I have hired a car for the day. Early on a Sunday morning it’s quiet and once out of Cape Town the roads are emptier still. I take the main road, the R316, in a south-east direction. The countryside is deserted apart from the odd group of cattle or sheep out on the rolling yellow fields. The terrain becomes mountainous as I pass Napier and strangely in Bredasdorp I am welcomed to Agulhas, even though it’s another thirty-five kilometres away.
At the end of the long straight road from Bredasdorp, I arrive at the coast. It’s desolate. The sea is noisy, crashing ferociously on the rocks of the shoreline. Sea spray rises atmospherically into the air. In both directions, the coastline expands into the distance. Unlike Cape Town, it’s totally devoid of humanity. It’s magnificent.
I drive a short distance from Struis Bay to the town of L’Agulhas. A lighthouse, sitting on the extremity of the cape and painted in red and white bands, still operates, whereas the adjacent building, the keeper’s accommodation, now serves as a café and also contains a small museum. I climb on to the rocks and take in this amazing scene.
The ocean seems to be pale green in colour and the froth whiter than normal against the metallic grey sky. Even though the power of nature makes itself apparent with the sound of the mighty waves crashing violently over the rocks to the sandy beach, paradoxically I feel only a sense of calm elation and wonderment in being able to witness it.
I follow the sand road that leads from the lighthouse along the coast to the southernmost point of the continent. A marker designates the spot where the two oceans meet; to the east is the Indian Ocean and to the west is the Atlantic Ocean. After abutting the powerful warm tropical waters of the Indian Ocean that flow along the subtropical east coast of Africa, it is here that the cool current of the Atlantic Ocean is pushed up the west coast of the continent. This contrast creates a warm temperate south coast that has a diverse endemic ecosystem. Initially I have the tip to myself until a bus of tourists arrives for photographs of the marker. As quickly as they came, they are gone and so I am left again to my remoteness and to the harmonious music of the waves.
The cape received its name around the year 1500 from Portuguese explorers who found their compass needles, which indicated magnetic north, matched true north with no magnetic deviation and hence christened it Cabo das Agulhas – the Cape of Needles. The coast is renowned for its shipwrecks as many fishing trawlers, yachts and galleons have succumbed to the prodigious storms, treacherous waves and rocky, needle-like reefs. Between May and December, southern right whales can be spotted in the bay, breaching and lob-tailing, before they journey south to the cooler waters of the Antarctic. Humpback, Bryde’s and killer whales, as well as dolphins, can be spotted here too.
My cycling guide in South Africa had suggested this trip would be a waste of time, as the cape is unspectacular in comparison to its famed neighbours, Cape Point and the Cape of Good Hope. However, I am completely taken by it. It’s everything I want from the southernmost tip of Africa. It’s isolated, it’s out of the way and it’s wild. Even the ocean spray tastes deliciously salty. I am alive with this scene of nature at work. I stand on the edge of the continent; as far south as I can possibly be, only the vastness of the ocean and Antarctica beyond.