Stompneuspunt beacon

View of Stompneuspunt beacon from inside Shelly Point
View of Stompneuspunt beacon from inside Shelly Point

During the course of a West Coast road trip late last year, we stopped at the unmanned Stompneuspunt beacon. This striking, squat structure sits at the southern end of St Helena Bay. To get there, we had to drive through the eerie, deserted, badly laid out Shelley Point golf estate development (tell the guard at the gate that you want to visit the lighthouse). Persistence through the maze of narrow roads turning in upon each other is well rewarded.

Stompneuspunt beacon
Stompneuspunt beacon

The green-painted lantern house atop the structure looks like a minaret, and the whole building looks like an exotic transplant from the Middle East. The beacon is situated on a beach of coarse sand covered with thousands of empty mussel shells and inhabited by flocks of cormorants. The mussel shells wash up after winter storms and red tides, and because of predation by rock lobsters and other shellfish.

Stompneuspunt beacon
Stompneuspunt beacon

The beacon was commissioned in 1934, at which time it was a pyramid-shaped wooden structure. The present building was completed in 2001. The tower is 8 metres high, and the focal plane of the light is 12 metres above sea level. The intensity of the light is a modest 1,403 candelas, but this beacon doesn’t have to compete with much in the way of onshore light pollution. It’s visible from 10 nautical miles away.

Stompneuspunt beacon
Stompneuspunt beacon

Hit up Lighthouses of South Africa for more information on this charming light.

Cape Recife lighthouse

The road to Cape Recife lighthouse
The road to Cape Recife lighthouse

My favourite lighthouse in Port Elizabeth (the others are the Hill lighthouse and the Deal light) – and possibly anywhere in South Africa – is Cape Recife. It’s magnificently situated on a headland at the south end of Algoa Bay, surrounded by shifting sand dunes (which sometimes complicate road access after high winds) and rocky reefs. I visited it very early one morning, with only fishermen about.

Cape Recife lighthouse
Cape Recife lighthouse

Cape Recife lighthouse was commissioned in 1851, the fourth lighthouse to be commissioned in South Africa. Of those still operational, it is the third oldest (after Green Point and Cape Agulhas). It comprises an octagonal masonry tower. It was originally painted with bands of white and red; today (as you can see from the eleventy million pictures I took) it’s painted black and white. This change was made in 1929.

Cape Recife lighthouse
Cape Recife lighthouse

The tower is 24 metres high, with focal plane 28 metres above sea level. The light’s intensity is 4,000,000 candelas (compare the Deal light’s 592,000 candelas) and is visible from 29 nautical miles away.

Lantern house of Cape Recife lighthouse
Lantern house of Cape Recife lighthouse

The Cape Recife light has the only large lens in South Africa that rotates on a steel track, resting on brass and steel rollers. The other large lenses (for example at Slangkop) float on a bath of mercury, an arrangement which has the advantage of being virtually frictionless. This allows for much faster and smoother rotation, with no wear and tear on the component parts. Unfortunately frequent exposure to mercury entails serious health hazards.

Tower of Cape Recife lighthouse
Tower of Cape Recife lighthouse

The lighthouse is situated next to the Cape Recife nature reserve, which has excellent bird watching. A small fee to enter the area is required – permits obtainable at Pine Lodge Resort (or possibly at the gate). Check before visiting. No diving is allowed in the area, and you will be fined if you are found with dive gear in your vehicle. SANCCOB (formerly SAMREC) runs a seabird rescue centre on the way to the lighthouse. If you visit SANCCOB, and get your entry ticket stamped to prove it, the permit fee is waived.

Cape Recife lighthouse
Cape Recife lighthouse

It’s possible to go inside the lighthouse on weekdays, by calling ahead to make an appointment. The number on the sign outside was (041) 507 2484. If dialling from outside South Africa, replace the (041) with +27 41.

Footsteps on the sand outside Cape Recife lighthouse
Footsteps on the sand outside Cape Recife lighthouse

Lighthouses of South Africa has a lot more information about this gorgeous lighthouse, along with extensive pictures of its interior.

Happy new year!

Detail of the Piazza Mosaic a the Donkin Reserve Detail of the Piazza Mosaic at the Donkin Reserve

Happy new year to all of you! May 2019 be less “interesting” than 2018 was. And in case it isn’t, let’s all continue to do what we can to make our corner of the world happier, safer, cleaner, and more sustainable.

