TRAVEL
Lead me to the lighthouses
By Toast Coetzer
Friday, March 07, 2014

From Port Nolloth in the west to Cape Vidal in the east, the South African coastline is dotted with lighthouses — beacons for passing ships. For us landlubbers, these six are worth a visit

GOODMORNING,PATERNOSTER: The Cape Columbine lighthouse stands sentinelonCastleRock, watching over the AtlanticOcean just before sunrise

ome are squat and to-the-point, like cricket umpires. Others, like Slangkop in Kommetjie, are long necked and svelte. Some are plain white; others are painted black and white like a chessboard; a few resemble red-and-white barbers’ poles. (The different colours and patterns make 
it easier to distinguish the lighthouse from its 
surroundings when you’re out at sea.)

The Port Nolloth Lighthouse is just a lattice tower behind the weather office, but it does its job just as well as the fort-like structure that keeps watch over the southern point of Africa at Cape Agulhas.

Leave your preconceptions at the door when 
you enter a modern lighthouse. There’s no Dulux dog chewing on a paint roller in the corner and the lighthouse guard doesn’t have a bed and a reading lamp pushed up against one of the curved walls. Most lighthouses don’t even have permanent staff on the premises any more; a computer turns the light on and off.

However, like the few remaining manual telephone exchange operators on the platteland, there are still a handful of proud lighthouse stewards who get up every day to do their job, even if it’s just to change a roll of graph paper.

It may be empty, but the interior of a lighthouse still has an antique feel: a hint of polished copper; countless layers of paint; a stuffy, salty smell; 
iron spiral stairs that echo your footsteps back to you as you climb to the top. Touch the thick, heavy glass of the giant lamp. Shoulder the iron door open and walk out onto the narrow balcony.

Look at the sea: somewhere on the horizon, a cargo ship is going past on the nautical N1, from Cape Town to Durban and maybe on to Europe or the Far East.

Without lighthouses, more ships would have 
run aground along our rough, unpredictable coastline. Yes, lighthouses helped build South Africa. At night, when that lonely shaft of light slices through the darkness — a straight line between the shore and that ship — it’s keeping someone on course, keeping someone safe.

1 CAPE COLUMBINE

This 15 m-high lighthouse has been in service since 1936. Cape Columbine — near Paternoster on the West Coast — was named after the Columbine barge that sank here in 1829.

The lighthouse, which looks like the rook piece in chess, was designed and built by HC Cooper, the SA Railways lighthouse engineer at the time.

Can I stay there? Yes, there are three cottages with equipped kitchens and braai facilities.

Contact: lighthouse.tourism@transnet.net

GOOD MORNING, PATERNOSTER: TheCape Columbine lighthouse stands sentinel on Castle Rock, watching over the Atlantic Ocean just before sunrise

2 CAPE AGULHAS

I’ve been fortunate enough to see the signal of the Cape Agulhas Lighthouse from the sea, on the way back from Marion Island in the Southern Ocean.

It was such a relief to see this light cut through the darkness. To me, it was a sign of coming home, but for regular seafarers it represents safety: there’s the shore and I should keep my distance.

After Bartolomeu Dias became the first European to sail around the southern tip of Africa in 1488, it quickly became the main trade route between Europe and the East.

The lighthouse is 27m high and has been in use since 1849 — it’s the third oldest lighthouse in the country. (Green Point Lighthouse in Cape Town is the oldest.)

There’s a museum and a restaurant on the premises. If the 
weather is dismal, wait out the rain with a hot cup of coffee.

The lighthouse falls within the Agulhas National Park, but the 
entrance fee is the same as the others along our coastline.

Can I stay there? Not at the lighthouse itself, but there are several guesthouses in the nearby towns of L’Agulhas and Struisbaai.

Opening times: Monday to Friday, 10 am to 4.30 pm.

3 CAPE ST BLAIZE

This plucky white lighthouse stands 20.5m high, with an expansive view of Mossel Bay. Bartolomeu Dias named the headland on which the lighthouse stands in 1488. He called the bay Bahia de Sao Bras, after Saint Blaise — a Turkish physician who was martyred in AD 316.

