Things to Do– In and around Arniston –
Swimming and Surfing
Thanks to the warm Mozambique current, Arniston is blessed with considerably warmer waters than Cape Town or even nearby Hermanus. Not to mention the brilliantly clear turquoise water and clean white sand.
The main swimming beach, Roman Beach, is not far from the town centre and can be reached by following the road leading to Waenhuiskrans cave. The water is shallow and calm, making it a great place for children. There is also a rewarding surf break further out for beginner and advanced surfers and bodyboarders alike. The surrounding sand dunes are popular spot for for dune-boarding and exploring.
You may also want to take a dip at Hotel Beach, right in front of the Arniston Spa Hotel. Here you’ll find an excellent spot for low-tide frolicking and building sand castles.
This is one of the last working fishing villages on the coast of South Africa. Kassiesbaai began in a makeshift way. The name is derived from the wooden crates or paraffin kassies (boxes) that washed up on shore from shipwrecks. These were often used by early fishermen as building material for their homes. Boxes were stacked on top of one another, the sides worked off with clay plaster and the structure covered with a thatched roof. In 1984 the fishing village of Kassiesbaai was declared a Grade One Heritage Site, to be protected for future generations.
Kassiesbaai is Arniston’s major historical attraction and is a wonderful place to explore on foot, especially if you take the time to speak to the locals. Kassiesbaai is the place to go for good traditional seafood. Here you’ll find the rustic, tasty cooking of the old Cape influenced by Cape Malay spices and a chance to enjoy dishes prepared over hot coals or baked in wood-burning stoves. Beloved family recipes passed down from generation to generation include mussel potjies, pickled fish, fish cakes, bobotie, green bean bredies, spiced lamb shank and grilled or curried fish. Guests are invited to take part in a traditional evening meal in one of the fishermen’s houses.
In Wanda’s Waenhuis one will experience the joy of good, hearty meals in a warm and happy gathering place. With excellent value for money, Wanda’s Waenhuis offers anything from sea food to steaks and pasta.
Willeen’s Arts, Crafts and Meals
Overlooking the beach in Kassiesbaai you'll find this unique and charming eatery and craft shop. Willeen’s restaurant concentrates on traditional South African dishes such as bobotie, pickled fish, lamb shank and chicken pie. Willeen’s offers breakfast, lunch and dinner, as well as coffee and tea. The inside of the traditional building is warm and cosy, though one can also sit outside and enjoy breathtaking views of the sea, a long, long beach and dunes. Willeen also provides wonderful fishcakes, fresh bread and other food to order.
For generations the fishermen of Kassiesbaai launched their small boats from the beach at Oubaai (now known as Roman Beach) and rowed out into the bay to fish for their catch. They used to fish within sight of the shoreline and would race one another back to sell their catch. It’s only in the last 100 years that they began using the area below Kassiesbaai to launch their boats. In order to get heavier boats in and out of the water, they used wooden rollers. It was a slow and cumbersome process – often in bad weather they could not get out into the bay. In 1936 a slipway was built and launching a boat became much easier. These days, a tractor is used to help the boats down the concrete slipway and into the waiting ocean. When the weather allows, the fishing fleet of old-school ‘chuckies’, carrying seven or eight men each, goes out to sea in hope of a good catch.
Less than a 40 minute walk from Arniston Spa Hotel is the town’s most incredible natural feature, an enormous sea cave which is only accessible at low tide. ‘Waenhuiskrans’ translated from Afrikaans means ‘wagon house cliff’ – a reference to the belief that it would be possible for a wagon and a full span of oxen to turn around inside the massive cave. You first scramble down a limestone slope and then squeeze through a small porthole into the back of the large cave. Once you’re inside, and your eyes have adjusted, you are struck by the perfect oval archway to the sea. Waenhuiskrans cave – well worth a visit.
Arniston is the only town in South Africa with two official names. Its Afrikaans name, Waenhuiskrans, is derived from the incredible nearby sea cave. The name 'Arniston' is derived from the the wreck of the British ‘Arniston Transport’ which sank here in 1815.