The Hill lighthouse (decommissioned)

A visit to Port Elizabeth can be very rewarding for the lighthouse enthusiast, with no less than three lights in close proximity. The Hill lighthouse is the oldest, and is almost in the centre of the town. It was commissioned in 1861, at which time it was seven metres high, and retired in 1973 when the competition from surrounding city lights became too intense.

The Hill lighthouse in Port Elizabeth
The Hill lighthouse in Port Elizabeth

It is a brick structure, and was originally stone coloured. In 1903 the eight panels of the tower were painted alternate bands of white and red, and in 1907 the entire tower was painted white (as it is today). In about 1921 a red band was painted half way up the tower.

The old lighthouse keeper's house (now home to NMB Tourism)
The old lighthouse keeper’s house (now home to NMB Tourism)

The lighthouse keeper’s cottage below the tower was built in 1865 for Charles Hammond, the first lighthouse keeper, who served until 1881.

The lantern room of the Hill lighthouse
The lantern room of the Hill lighthouse

The Hill lighthouse was raised by nine metres during 1929-1930 in an attempt to distinguish it from the lights of Port Elizabeth, and was finally replaced by the Deal light, a short distance out of town, when it became apparent that as the city got larger and brighter, the Hill light was being overwhelmed.

The lens of the Hill lighthouse
The lens of the Hill lighthouse

There isn’t a lot of information available about the optics of this lighthouse, given that it hasn’t been in use for 45 years. It appears that a Chance Brothers lamp apparatus was installed in 1903, with a German-built optic, but more than that I haven’t found. Chance Brothers were glassmakers, who pioneered surrounding lighthouse lamps with a cage of fresnel lenses to make the light visible over greater distances.

The lantern room of the Hill lighthouse
The lantern room of the Hill lighthouse

The Hill lighthouse is situated in the Donkin Reserve, a surprising open space high on a hill overlooking the city and the harbour. The area is planted with indigenous vegetation, and boasts beautiful open spaces and a magnificent 470 square metre mosaic (the Piazza Mosaic) showing elements of the history and natural attributes of the city and surrounds.

A detail from the mosaic at the Donkin Reserve
A detail from the mosaic at the Donkin Reserve

Also on the Donkin Reserve, and right next to the lighthouse, is a ten metre high stone pyramid erected by Sir Rufane Donkin in memory of his wife, Elizabeth, after whom the city was named. Donkin was acting Governor General of the Cape Colony from 1820-1821, sent here to recover from the death of his young wife.

View of Port Elizabeth harbour from the Hill lighthouse
View of Port Elizabeth harbour from the Hill lighthouse

It’s possible for the public to visit and climb the lighthouse, from which beautiful views of the city are visible. As with most lighthouses, the climb is narrow and vertiginous, but recommended! You can find more information about visiting hours here. There’s a nominal fee but the opening hours are far more favourable than most lighthouses I’ve visited. You just need to go into the tourism office under the lighthouse, tell the person on duty you want to climb the tower, and get further instructions there.

For more on South Africa’s lighthouses, check out Lighthouses of South Africa.

Newsletter: Gremlins

Hi divers

Weekend dive plans

Sunday: shore dives at Long Beach

Monday: boat dives from Simon’s Town, conditions permitting

We had a small gremlin interfere with our newsletter timing yesterday and for this we apologise.

We had decent conditions on Wednesday with dives in the vicinity of Roman Rock. There was a dirty layer on the surface, but underneath there was clear water with visibility of about 12 metres. Today we are taking visitors from Port Elizabeth to explore some local dive sites.

Roman Rock lighthouse on Wednesday
Roman Rock lighthouse on Wednesday

It is the Cape Town Dive Festival this weekend, held at False Bay Yacht Club, so the slipway will be quite busy. I plan for student pool training on Saturday, shore dives at Long Beach on Sunday (working the students hard) and boat launches on Monday (a glorious public holiday).

If you are keen for a shore dive on Sunday or want to be kept in the loop about boat dives on Monday, let me know.

regards

Tony Lindeque
076 817 1099
www.learntodivetoday.co.za
www.learntodivetoday.co.za/blog/

Diving is addictive!

To subscribe to receive this newsletter by email, use the form on this page!

The Cape Agulhas lighthouse museum

Cape Agulhas lighthouse
Cape Agulhas lighthouse

The ground floor of the Cape Agulhas lighthouse is devoted to a lighthouse museum and curio shop/tourist information centre. The museum is small, but well worth investigation if you’re a lighthouse buff.

