If you’ve ever got out of the car at Cape Point and watched helplessly as your hat sails over the viewing rail then you’ll be comforted to know that the place to which we send over a million visitors a year has – officially – the worst weather anywhere on South Africa’s coastline.
Cape of Good Hope? Cape of Storms, more like it.
This was the name given to the Cape Peninsula by the more realistic Portuguese. Cabo Tormentosa was their more apt name for it and with good reason. It blows at gale force for nearly a third of the year at Cape Point, the famous tip of the peninsula that is still home to the country’s most powerful lighthouse. Not that the lighthouse is all that effective: there are over 650 recorded shipwrecks off the peninsula alone and you can see several in the Cape of Good Hope Reserve – forlorn-looking tangles of rusty iron draped in cormorants and barnacles.
Realising the Cape of Storms needed to sound a bit more attractive to sailors, Portuguese King John II choose a more enthusiastic description: Cape of Good Hope and the air of positivity was buoyed by Walter Raleigh, noting its fair and stately beauty as he sailed past in 1580.
And on a fine sunny day it certainly is the fairest cape. The views take in two oceans – the Indian and Atlantic – as well as the meandering skylines of several mountain ranges. Flowers are out, animals are visible and busy, and the sea sparkles in happiness.
It’s wonderful, don’t get me wrong, but for me the Cape of Good Hope is best explored after a storm has churned everything up from the ocean and drenched the fynbos in rain. After all, with five percent of the world’s marine coastal species and a plant list longer than Canada’s, you’d expect the Cape of Storms to have a few surprises in store for the early morning beachcomber.
Perhaps too there is another side to my excitement at wandering the Cape’s wild, wave-thumped beaches: we’ve been doing it here since the Early Stone Age – that goes back to 600 000 years ago – finding our food at low tide and after a storm: washed-up seals, palatable green seaweeds, torn-off clumps of mussels – it’s all there at your feet. The Khoisan who lived in the Cape before anyone else knew the coastlines well (the Dutch settlers called them Strandlopers – beach walkers) and in the case of the Khoisan living on the Cape Peninsula, they barely ventured from the coast by all accounts. Even the other Khoisan thought they were a bit odd.
It may have been several hundred years since the Strandlopers foraged at on these beaches. You can drive there now of course but once you enter the Good Hope Reserve the landscape is virtually unchanged and the imagery is the same – it’s Cape Point after the storm.