You haven’t been to Arniston if you haven’t been inside the cave. Just make sure you go at low tide and don’t forget to wear sturdy, non-slip shoes that you don’t mind getting wet. It is an easy 20-minute walk from the car park at Roman Beach.
About a 45 minute walk from Arniston Spa Hotel is the Struispunt Beacon, or ‘Baken’ as it is known locally. This nondescript concrete obelisk plonked on a patch of straggly coastline is there for a reason – to warn sailors of the undersea perils of Die Rift (Saxon Reef) – an archipelago of submerged rocks that extends three miles out to sea and has claimed at least 14 ships. In about 1900, the Baken as we know it today, was built. It is made from local stone, painstakingly sourced and cut to size, and was then painted with red stripes.
The wreck of the Arniston Transport is only accessible via a 4 km walk along the beach, but it’s well worth doing. In February of 1816, the Geils family travelled from Ceylon to the Cape Colony to erect a small monument in memory of their four eldest sons and Lord and Lady Molesworth. In September 1816 a monument was erected overlooking the wreck site. However, over time the monument, a stone tablet with an inscription fixed to a brickwork pedestal, weathered and crumbled. In 1905 the sand-damaged tablet was removed and its current resting place is in the Bredasdorp Shipwreck Museum.
In March 2010, a new monument was constructed by Robert Haarburger. It was built in the same style and form as the original monument. The new monument stands in an elevated position, with the backdrop of desolate sand dunes, facing the wreck site and the ocean where the Arniston Transport came to its tragic end.
Fish Traps and Shell Middens
A wander along the coast of Arniston at low tide will reveal many ingenious fish traps, which are still in use today. The ancient fish traps are best viewed at low tide when the distinctive rock pools are clearly visible in the water. Recent research reveals that the first homo sapiens lived on the southern tip of Africa some 165 000 years ago. All around you are reminders of the shore-dwellers who lived here in the late Stone Age, their charred or glittering middens of shell remnants, their fish traps and the caves in which they sheltered from winter storms. They built great fires on the beaches, cooked fish on hot stones, made flints to open shells and left behind the sandy mounds of debris known as shell middens, containing seashells, clay pottery, and the bones of fish, seals and small buck. The shell middens of Arniston tell rich stories of the past and are a visible record of days gone by.
The combination of shallow, clear, warm water and numerous fantastic vantage points makes Arniston one of the best land-based whale watching destinations in the world. You may very well see a whale and her calf bask and frolic in the crystalline turquoise waters mere metres from the coastline. Since the 1990s, Southern Right whales have been regular winter visitors to South African shores. They leave their icy southern feeding grounds to court, mate, calve and rear their young in our warmer waters before heading south again in time for the Antarctic summer.
These whales were called the Southern Right Whale because they were the ‘right’ whales to hunt due to their high blubber content and the fact that they floated when dead.
Whales come to Arniston between May and October every year, although the best months to see them are between July and September. Visitors will enjoy the extraordinary displays of breaching, spyhopping, lobtailing and slapping which may carry on for minutes or sometimes hours. When whales are at rest and not moving forward, it’s called logging.
If you really want to get up close, nearby Struisbaai offers boat-based whale watching excursions.
L'Agulhas – the Southernmost Tip of Africa
Located 170 km further south than Cape Town, L’Agulhas is the southernmost tip of Africa. Its topography is a flat, gently curving piece of straggly coastline with a rocky beach – but in a way this unremarkableness makes it all the more remarkable. The L'Agulhas lighthouse has played a vital role in the history of maritime exploration in this area. It was built in 1848 and is now the second oldest lighthouse in South Africa that is still in operation. The design of the building was inspired by the Pharos of Alexandria. It consists of a round tower, 27 metres high and painted red with a white band, attached to the lighthouse keeper’s house, which now contains a museum and restaurant. This is the only lighthouse museum on the African continent and is well worth a visit. For a small fee you can even climb the 71 steps to the top of the lighthouse. Be warned though, the wooden ladders are even steeper than they are narrow and the viewing platform at the top is almost always buffeted by wind. The lighthouse may not look that tall from below, but standing behind the metal railings up top and gazing towards the South, with nothing but ocean between you and Antarctica, makes you appreciate the amazing view it affords. L’Agulhas is touristy in an understated way. There’s a southernmost café and a southernmost fish and chips shop. And of course, the crude stone monument marking the spot where two oceans meet, is surely the most photographed pile of stones in the country.