Poster display about the Cape Agulhas lighthouse
Poster display about the Cape Agulhas lighthouse

There is a large number of posters on display, covering the history of the Agulhas light and the surrounding area, as well as lighthouses around the world. There is also a selection of lenses and other historical lighthouse and rescue equipment.

Display of historical lighthouse paraphernalia
Display of historical lighthouse paraphernalia

Entry to the museum is included in the lighthouse entrance fee.

Cape Agulhas lighthouse

View of Cape Agulhas lighthouse from the seaward side
View of Cape Agulhas lighthouse from the seaward side

The Cape Agulhas lighthouse is the most visually pleasing lighthouse that I’ve visited so far. Tony and I visited it while we were staying at De Hoop last September.

View of Cape Agulhas from the top of the lighthouse
View of Cape Agulhas from the top of the lighthouse

Cape Agulhas was named by the Portuguese from their word for needle. During the 1500s, when they were plying Southern Africa’s coastline, the magnetic declination in the area was approximately zero, meaning that there was no deviation between true and magnetic north, and the compass needle pointed to true north.

The door at the top of the tower
The door at the top of the tower

(Technical sidebar: Cape Agulhas lay on an agonic line during the 1500s. An agonic line is a line on the earth’s surface along which the magnetic declination or variation is zero. Earth’s magnetic field slowly changes, and with it the positions of the north and south magnetic poles. For this reason, the variation between true and magnetic north at a point on the earth changes slowly over time. You can examine a map of historic declination over the last 400-odd years here – if you scroll it back to 1590 you can see the green line through Cape Agulhas.)

The lighthouse is within walking distance of the southernmost tip of Africa inside the Agulhas National Park, and was built on land donated by Michiel van Breda, a local landowner (for whom Bredasdorp was named). Van Breda had experienced the trauma of shipwrecks along the stretch of coastline on his farm, with hundreds of dead bodies washing up after ships foundered on the rocky shores in rough seas. The shipwreck museum at Bredasdorp commemorates many of these wrecks.

The lens inside the lantern house
The lens inside the lantern house

The lighthouse was commissioned on 1 March 1849. It has a 7.5 million candela light that emits one flash every 5 seconds and has a range of 31 nautical miles. The lighthouse tower is 27 metres high, with a focal plane 31 metres above sea level. The tower is made of limestone with a white lantern house. By the 1960s the tower had deteriorated to such an extent that the lighthouse was temporarily decommissioned (its job performed in the interim by an aluminium tower), and restoration was undertaken. It was recommissioned in 1988.

View of L'Agulhas
View of L’Agulhas

The lighthouse is open to the public (also on weekends, which is unusual for a South African lighthouse) and contains a museum and a gift shop on the ground floor. The view from the top is well worth the climb.

If you love lighthouses, you need to get hold of Gerald Hoberman’s Lighthouses of South Africa.

Visible shipwrecks: Meisho Maru No. 38

Meisho Maru 38 in the distance
Meisho Maru 38 in the distance

The Japanese crew of the MFV Meisho Maru No. 38 could not have picked a more beautiful piece of South African coastline to run aground on. Granted, it was 3am on 16 November 1982 when they got into difficulties, and sightseeing was probably not high on their priority list, but the fact remains that the wreck is in a remarkably scenic spot. It is also within spitting distance (OK, two kilometres) of the lighthouse at Cape Agulhas.

It is also very easy to access. By foot, it is a flat walk along the coast for 1.5 kilometres from the signage at the southernmost tip of Africa. There is a well-kept dirt road out of L’Agulhas, which terminates at Suiderstrand, that runs parallel to the coast. If you drive along the road rather than walk next to it, you will see the wreck in short order.

The bow of the Meisho Maru 38
The bow of the Meisho Maru 38

Here’s a picture of what the wreck looked like not long after grounding in 1982. (Compare it to these pictures of the Eihatsu Maru, aground at Clifton…) She was about 45 metres long, and was carrying a catch of tuna. Her entire crew (17 men) managed to get ashore All that remains now is the bow of the ship, facing out to sea after being turned around by the waves. When we arrived, some Egyptian geese were sitting pensively on the railings. The rest of the wreck has broken up and is hidden in the surf zone.

Decimal-form co-ordinates for the wreck are -34.829763, 19.983845, but if you drive from L’Agulhas towards Suiderstrand along the dirt road, you can’t miss it.

