History comes to life at iconic Cape Point

There’s nothing quite like really learning and experiencing a place through its own memories and history. Think of it as reading the entire book, instead of just the synopsis – you’re guaranteed to remember far more from the experience. And experiences are what shape our memories.

One unmissable experience in South Africa is Cape Point, located in the Cape of Good Hope section of Table Mountain National Park.

Whether a domestic or international traveller, chances are you’ve visited the destination at least once – or it’s certainly on your Cape Town to-do list. Maybe you’ve taken a trip on the Flying Dutchman funicular, you’ve marvelled at the view while dining at the Two Oceans Restaurant, or you’ve bought a few souvenirs or gifts for friends and family from the shops.

But the best thing about any journey is to return with a head full of stories, and Cape Point has many of them. These stories can now be experienced through a free audio tour, which shares some of the stories from their Cape Point Moments campaign which launched recently when the Cape Point concession celebrated its 20th birthday.

The Cape Point Moments campaign shares a series of 12 of the most intriguing stories reflecting the site’s rich history, from conservation and wildlife to ghosts and shipwrecks.

The iconic tourist attraction has grown from strength to strength to become one of South Africa’s most popular tourist attractions, and saw a milestone one million people from around the world pass through its gates last year.

This number has risen dramatically, according to the Cape of Climbs story.

In 1877, the lighthouse-keeper started a visitor’s book for people who had walked to the lighthouse. One visitor wrote that the climb was a “Hades of an ascent”. Other guests begged for a road to make the journey easier.

In one year, there were just 70 entries in the visitor book. Considering most visitors came in groups of five, that’s only about 14 groups making the journey.

Fortunately, a road was in fact built in 1915 and visitor numbers began to climb steadily. For years, the Flying Dutchman bus service transported visitors from the car park to the lighthouse and other viewing sites, but it was still described as a rather terrifying journey by many. In 1996 the funicular railway, also named The Flying Dutchman, was built.

Today, more than one-third of all visitors to Cape Point take the funicular to the top. As Cape of Climbs states, “it’s safe, it’s smooth, it’s silent, and it’s a lot more environmentally friendly than a bus”.  But you can still take a stroll back down along the road originally taken by the Flying Dutchman bus.

Perhaps the bus was preferable, however, to sailing around the Cape during a stormy winter in the 1800s. Faced with jagged rocks, strong winds, rough seas, and low clouds shrouding the shore, it’s not all that surprising that at least 26 ships met a tragic end in the perilous waters of Cape Point alone.

Despite seafarers describing Cape Point as “treacherous” and “frightening”, many captains chose to save time by staying close to the shore, and its shallowly submerged rocks, instead of heading further out to sea and adding several days to their journey.

The Cape of Storms story details how this was the wrong decision for many. Fortunately, however, it is from such seafarers seeking shelter along the coast of the moments that we have areas like Simon’s Town today.

Cape Town. Cape Point. Aerial. At the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve. Early morning. RSA.
©Alain Proust/iAfrika Photos

The bus and the funicular take their name from the legendary Flying Dutchman ghost ship that is said to still stalk the site’s shores today, having gone missing at sea in 1641 while returning from trading in Indonesia.

As the ship approached Cape Point, the weather turned. Whether it was the love of his family or the greed of his bounty that spurred him on is not known, but Van der Decken was determined to push forward through the storm.

He swore an oath: “I shall round this damned Cape, even if I have to sail until Doomsday comes.”

It is said that his wish was granted, and miraculously the waters calmed. But the ship and its entire crew were doomed to sail the seas around Cape Point – forever cursed. There have been countless sightings over the years, with all descriptions bearing striking similarities. Cape of Ghosts tells the full story.

When next you’re at Cape Point, keep an eye out for Captain Van der Decken and his crew navigating the waters. And spare a thought for the lighthouse keepers who spent many hours in solitude, with nothing but the wildlife and sound of the sea for company.

Visit Cape Point to learn more, read the stories on the Cape Point website, or listen to all the Cape Point Moments podcasts here.

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