Trip to the Southern Tip: 5 things to do

"This point of South Africa isn't the southern point of Africa," Marcel, my Brazilian neighbour informed me as I showed him a photo of the altar-like beacon marking the spot where the Indian and Atlantic Oceans are said to meet just outside L'Agulhas. 

He explained that he had been to the exact spot a couple of weeks before and had measured the southern-ness of the location with his GPS (who knew you could do that!). 

"Oh really? Where is it then?" I asked, feeling a bit like a failed journalist, not to mention an absolute embarrassment to all South Africans. 

"It's 200 metres from that point at way to Cape Town. Their point of mark is only for to be happy the tourism - like me," he explained, getting too excited to remember the rules of sentence construction he'd been learning in the English classes he'd come to South Africa for. 

Whatever the case may be, there's something quite invigorating about standing on the southern tip (give or take 200 metres) of our continent, imagining the tumultuous undercurrents where two of the great oceans have been battling it out for centuries.

Yes, it might not be as visually arresting as Cape Point, but boy, when you start zooming out to the point of picturing yourself as a tiny dot on a world map... well, it's pretty mindboggling. 

However, this is definitely not the only site worth visiting in the area. During a recent road trip from Cape Town to L'Agulhas via Elgin and Arniston I made a point of stopping off at various intriguing spots along the R316 between Caledon and Bredasdorp to experience the Overberg's overwhelmingly warm hospitality to the full. 

Here are five of my favourite charming nooks and majestic wonders to check out along this route:

Dassiesfontein Farm stall, N2, just before Caledon

Once you've exited the Houw Hoek pass and head along the open stretch of N2 where rolling hills covered in green or yellow - depending on the time of year - wheat fields stretch out on either side of the car, a quaint thatched roof will soon peek out among a lining of trees. "Dassiesfontein" the white lettering reads, contrasting perfectly with the dusty grey. 

Inside you will find, what can only be described in Afrikaans as a ‘mengelmoes,' an eclectic mix of boere chic, Afrikaner kitsch, hip leather goods, hardcore biker helmets, classy interior décor and vintage furniture pieces that would make any home enthusiast drool. 

There's also a little café that serves delicious home-made pies, strong boereraad (coffee) or even a shot of brandy if you're up for it.

Business hours: Monday - Sunday 08:30 - 17:30

Bounty Books, Napier

Quickly developing into one of South Africa's "it" towns for artist-types, Napier is a gold mine of unexpected delights in the form of food, stained glass goods, art and second-hand books.

Now, as an avid bibliophile it should really come as no surprise that I have an uncanny ability to sniff out the best book bargain bazaars around, and Napier is home to one of the most magical. Driving through town from Caledon's side, look out for the bright orange building on the right. The one side is dedicated to a clean-lined art gallery, while the other houses a delightful chaos of tomes - shelved, stacked and boxed - called Bounty Books. 

I picked up Izak Dinesen's (aka Karen Blixen's) "Out of Africa" and Margaret Atwood's "The Handmaid's Tale," two gems I'd been seeking for a while, for R25 each and eyed a beautiful 19th century copy of "Tangle Wood Tales" by Nathaniel Hawthorne longingly. Unfortunately owner, Helga Bergh, had already set it aside for her 16-year-old grandson.

Shipwreck Museum, Bredasdorp

Set aside at least an hour to wander around the Shipwreck Museum in Bredasdorp. The white-washed building, tucked away on a side road, may look small from the outside, but once inside you'll soon find out that there's a lot more to it than meets the eye. 

Your tour will start off with a squiz around a dimly-lit room containing artifacts, remnants and figureheads of some of the 130 ships that have gone down along the southern Cape coast, roughly between Hermanus and Arniston, since 1673. 

Fascinating stories seem to swirl around the space, and some have even been pinned down. Like the one of the strange hairy man who was found among the wreckage of Le Souvenance, a French ship that went down at Quoin Point in 1871 en route between India and Jamaica. Upon receiving word of the tragedy, the French consul in Cape Town sent a representative to write a report and this is what he said:

"Amongst the wreckage we found a body of a man, which like a wild animal was covered from its feet to its head in hair no longer than that of a cow."

A couple of days later, he sent another letter announcing that the mystery surrounding the man had been solved, and that he was indeed not a man at all, but an orangutan.

Apart from shipwreck paraphernalia, the museum also has a Victorian lifestyle and old-fashioned transport exhibit, all spread out across a traditional homestead type setup with outhouse style buildings separated by a large green lawn. 

Also, ailurophiles keep an eye out for a super cute little ginger patrolling the grounds. 

Cost: R20

Business hours: Monday to Friday from 09h00 to 16h45; Saturday from 09h00 to 14h45 and Sunday from 10h30 to 12h30

Address: 6 Independent Street

Waenhuiskrans Cave, Arniston

Upon arrival in Arniston, your first question to anyone who knows the local ropes should be: "When's the next low tide?" 

Why? Well, the gorgeous white-washed seaside village is home to Waenhuiskrans (wagon house cliff), one of our country's most majestic seaside caves, however it's only accessible when the tide retreats. 

For us this was 8:15 in the morning. Not the best news for sleepers-in, but nonetheless, a very good reason to kick back the covers and take a morning stroll. 

While there is a parking lot close to the cave, walking from the central part of town (where the hotel is located) is easy, beautiful and all in all highly recommended. There are one of two routes you can take: either along the beach or via the tarred road. The latter is the easier and quicker of the two, with the only bit of challenging terrain being the sand track and steep stairs that lead to the cave. 

Opting for this route, we got there at about 8:25 and already it was clear that the tide had started turning. Nonetheless, we picked our way through the slippery rocks and entered the first and shallower of the two caverns. A hole in the wall, small enough that it takes a solid bow to get through, granted us access to the main cave - all dark crevices, smooth rocks, blazing sunlight streaming in through the oval-shaped window onto the Indian Ocean and the sound of crashing waves echoing and bouncing on the walls.

Hyper-aware of the incoming tide, we cautiously climbed around and explored the various outcrops, and once we'd breathed the salty coolness in deep enough, we headed back to the hotel along the beach and rewarded ourselves with a hearty breakfast. 

Cost: Free

Times: Consult a tide chart or ask someone in the know

And, yes... the Southern Tip of Africa, L'Agulhas

Finally, the Southern Tip of Africa

Yes, you are going to have to stand in line if you'd like a photo on the famous beacon (which we now know is actually 200 metres out) and yes, it is like the confusion at the tower of Babel all over again as unfamiliar languages whirl around your head. 

But, boy, it's special. Even as a South African. Maybe especially as a South African, standing on that beacon, in a sense staking some sort of claim to your special place on this vast continent is humbling and invigorating and refreshing all at once.

Close by you will also find L'Agulhas' well-known red and white landmark, the lighthouse. Unfortunately it was under construction while we were there, but ordinarily, people can pay it a visit, have a snack, check out the small museum and climb to the top.

Cost: Free for the Southern tip. R15 entry for the lighthouse for adults and R7,50 for kids.

For more information visit the SANParks website

To end off my trip, I used the Europcar Roadtripper app to map out the route I took. It's a fun way of reminiscing about your favourite journeys or planning ones you've been dreaming about. Check out Europcar's Facebook page to find the app and read this article for more information on how it works.

Thanks to Europcar for the trusty chevy that took me all the way from Cape Town right to the Southern Tip and back again.

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