Day Tour: Cape Town Lighthouses

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Day Tour: Cape Town Lighthouses
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Day Tour: Cape Town Lighthouses
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The idea was to take a slow, scenic day drive around the Cape using the peninsula’s four iconic lighthouses as my co-ordinates. Lighthouses are places of loneliness and drama; they symbolise hope, something steadfast in the chaos of a stormy night. They even have a spiritual air: a guiding ‘house of light’ for those in peril on the sea.

One winter morning, I set off from Cape Town heading down the peninsula’s eastern flank. Arriving in Simon’s Town, I stared out at the tall white finger in the middle of the bay. Roman Rock was, for centuries, a hazard to ships entering Simon’s Bay. It’s the only lighthouse in South Africa built on a site that’s awash at high tide.

Two keepers manned the tower and were relieved every seven days. The structure is narrow and cramped and, besides accommodation, had to provide storage space for oil, water and supplies. When the sea was rough, keepers were confined to the tower for days at a time – a boring job for which they earned the highest salary in the lighthouse service.

I pressed on down the peninsula to Cape Point, parked and hiked along a cliff-edge path towards the lighthouse. The first structure was built in 1860 (today it’s used as a control tower), but was situated too high and often shrouded in fog. That’s why a light closer to the waterline was constructed in 1919.

I negotiated slippery ladders down a cliff to the dressed-stone lighthouse. Monstrous waves detonated on the rocks below and sheets of rain ghosted across the ocean. Just then, the sun broke free of the clouds and transformed the cliff and its lighthouse into an ingot of gold.

Heading back up the peninsula’s western shore, I stopped at Slangkop Lighthouse in Kommetjie. Commissioned in 1919, it’s a spindly white tower constructed from cast-iron segments and, at 33-metres, it’s the tallest light in South Africa. I visited the adjacent museum, then climbed a spiralling staircase that narrows until you reach the beautiful lantern. I stepped out onto the balcony for sublime views of Kommetjie and Long Beach.

Onward up the peninsula and over Chapman’s Peak, I finally reached Green Point Lighthouse. The building’s red-and-white diagonal stripes (which make it stand out as a day mark against Cape Town’s skyline) glowed in soft, evening light.

I stood on the lawn in front of this attractive, Egyptian-style tower with the Atlantic crashing below and thought of the early days of navigation in these waters. As far back as 1656, Jan van Riebeeck established signal fires to warn ships of dangers in Table Bay, but it was not until 1824 that a solidly built lighthouse was erected at Green Point. Today, this quaint little building is considered the home of all South Africa’s lighthouses – a fitting place to end my tour of Cape Town’s lonely lights.

Lighthouse Roman Rock1