L’Agulhas also known as Cape Agulhas, South Africa

Story by: Marike Bredenhann     Date: 7 September 2020    Image by: Canva | Wallix

6 minutes reading time South Africa

History of Cape Agulhas

There are numerous debates in regards to the exact history of this quant little village. Some of the excavations in this area has delivered tools that was used as far back as the stone age. The waters around the Cape Agulhas area has always been rich with fish, and fisherman have been living of the ocean for thousands of years.

The shores of L’Agulhas is lined with treacherous needle like rock formations that is known for sinking ships since the beginning of sailing. Sailors that where lucky enough to make it to shore used the debris from the sunken ships to build shelters, they fished from the ocean and ate from the land. L’Agulhas is said to have been discovered by the Portuguese in the 1400’s and by the year 1488, Bartholomew Dias, officially named the most southern tip of Africa, Agulhas, after Saint Agulhas.

The Portuguese ship Nossa Senhora dos Milagros (Our Lady of Miracles) that met her death in 1686 brought with the Portuguese that named this place, Agulhas, meaning “Needle”. Not only because of the needle shaped rocks but if you look at a compass, there is no deviation between true north and magnetic north.

Winter storms can create waves of up to 30 meters in hight together with the fierce winds from the west. Winter in Agulhas is not for the faint hearted person but when the seasons change you can find the most breath taking days on the shores of this little village.

Cape Agulhas Lighthouse


The first recorded ship to meet her unfortunate demise on the rocky reef of L’Agulhas was the Zoetendal in 1673. Followed by; Joanna in 1682, Nossa Senhora dos Milagros (Our Lady of Miracles) in 1686 and then a hundred years later, Meermin (Mermaid) in 1766 followed by the Brederode in 1785.

Colonel Charles Cornwell Michell realized that a light beacon that can warn ships away from these rocky shores needs to be erected before any more lives are lost. The construction on the lighthouse began in April 1847. The first stone was laid in January 1848 and it took 92 men working together just over a year. The second oldest light house in South Africa was finally lit on March 1st 1849. The original flame was fueled by the fat from sheep tails and later on in 1905 they installed an oil-burning lantern. In 1936 a four-kilowatt electric lamp, powered by a diesel generator was installed. It stood 27 meters high, but with the coastal winds and fog there was still ships that did not receive a warning.

In 1968 the limestone building was declared unsafe. With such treacherous shore line and unforgiving winds the limestone started decomposing. The lighthouse played an extremely important role in the shipping industry and therefor in 1973 it was declared a National Monument and restoration to the L’Agulhas lighthouse began in 1988. The lighthouse today is a well known tourist attraction, with its 71 steps to the top, the light is automated and powered by, Transnet National Port Authority. Standing at the top you can catch a breath taking view of the entire village down below and get a feeling of the history that has unfolded on the shores of Cape Agulhas.

Cape Agulhas Most-Southern Point

Most-Southern Point

After a visit to the second oldest lighthouse in South Africa, you can follow a wooden walk way that leads you down and along the shore line in between the fynbos vegetation towards the most southern tip. Here you can sit down and enjoy a lovely picnic, take some amazing photo’s and bask in the fact that you are standing at the very south tip of Africa. There is a rock formation that has been carved out in the shape of Africa that points out the meeting place of the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. Although it might be hard to see the difference in the ocean water from this spot, on a clear day, further up the mountain, when looking down you can see the difference, by the color of the water.

This area is part of the Agulhas National Park, you are free to take a morning hike, sit down on one of the many benches or enjoy the breaking waves on the rocks and all the sea creatures around. Along the road you will find openings that will allow you to drive down with your vehicle for a day of fishing, the most popular past time in this little village.

The weather along this shore line is a bit unpredictable, you have winds coming from the west side that can quickly bring in rain storms. The locals say that you can find all four seasons in one day. Be sure to keep an eye on the weather man, you don’t want to get caught at the tip when the winds pick up and the high tide pulls in.

Ship Wreck

One ship in particular found its demise on the rocky shores of Agulhas on 16th of November 1982. The Meisho Maru a Japanese ship was ripped apart by the rocks just past the southern point. This is the last known shipwreck and her rusty shell can be found forever stuck in between the rocks. When the low tide pulls the water away you can make your way towards the wreckage for a closer look.

This area has so many beautiful views and interesting history that without a hike on the local hiking trails you will not be able to experience what this village has to offer. If hiking is not for you, rent a bike from the local shop and take a relaxing ride along the bike path.

L’Agulhas is not known for its white sandy beaches but you can find tidal pools around the area where the water is a bit warmer, these pools fill up during the high tide and is a lovely safe area to catch a swim when it is low tide again. Struisbaai just further down the road, is the hot spot for ocean swimming and wide open beaches. These beaches are family friendly with life guards available for safety in the holiday season. If you enjoy surfing, fishing or even diving this is the place that will make your dreams come true.

Accommodation is available all year long and this little village, full of history, is a beautiful spot to unwind and relax and get in touch with mother nature again. Kid and animal friendly, you will not regret a visit to L’Agulhas.

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