The fabled Cape of Good Hope is a rocky promontory at the tip of the Cape peninsula that juts out into the sea, just outside the city of Cape Town in South Africa. Once marking the point where a ship traveling south from Europe turned east, it’s now part of Table Mountain National Park. A stop here is part of Renedian’s Victoria Falls to Cape Town, Spectacular South West Africa and Garden Route safaris.
Long known for the treacherous and violent seas that surround it, its geography has also created a natural habitat for unique and abundant species of flora and fauna.
Here are 10 facts that contribute to the Cape’s exclusive reputation.
- The Cape was purportedly named Cape of Storms in the 15th century by Portuguese explorer Bartolomeu Dias, the first European to see it. It was later changed to Cape of Good Hope by King John II of Portugal.
- The Cape is part of the Table Mountain range, made mostly of sandstone. The ocean eroded the sandstone on the coast, leaving only the hard, rocky cape.
- The Cape of Good Hope is often thought to be the southern tip of Africa but that distinction goes to Cape Agulhas, 150 km to the southeast.
- Historically the Cape has played an important role in trade. Here traders met and Europeans bartered with the indigenous Khoikhoi for food and water. In 1652 the Dutch East India Company established a small station to provide provisions to sailors. That station has grown into the city of Cape Town.
- The Cape peninsula is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for the richness of its plant life. Although it makes up only 0.5 percent of the area of Africa, nearly 20 percent of Africa’s plants are found here.
- Over 250 species of birds make their home here, attracted by diverse habitat between rocky mountaintops, grasslands, beaches, and open sea. The most famous denizen is the African (Jackass) Penguin. A colony of 3000 makes their home in False Bay, one of only a small number of mainland colonies.
- The most widely known animals here are the Chacma Baboons who have lived here for more than a million years. Genetic isolation, contact with humans, and loss of natural habitat has put them on the endangered list.
- Twenty-six recorded shipwrecks are strewn around the Cape, as well as many more that are undocumented and undiscovered. The legendary ghost ship The Flying Dutchman is said to ply these waters, making its way through stormy seas under full sail.
- The Castle of Good Hope, a star-fort built by the Dutch East India Company between 1666 and 1679, is the oldest existing colonial building in South Africa. Construction was undertaken by soldiers, volunteers, slaves and Khoi undergoing punishment. It housed a church, bakery, living quarters, workshops, stops, and prison cells.
- The first lighthouse was completed in 1859. Because of the lighthouse’s location, ships captains saw the beacon “too early” and turned into the rocky reefs. It stands 249 meters above sea-level and is now the central monitoring point for all lighthouses on the coast of South Africa. It also provides a breathtaking view for tourists.