If you’re interested in visible shipwrecks, check out my ebook Cape Town’s Visible Shipwrecks: A Guide for Explorers!

Struispunt marine light

Spring flowers at the Struispunt light
Spring flowers at the Struispunt light

Just outside Arniston is the Cape Nature-administered Waenhuiskrans Nature Reserve. The famous Waenhuiskrans sea-cave is actually inside the reserve (which doesn’t appear to be fenced but is indicated with signage). We visited the area and drove into the reserve to the cliffs overlooking Otter Bay, where we had lunch. At the opposite end of Otter Bay to Arniston is Struispunt, which is in fact the eastern extremity of neighbouring Struisbaai.

On Struispunt is a marine light, or beacon, which is essentially a wannabe lighthouse! I walked down the beach to visit it, and back on the sand road behind the beach. The beacon is a masonry tower 10 metres high, topped with a red and white striped globe for daytime navigation and a relatively small, solar-powered light (1,747 candelas) that flashes three times every fifteen seconds. The water off Struispunt is very shallow, only about five metres deep for some distance from the light, so its presence is essential.

Struispunt
Struispunt

The Struispunt light was erected following the wreck of SS Queen of the Thames, in 1871. It is visible for 11 nautical miles. Its western and eastern sides were painted red and white for a while, but most of the paint has worn off and I could only discern a faint reddish tinge. Behind the light, on the rocks, many gulls and cormorants were roosting when I visited. There were also some human fishermen nearby!

Tony took this picture of me walking back from the light
Tony took this picture of me walking back from the light

Learn more about South Africa’s lighthouses in Lighthouses of South Africa.

The new Cape Point lighthouse

View of the new Cape Point lighthouse from the sea
View of the new Cape Point lighthouse from the sea

To me it would seem totally logical to build a lighthouse as high above sea level as possible. As we saw with the old Cape Point lighthouse, there is such a thing as too high, particularly when you’re building in an area that is prone to heavy mist and fog. The most notable shipping casualty that occurred after construction of the old Cape Point light was that of the Lusitania, wrecked on Bellows Rock in 1911. A new lighthouse was planned, along with a light at Slangkoppunt in Kommetjie, to replace the old light at Cape Point.

View of the new lighthouse at Cape Point
View of the new lighthouse at Cape Point

The new lighthouse was built on a 15 metre high pinnacle of rock called Diaz Point, which was dynamited to form a flat platform upon which the lighthouse would be built. Building materials were hauled by oxen from Simon’s Town, and transported by tram down a track on the cliffs. Most of the way the gradient of this tram track was 1 in 4; for a short stretch it was 1 in 2. This is incredibly steep. At the end of the tram track, the building materials were lowered by crane onto a ledge. Building sand was excavated from a cave at the bottom of the cliff, and carried up to the platform on which construction took place. Water was brought close to the building site by trolley, and piped down onto the location.

 

Like the old lighthouse, the new lighthouse is nine metres high, but instead of cast iron, it is constructed from masonry and the tower is square. The lantern house on top is white. The new lighthouse’s elevation is 87 metres above sea level, giving it a range of visibility of 32 nautical miles. The fully automatic light flashes three times every 30 seconds, and there is a subsidiary red light in the base of the lighthouse facing towards Anvil and Bellows Rock. This light is only visible from the sea, if you go around Cape Point to the western side of Cape Point.

On 11 March 1919 the new lighthouse was commissioned (put into service). The view from this lighthouse covers a full 353 degrees, with seven degrees obscured by Da Gama Peak behind it. It was manned for a time, but is now automated.

Getting closer to the new lighthouse
Getting closer to the new lighthouse

The public is not allowed to visit the new lighthouse, or even to get particularly close to it. It can be viewed from a viewpoint at the end of the Lighthouse Keeper’s Trail, a highly recommended short walk from the old lighthouse at Cape Point. Along the way you will see the remains of World War II bunkers and a radar station, and you will traverse the most fantastically narrow ridge of rock (in perfect safety). The wind is likely to be extremely strong, whatever time of year you go – dress accordingly. Also note that the walk does not take nearly as long as is suggested by the signage at the start. It is approximately one kilometre each way.

View from the old lighthouse towards the new one
View from the old lighthouse towards the new one

As usual, everything I know about this lighthouse that I didn’t learn by looking at it (i.e. most everything), is thanks to Gerald Hoberman’s wonderful Lighthouses of South Africa book.