The Most Southerly Motorhome in Africa

It only seems a few weeks ago that SOK was the Most Northerly Motorhome in Ireland (old post here). The NAVI-SOK went into competition the other day, claiming the prize for most southerly motorhome in Africa……

Overview: 3 days, 471 km

From Kleinmond, we continued our route east on South Africa’s Whale Coast. It’s much prettier and much less developed than I’d expected; small towns located on a coastal strip with mountains behind.

We passed through Hermanus,which is apparently one of the best places in the World from which to view whales from land. They even have a town “whale crier” during the whale season.

A bit further along the coast, Gansbaai is the self-proclaimed “Great White Shark Capital of the World”. We stopped for fuel and the very first thing the petrol pump attendant asked was whether we were going shark cage diving (once we’d got the shark issue sorted, she then got round to asking how much fuel we wanted). She looked disappointed at first when Mark told her I was refusing to go anywhere near a great white shark, but it then turned out that despite being a local, she hadn’t been shark cage diving herself. She’d been offered a free ticket once, but had bottled out on the day. “If the shark wants to bite, it’s gonna bite” were her thoughts on the matter…… I can’t fault the logic…..

We drove out to Danger Point just outside Gansbaai (passing a sign that said “coming soon – crocodile cage diving”). When we got there, we found out that we could climb the lighthouse for the paltry sum of 16 Rand (less than £1) each…..

I loved this lighthouse: it’s a full-on Victorian prefab in beautiful condition.

Isn’t it odd that we’ve had to travel all the way to South Africa to discover a major British company we’d never previously heard of?

Chance Brothers was the biggest British manufacturer of window and plate glass back in the 1830s. It introduced all kinds of innovation in glass making, and in 1848 moved into the production of specialist glass for lighthouse optics, telescopes and cameras. (as a quick aside, Chance Brothers glazed the Crystal Palace for the 1851 Great Exhibition and also supplied all the glass for the Houses of Parliament).

From 1851, Chance Brothers became a major lighthouse engineering company, shipping prefabricated lighthouses all around the World (they were based in Smethwick in the West Midlands by the way, although I can see why they thought “near Birmingham” on the plaque might work better for an international audience).

The reason we’d driven out to Danger Point wasn’t actually to see the lighthouse (so that was a bonus!) but to see the Birkenhead memorial. I’d noticed a reference to the 1852 Birkenhead disaster in one of the leaflets we’d got from the tourist office in Cape Town; we both agreed that we’d come across this disaster before (in the last few months), but neither of us could remember where!

It turned out that we’d heard about it when we visited The Argory, a National Trust property in Northern Ireland, in August last year; one of the members of the family who lived at The Argory has survived the Birkenhead disaster (old post here). That’s one of the good aspects to keeping an online diary – you can just search for the details of all the stuff you’ve only retained a vague recollection of!

Getting back to the point, at 2am on 26 February 1852, the steam paddle troopship HMS Birkenhead (carrying troops, horses and civilian passengers) hit an uncharted submerged rock off Danger Point. The ship sank in under 20 minutes. There were 193 survivors but over 400 casualties. The Birkenhead disaster gave us what is now known worldwide as the Birkenhead Drill: “WOMEN AND CHILDREN FIRST” (this order given by the captain of the Birkenhead on realising that the available lifeboats were insufficient). All 20 women and children on board were saved. We’ve learned plenty of other stories: 1) the troops were ordered to remain on deck by their officers, fearful that the lifeboats might be swamped by swimming men (and they valiantly followed these orders); 2) eight of the nine horses on board survived, one making it back to Cape Town in 48 hours, thus alerting the authorities that something was amiss; and 3) one of the soldiers was taken by a great white shark whilst swimming to shore, having given up his place in a lifeboat to a civilian. We have no idea how true any of these tales may be!

We did see a small display of personal items recovered from the wreck site:

From Danger Point, we drove down to the most southerly point of Africa at Cape l’Agulhas, spotting baboons (wild) and ostrich (in a fenced field) along the way:

Cape l’Agulhas is the dividing point between the Atlantic and Indian oceans:

A map of Africa was installed here in 2017. It’s supposed to symbolise all kinds of stuff (no man-made borders shown so represents African unity etc), but it’s a shame they didn’t build an elevated viewing platform so you can see it properly from above:

The NAVI-SOK was definitely the most southerly motorhome in Africa whilst we were parked up at the point, and I strongly suspect that he retained the title throughout Thursday night as he was the only motorhome staying overnight on the most southerly campsite in Africa (there was also one tent….), situated a mere couple of hundred metres or so away.

On Friday morning, we visited the Cape l’Agulhas lighthouse (we’re on a lighthouse roll!):

This one is built of local stone (the design of the base is supposedly Egyptian-inspired) and has three very steep staircases then a ladder to get to the top. Here’s Mark on a staircase and the top of the ladder:

Mark says that he preferred the Cape l’Agulhas lighthouse; I definitely preferred the Danger Point lighthouse. I’m pretty sure that it was just the sheer lack of health and safety at Cape l’Agulhas that attracted him!

From Cape l’Agulhas, we drove to the De Hoop Nature Reserve. We were now on mainly gravel roads, passing through a landscape of open farmland. De Hoop has a range of animal species, but the main thing we saw here was bontebok:

There are some huge sand dunes down by the coast:

De Hoop has a marine protected area as well as the land-based nature reserve; around 120 southern right whales come here to calve and breed between July and November each year. That must make for fantastic viewing. The reserve also promises a wide variety of resident and migratory birds, though we didn’t see many on the day we visited.

From De Hoop, we continued on our way, reaching the camp site at Bontebok National Park near Swellendam. The camp site is lovely (easily the nicest we’ve stayed on so far in South Africa), and it wasn’t long before some of the local wildlife popped by to say hello.

A leopard tortoise (the tortoise pictured in our last post was an angulate tortoise; we’ve seen a few more of those since. This is our first leopard tortoise):

masked weaver bird:

small grey mongoose (that’s the species name, not just a vague description I’ve dreamed up!):

Bontebok National Park is South Africa’s smallest national park, created as a home for the once endangered bontebok; at one point, bontebok numbers fell as low as 17 individuals. It’s quite ironic that nowadays, the biggest population is actually at De Hoop Nature Reserve!

We drove around the national park this morning (Saturday). The scenery here is lovely:

In terms of wildlife, the main things we saw here were bontebok, red hartebeest, and some very impressive koppie foam grasshoppers:

This afternoon, we popped into nearby Swellendam, which is South Africa’s third oldest town (founded in 1745). The local museum includes three buildings; the Drostdy (built by the Dutch East India company in 1747 as the home and offices of the head honcho or Landdrost, photo below), the old gaol, and a house built in the 1850s presented to show how the middle classes lived in Swellendam in the late 19th century.

The small white thatched buildings behind the gaol caught my attention (we saw some very similar ones near Cape l’Agulhas on Thursday): they look almost Irish….

We’re staying on the camp site at Bontebok National Park again tonight, then the plan is to put a few kilometres behind us in the morning and drive down to Mossel Bay on the coast.

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