Rocky, wild, and windswept, there are few places on earth as rugged and foreboding as either the Cape of Good Hope or Cape Agulhas.
Long believed to be the intersection of the Atlantic and Indian Oceans, the Cape of Good Hope possesses a dangerous, savage beauty, its rocky, frothy headlands only hinting at the turmoil below. On a good day, it’s even possible to believe that the Cape is little more than a scenic, soothing tourist destination: turquoise waters and white sand beaches belie the true, catastrophic potential of the Cape’s unrelenting, unforgiving storms.
In fact, on a bad day, the Cape of Good Hope more than lives up to its other name: Cape of Storms. With wind speeds exceeding 30 knots and waves of over five meters (a stunning sixteen feet), the Cape is also prone to sudden, unexpected cross currents. Indeed, many ships have foundered on its treacherous rocks, many a life extinguished on its angry shoals.
Among those who died on its shores was famed Portuguese navigator and explorer Bartolomeu Dias de Novais, the intrepid pioneer who first documented the Cape route (via the Atlantic and Indian Oceans) as a conduit for trade from Europe to Asia. Notably, Dias likely gave the Cape its unofficial, more ominous nickname (Cape of Storms), though the Portuguese king, John II, labeled it the Cape of Good Hope for the potential for riches and trade wealth.
Either way, even this outstanding navigator could not overcome the trials and tribulations of the Cape; in May 1500, Dias is believed to have gone down with his ship near the Cape, the most famous victim of its brutal weather.
Yet for its barbarous reputation, the Cape of Good Hope is actually the southwesternmost (and not the southernmost) point of the African continent. Instead, that distinction belongs to Cape Agulhas, the true, geographical division between the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. The confusion likely stemmed from the fact that, at the Cape of Good Hope, ships would have to begin their eastward approach; lacking modern navigational instruments, this undoubtedly convinced navigators that this was truly the last, southernmost point of the continent.
Beautiful, if in a foreboding, primal sort of way, Cape Agulhas is a quick, 2.5 hour car ride from Cape Town–an easy day or overnight trip. The cape and its surroundings are part of Agulhas National Park, a small, quaint park that encompasses the historic Cape Agulhas lighthouse, a number of shipwrecks, wine farms, and country towns, a whites and beach and lagoon, and a collection of hiking trails through the scraggly, scrawny bush.
Today, both Cape Agulhas and the Cape of Good Hope are worthwhile destinations, fiercely scenic reminders of a wilder, more dangerous time in history, when men and women braved hellish storms and hurricane conditions for wealth, wonder, and glory.