THE AREA : AGULHAS PLAINS
The retreat of farm 215 looks out over a large chunk of the Agulhas Plains, the area between the Hermanus Lagoon at the Victorian village of Stanford and Africa’s Southernmost tip, Cape Agulhas. Even today in the Agulhas Plains, you’ll find the pace of life leisurely and the people most friendly and unassuming, unspoilt by the excesses of the city. Modern civilization came late to the Agulhas Plains and nature has benefited most from the erstwhile seclusion. Most of the coastline remains pristine. The large numbers of whales, sharks and birds along the shores draw watchers from all over the globe. And the unique and colourful “fynbos”-flora has engendered a world-wide following of flora fundi. Today’s realization that this special nature is irreplaceable and performs essential economic functions in the production of both water and top-soil as well as carbon-storage and tourism, assures intelligent further local development in harmony with nature.
Looking down from farm 215, you can see Pearly Beach, the longest undisturbed sand-beach of the Overberg; Danger Point, the peninsula of doom for the famous HMS Birkenhead; Dyer Island & Geyser Rock, home to 50.000 Cape fur seals, thousands of African penguins and numerous other birds; the coastal plains, haven to some of the rarest plant-species in the world and the Atlantic ocean, where the Great white sharks cruise and the Southern right whales float just under the shore.
The nearest real town to farm 215, Gansbaai, has placed itself firmly on the map of the Whale coast as one of the world’s best land based whale watching spots (from the rocks in its suburb De Kelders, sublimely positioned on the Walker Bay) and as the centre of shark diving to come eye to eye with the Great White Shark from the safety of a cage lowered into the water.
Though some people have a problem with swimming in the seas around Gansbaai because of sharks (not justified) and the -sometimes- hectic waves and strong currents (justified, one should be careful), there are a lot of places absolutely safe for swimming. In any case -swimming or no swimming- the miles and miles of pristine beaches on both sides of the Danger Point Peninsula are inviting enough in themselves.
To the north-west of Danger Point Peninsula, the rugged Walker Bay coast in front of De Kelders and the Walker Bay Nature Reserve has several bays, coves and small beaches. Many of these spots are naturally protected and safe for swimming. Walking along this coast is a pleasure, though one has to navigate cliffs, big boulders and has to circumvent caves and the “Duiwelsgat”, a hole in the ground all the way to the ocean flushing underneath the limestone-cliffs. This is the place where it is guaranteed that you will spot Southern right whales just offshore between July and December.
The Klipgat Cave, just outside De Kelders in the Walkerbay Nature Reserve, ranks amongst the earliest remains of modern men in the world and can be entered via a series of steep steps. “De Kelders” was named after these caves; it is the Afrikaans/Dutch word for “the cellars”. Once you have left the fringes of De Kelders, bordering the Walkerbay Nature Reserve, you will at best meet a few other people, but no cars, roads or other man-made matters. The reserve stretches all the way to the Klein River Lagoon at the outskirts of Hermanus. Enthusiastic walkers (the distance is about 24 km) will not easily find a prettier walking trail along the coast.
To the south-east of Danger Point Peninsula, the character of the coastline changes dramatically. No more cliffs and boulders, but never-ending white sand beach stretching from Franskraal past Pearly Beach all the way to Quoin Point. The seaside town of Franskraal, 6 km outside of Gansbaai, looks as many seaside towns in South Africa: eclectic architecture rules in these places. The beach of Franskraal however, stretching from the Uilkraalsmond reserve to Pearly Beach, is why people started to build here in the first place. It is very pretty. The outlet of the Uilkraalsmond estuary simply flows over the beach. Quite a lot of this water finds its origin in the mountain catchment area of farm 215.
Towns and villages in the Agulhas Plains are few and far in between and are all small, compact and still have the pace and leisure of characteristic rural towns.
Elim, in the middle of the Southern Overberg, is a beautiful little town on the same road as the access-gate to farm 215. The whole of the town is a conservation area. Elim was founded in 1824 as a moravion mission town and still today the church is the middle point of almost everything. The old church and adjacent buildings as well as the Old Mill House have been proclaimed a national monument. After the abolition of slavery in 1834, many freed people settled in Elim and hence Elim boasts the only monument in South Africa commemorating the liberation of slaves.
Stanford is a tranquil Victorian village out of 1785 with a lot of charm and rural feel. It has a vast open space in the middle of the village (the Commons), used in the past as an outspan for ox wagons. The Klein River runs through Stanford to the Klein River Lagoon (aka Hermanus Lagoon) that finds its outlet in the Walkerbay near Hermanus. The upper region of the Klein River Lagoon is a bird sanctuary, haven to an estimated 124 species of bird-species. Stanford is at the beginning of the Fynbos Road, the 100km stretch from Stanford to Cape Agulhas, meandering through a landscape with the highest density of endemic and localised plant-species in the world and passing by the access road of farm 215. Stanford has a nice variety of sublime restaurants.
Napier is a town with an unspoilt appearance and the facade of the buildings on the main road has surprisingly an almost city-like appearance. Napier was built in 1838 as a result of a dispute about the location of the church in neighbouring Bredasdorp. The guys who lost the dispute, left Bredasdorp in anger and founded Napier. The church in Napier, seriously oversized for a small town like this, is still a late echo of this bull fight. The road to Napier takes you through an empty and surrealistic landscape of never ending fields of wheat and barley, where the rare and stately Blue Crane, the national bird of South Africa, congregate in flocks.
Gansbaai ( Gans Bay )
Gans Bay, the town closest to farm 215 has a split personality. It is still in all aspects (including the occasional smell) a fishing village, but tourism has discovered this best land-based whale watching spot in the world which doubles as the world’s Mecca for shark diving. The beauty of Gansbaai is that it maintained a very down-to-earth and unpretentious character.
Cape Agulhas is the southernmost point of Africa and officially the point where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Indian Ocean. Nature does not follow human’s desire to have clear cut borders and it is more or less the whole of the shoreline of the Overberg that is the meeting place between the two oceans. The warmer Indian ocean meeting the colder Atlantic ocean is cause for the unusual diversity of plant and animal habitats in the Overberg and along its shores. Cape Agulhas is the entry point to the Agulhas National Park.