Martin Peterson has been the lighthouse steward here for the past seven years. Robert Mhlaluka (who was busy painting the lighthouse when we visited) is his assistant 

The lighthouse was erected in 1864. Until the late 1970s it used a mecha-nical clockwork system to turn the lens, which required a lighthouse keeper to climb the tower and wind it every three hours! These days, it’s fully automatic, but officials Eddie Crafford and Floors Steenberg keep a watchful eye over proceedings.

HIGH AND DRY: The light at Great Fish Point can be seen from 32 sea miles away.

Can I stay there? Yes, there’s a self-catering guesthouse on the property that sleeps six people.

Opening times: Monday to Friday, 10 am to 3 pm. Bet-ween October and April the lighthouse is also open from 10 am to 3 pm on weekends.

Contact: lighthouse.tourism@transnet.net

 4 GREAT FISH POINT

The view at Great Fish Point is one the most beautiful in the Eastern Cape. Drive north from Port Alfred along the R72 for about 25 km, then turn seawards along a slightly dodgy dirt road.

Only when you climb out of your car at the 9m-high lighthouse will you see what makes this place so special. The lighthouse was built on a high dune ridge, 76 m above sea level, and you see forever down the coast.

The Great Fish Point Lighthouse was built back when the Kowie River at Port Alfred was still used as a harbour. The reefs at Riet Point and Stalwart Point (north of Great Fish Point) proved dangerous: the Waterloo (1848), SS Kilb-rennan (1907) and SS Cariboo (1928) all sank nearby. More recently — in 2005 — the Greek ship Kiperousa went down with a cargo of 8,000 logs, each weighing three tons!

Can I stay there? Yes, there are two guesthouses next to the lighthouse, with views to thrill, plus a swimming pool and jungle gym.

Opening times: Weekdays, 10 am to 3 pm. (Make an appointment if you want to visit on a weekend.) Contact: lighthouse.tourism@transnet.net

5 CAPE RECIFE

This 24 m-high black-and-white lighthouse stands on a windswept point and has been guiding vessels past the southern point of Algoa Bay and into the Port Elizabeth harbour since 1851.

The lighthouse was closed for renovations when the staircase was being replaced — but it reopened in April 2012.

THE POINT: The Cape St Blaize lighthouse is situated 52m above sea level. The Cape St Blaize Cave is directly below the lighthouse

Before you get to the lighthouse, you pass the South African Marine Rehabilitation and Education Centre. St Croix Island in Algoa Bay is home to a huge African penguin colony and SAMREC looks after the young penguins washed ashore near PE. They’re also always on standby in the event of an oil spill.

SAMREC is open every day (except Christmas Day and New Year’s Day) from 9 am to 4.30 pm. Tours are held throughout the day; the penguins are fed at about 2.30 pm. Cormorants and gannets are also treated at the 
rehabilitation centre.

The Flying Penguin coffee shop is open 
Tuesday to Sunday, from 10.30 am to 4 pm. Two hiking trails — Libby’s Loop (a 10-minute stroll) and the four-hour Roseate Tern Trail — start and end at the centre.

Can I stay there? Not at the lighthouse, but Pine Lodge is nearby.

6 UMHLANGA ROCKS

Proper lighthouse tourism sadly grinds to a halt as you enter KwaZulu-Natal. While there are many pretty light-
houses to see, none of them is open to visitors at the moment.

SURF’S UP! The Umhlanga Rocks lighthouse is unmanned and automated, like most of our lighthouses

You’ll have to make do with leaning over the fence and taking a picture just to say that “you were there”. Check out North Sand Bluff lighthouse in Port 
Edward (a popular tourist destination in the past — let’s hope it reopens soon), the chequered lighthouse at Port Shepstone (on a knoll overlooking the mouth of the Umzimkulu River) and Cooper Lighthouse on the Bluff in Durban (tip: drive down the road to Brighton Bazaar for a mean bunny chow).

Probably the most photographed lighthouse on the KZN coast is this one at Umhlanga. It has been in commission since 1954 and has no official lighthousekeeper.

Can I stay there? The Oyster Box Hotel (www.oysterboxhotel.com) has a view of the lighthouse.

It’s quite posh — you might have to sell your caravan to afford a night here! The high tea is delicious. For more affo-rdable options, visit www.umhlanga-rocks.com.

Contact: info@umhlangatourism.co.za; www.umhlanga-rocks.com

Gallo Images

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