What a relief: the southernmost tip of Africa finally has a great monument
The Map of Africa Monument in the Cape's Agulhas National Park shows visitors the entire continent
Edges are interesting places. No matter how sharp, high or inaccessible, they have a magnetic effect on the travelling mind. The well-trodden Cape of Good Hope, Cape Point, wins the GPS competition for the most southwestern point of Africa and is a mass of tour buses and waving selfie sticks, pleasantly dwarfed by exquisite scenery. Agulhas, however, is off the beaten track. Still, steady folk cruising down the N2 suddenly see a sign to the tip of Africa and find themselves veering towards possible adventure.
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The enticing southernmost tip of Africa is enclosed by the Agulhas National Park, one of the newer national parks in the country. A crucial 4ha around the spot were acquired by SANParks in 1998, with the park being declared the following year. It now covers 21,900ha - and more is being negotiated.
A stone cairn has stood at the edge of the continent for decades. But a new monument designed by architects and land artists (including Strijdom van der Merwe) was unveiled in March. The centre of the compass-inspired structure is a relief map of Africa, concrete surface undulating with the bumps and ripples of the Atlas Mountains, Kilimanjaro and the Drakensberg.
Agulhas National Park's Alliston Appel, from Elim, used to come here on picnics and remembers stories of family camping holidays near the wreck of the Meisho Maru and how fishermen stayed in pondoks on the beach for months at a time, decades ago.
Appel's seen the park grow, and knows everything about its dynamics, from the sour-fig industry (local residents are allowed to harvest set amounts) to the threat of perlemoen poaching and the importance of the wetlands further inland.
He points out the odd secret mark left by the artists on the Africa map (an impression of fingers; a heart).
"When it rains, you have Africa not like a desert but like a wetland," he says - it pools in the dips.
The joy of the map is that you can walk atop it; literally explore. It's also surrounded by stone "benches" inspired by a compass and the monument points the way south, to the older cairn.
A wooden boardwalk deposits visitors at the spot.
It all cost R14m (including a 1km section of road), but it's a smart investment: it's a special place. Expecting just the whisper of wind, gulls and oceans (Indian, check; Atlantic, check), there was, in fact, a steady stream of visitors from all over the planet.
PEOPLE OF THE SOUTH
We chatted to some of the tourists at the monument to find out where they were from and what had brought them there
• Arianna Guatelli, 30, Alessandro Spinello, 33 and Aurora, 6, from Lake Como, Italy
"We love nature and it's our first time in Africa - except for Egypt and Tunisia. We have a travel blog (The A Family)."
• Uri Fangale, 31, and Phiwo Miya, 27, tax consultants living in Cape Town
"I want to see the oceans meet! Where is it? Where's the line? [This is a common misconception. While water colour differs thanks to depth, there's no obvious meeting of the Atlantic and Indian oceans].
We were actually doing an audit for the IEC vote in Bredasdorp. After our sleep - because we needed to sleep, we were awake for more than 24 hours - we drove down; we love to explore. We always heard about this point and it was like, oh my god, it seems like a cool spot. And it's beautiful. We met at work, now we're friends."
• Ken Gerrie, Cathie and Larry Duchsne and Anne Bothwell, from Edmonton, Canada
"We've just spent 12 days working at an orphanage in Ndola, Zambia. We're now recovering. We built stuff, we emptied a whole sea can [shipping container] of goods, put shelves in it, put up basketball hoops, distributed chickens for a women's micro-enterprise project and helped with the feeding programme. It was an adventure and a way of seeing Africa."
• Lars Ingildsen, 62, US/Denmark
"I'm in property development. I'm not retiring until they carry me away in a box. I was on my way to Cape Town and thought, why not stop here? That's pretty much it! We're almost looking into the southern ocean from here. And I'm a sailor, I'm originally from Denmark, and been living in Utah, USA, which is not surrounded by water, so when I have a chance to go to the ocean I like to do that."
• Corné, 53, and Ferdie Bosch, 60, Bela-Bela and Wilderness
"We like points, like the Tropic of Capricorn in Kruger near Mopani, we've got a photo of us there. And the most southwestern point of Africa at Cape Point. We like travelling. Retirement feels great. But you don't want to run out of money, you know. So we take the bakkie, which has a modified kitchen, and a tent, and we camp. Our four cats travel with us - Toby, Tinkie, Babatjie and Snowy. You don't need to guess what colour Snowy is."
• Jenna-Leigh Hendricks, 24, Stellenbosch and Morné Flaendorp, 28, Somerset West
"Jenna's family is from Bredasdorp and we come often but it's the first time we've come to the tip. I work in Somerset. Every afternoon after 5pm, I'd stop at a spot to drop off a guy and I'd see her standing there. There she is, there she is. I didn't know her name or anything about her, nothing, nothing. And then one day I said to my colleague, I want to meet this person. And he found her friend on Facebook and so I found her and I waited a long time for her to accept my friend request. But we began to chat, and one Wednesday night we decided to meet in Stellenbosch and from that point we began to hang out and go places. Tomorrow we'll go to Struisbaai and play putt-putt."
• Krijn de Kievit, 22, a Dutch student, with his team members Simon Verkleij, 22, Eoghan Gilleran, 22, Daan van Heteren, 20
"We are part of a group of students from the Delft University of Technology who are currently trying to build the first rocket made entirely by students to go to space. We want it to go above 100km - which is the definition of space - but we also want it to come down again. We won't be in it, no, we can't fit.
We're building it at the university. So we've taken a year off to work on this full time. We're currently looking for a launch site - we're visiting the Denel [Overberg] test range a few kilometres from here [near Arniston]. It's one of the potential sites. Other sites are in Sweden, Norway, the US and Australia. We need a lot of space to safely land the rocket." See dare.tudelft.nl
• Nella Retief-Coetzee, 64, and Koos Coetzee, 72, Cape Town
"I came to Agulhas 60 years ago, when I was four or five to stay with my grandparents and I'm here to look for history. My grandad was a very serious man, a very figure-oriented businessman. I knew my gran better, Wilhelmina, she was my alpha and omega. Koos and I have been married for six months. It's my first wedding. He lost his wife and acquaintances said, 'We want you guys to meet, you've got the same background.' So we went for coffee. So after all these years I got married; I'd never thought I would. We've got a fairytale story. We live in a retirement village and we can just lock up and go. Once a month we go away. I was spoilt, my parents took me all over the country and Koos never had that. We're now going to what we call points on our bucket list. We're living life for the moment."
PLAN YOUR TRIP
Agulhas is roughly 225km from Cape Town. At the moment there is free access to the southern tip and the monument, and generally space to park.
The Agulhas Rest Camp offers quality thatched chalets for reasonable prices (starting at R1,231 for a two-person unit; family units start at R2,179 for four). All are strung out in a row with splendid sea views - which ocean is rolling in the distance is the trick question.
Each unit has a hot plate, microwave and even a telly. The water is hot, the showers huge, and the linen good quality. Plus there's a deck and braai facilities.
The larger Lagoon House, in heavenly position against the sea, is being refurbished.
You can also eat in town at various seafood and pub-type locations as you have until 10pm to enter the park's accommodation. The southernmost café in the country has a stock of basic supplies, but there are other shops and a liquor outlet.
Climb the lighthouse's vertiginous ladders for views of ancient fish traps and ant-like humans below.
Book via sanparks.org.
• Stephen was hosted by SANParks