with the area known simply as Cape Agulhas. The name change is a result of French influence in the Cape. To get to the point you drive through L’Agulhas and park close to the lighthouse. The last few meters to the official meeting point of the Indian and Atlantic oceans has to be walked. This official point has been chosen by the International Hydrographic Organization.

6. Walking to the most Southern point
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7. The official meeting point of the Indian and Atlantic Oceans
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After having a quick snack on the benches by the point, we headed back to the lighthouse. The coastline of this area is so dangerous that a lighthouse just had to be built. Numerous wrecks can be found along the coast. Dangerous winter storms and waves which can reach 30 meters high gave this piece of coast its reputation. The very shallow Agulhas bank and very strong winds, combined with the conflicting currents of the warm Agulhas current and the cold Benguela current creates a nightmare for any navigator. One of these ships was the Japanese Meisho Mauro which sank as recently as 16 November 1982. She was carrying 240 tons of tuna on that fatal day. Luckily all 17 crew members managed to swim to shore.

8. The Meisho Mauro on the spot where she ran ashore.
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9. Climbing to see the actual ocean
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10. This is where oceans meet
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These types of waters can sink even large ships. For this reason, the Agulhas lighthouse was built in 1848. Michel Breda, mayor of the Cape at that time, gave a part of his farm, Zoetendalsvalleij, for the lighthouse to be built on. It is modeled after the Pharos of Alexandria. This is the second oldest lighthouse in the country and at the time of its completion it cost approximately £12 000. The lighthouse in Green Point, near Cape Town, is the oldest. L’Agulhas is also the only settlement in South Africa that developed around a lighthouse.

11.The lighthouse
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There are 71 steps to the top of the lighthouse. They are in fact not steps, but straight-up ladders. Going to the top was easy. Coming back down, I was trembling a little. The lighthouse keeper’s house has been transformed into a small museum and coffee shop. The light of the lighthouse was first lit on the 1st of April 1847. They choose a very good day as this is also my birthday! A Frenchman, Le Paute, was the engineer of the optical apparatus for the lighthouse and this was where the French name L'Agulhas was attributed to.

12. Climbing to the top
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13. View from the top
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14. View from the bottom
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15. Hyperventilation time
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16. Fibre glass figurehead of the French ship, Marie Elise, that was wrecked on 6 November 1877P1040764.jpg

After all this stressful climbing, we had some lunch at a nearby restaurant. Next we headed to Struisbaai where there are more shops to buy some things for dinner that night.

17. The most Southern Cafe in Africa
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18. Shopping for dinner
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19. 11356 kilometers away from Tunis, the most Northern point in Africa
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We then returned to Arniston to continue the rest of our exploration of this dangerous coast.

Posted by Anja Fourie 11:54 Archived in South Africa Tagged coast south shipwreck lighthouse storms blue_sky atlantic_ocean indian_ocean eat currents arniston Comments (1)

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