Words Fiona McIntosh, pics Shaen Adey, Fiona McIntosh and Dyer Island Cruises
The Agulhas Plain, which stretches from Stanford to Cape Agulhas, the southern tip of Africa, is a treasure trove of beautiful wineries, flower orchards and croplands studded with arty towns like Baardkeerdersbos and Napier. But it’s perhaps best known for its whale watching and other marine activities. Here are 5 reasons to swing off the road if you’re driving through.
Ogle a great white shark
The little Overberg dorpie of Gansbaai is proud of its moniker as the Shark Cage Diving capital of the world. A number of operators will take you out from Kleinbaai harbour to view the ferocious-looking predators. Once a shark is attracted you can ogle it from the boat (which is actually the best viewing) or don a wetsuit and mask and venture into the steel cage hanging off the side. If you dare!
Take whale watching tour
Getting up close and personal with a southern right whale is an awe-inspiring experience. And while nothing’s ever guaranteed when it comes to watching wildlife, sightings of whales, great whites sharks, bottlenose and humpback dolphins, Cape fur seals and a host of sea birds including penguins, four species of cormorants and Cape gannets are common on Dyer Island Cruises’ whale and bird watching tours. If you’re hoping to see southern right whales your best chance is between July and December, with August to November generally being the peak season.
Drive to Danger Point Lighthouse
Built in 1865, the Danger Point Lighthouse occupies a dramatic location just east of Gansbaai and is worth a visit for that alone. But the fact that it houses the Birkenhead Memorial is what draws the crowds. The plaque honours those who died in February 1852 when the HMS Birkenhead struck an uncharted rock and sank. 445 men were lost but the event is remembered for the gallantry of the officers and crew who stayed on board while the women and children were helped into the lifeboats. The Birkenhead drill, “Women and children first”, is now the standard naval practice when evacuating sinking ships.
Note that Danger Point Lighthouse is not open at weekends! Hours are Monday to Friday (excluding public holidays), from 10h00 to 15h00.
Visit the Bredasdorp Shipwreck Museum
Of course the HMS Birkenhead is only one of a multitude of ships that have gone down off this wild southern Cape coastline. Read accounts of that fateful night, and of other tragic shipwrecks on the Agulhas Reef, and checkout the figureheads, cannons, coins and other artefacts that have been recovered from the wrecks at this fascinating maritime museum in Bredasdorp.
Mingle with the kids at Domino Goat and Cheese Farm
A visit to this working goat farm on the outskirts of vibey Napier is a great way to entertain both two- and four-legged kids. Tours of the farm, which include tastings of their fabulous goat milk cheeses and homemade preserves, are available on request. www.dominofarm.co.za