In 2019 an iconic sculpture of Africa was unveiled in the Agulhas National Park. The monument is a detailed map of Africa which has been hand-sculpted out of concrete. It is raised with ridges, peaks and hills, showing the mountain ranges, valleys and more across the continent. Visitors are encouraged to step onto the monument and ‘explore’ the continent. The map has been aligned with the earth compass, with the tip of the Africa monument pointing to the South. Different metal powders were sprayed onto the monument that will, over time, react with chemicals from the environment and atmosphere and turn different colours. These will represent the different biomes and vegetation over different areas of the African continent.
Napier is a lot more than the halfway point between Caledon and Arniston. It’s a quirky, arty, gentrified village with numerous art galleries, a candlemaker, a stained-glass window studio and a micro-brewery. It’s a great place to stop off for lunch and a bit of a browse on your way to or from Arniston. A blend of century-old cottages and modern houses, surrounded by the rolling farmland, gives this village a rural character.
Because the nearby fishing village of Struisbaai has a natural harbour, it has attracted bigger boats and a larger fleet than Arniston. The town boasts a few traditional fishing cottages at Hotagterklip and a quaint stone church, but much of its historic character has been lost due to its popularity as a holiday destination. Fortunately its incredible 14 km beach has remained unchanged and the fishing is still out of this world. A visit to the harbour is a must – if you’re lucky you’ll see the catch being brought in. Whale-watching and fishing trips can be arranged from the harbour.
The Moravian mission village of Elim was founded by German missionaries in 1824 to provide refuge for emancipated slaves. Today most of its residents are descendants of slaves. There’s a working water mill and you can even buy bread made from the flour produced there. The village has a legendary brass band, which is still very much at the heart of the community. It also has the oldest working clock in South Africa, which was originally installed in a German church in 1764, before being relocated to Elim by the missionaries.
De Mond Nature Reserve
De Mond is small but perfect. A beautiful coastal nature reserve, named for its siting at die mond (the mouth) of the Heuningnes River. It is located midway between Arniston and Struisbaai and is one of the Western Cape’s natural gems. The centrepiece is the magnificent Heuningnes Estuary, one of the best saltwater fly-fishing destinations in the country and the ideal place for tranquil swims and kayaking excursions. There’s also nowhere better to hang out and just relax with a pair of binoculars and a camera than an estuary on the coast of the Overberg. As with any wetland, the bird life is prolific and varied. You may not be a bird watcher but there aren’t many places where you will hear so much bird song and have a chance to spy raptors, sea birds, waders and ground nesting birds all gathered together in a sanctuary. There’s plenty to look at when you’re wandering around in this paradise.
De Mond is almost 960 hectares large and is popular with nature lovers and hiking enthusiasts. It has an amazing forested picnic site and one overnight cottage. Hiking trails wind their way through the ecologically important dune forests, around the pristine estuary and onwards to the endless rugged coastline. You’re likely to glimpse small buck from time to time: grysbok, steenbok, grey duikers and, if you’re lucky, a caracal hunting below the dunes. The birds of the Strandveld flourish in the dune milkwood trees and teeming salt marshes. Bird species include blue cranes (the ubiquitous stilt-legged bird of the Overberg) and African black oystercatchers. At ground level, plovers will dart onto paths ahead of you to protect their eggs or fledglings. Closer to the coast you’ll see and hear gulls, terns and curlews crying in a melancholy pitch at dusk.
De Hoop Nature Reserve
De Hoop Nature Reserve is one of the largest areas overseen by Cape Nature Conservation, covering 34 000 hectares. It is also a protected Cape Floral region and World Heritage Site. Wildlife includes the rare bontebok and Cape mountain zebra, eland, grey rhebok, baboon, yellow mongoose and caracal. Leopards, although rare, are also found in the reserve. This pristine fertile coast has something of the untamed wilderness about it. The waters within the De Hoop Reserve support thriving populations of marine mammals such as dolphins and seals. The De Hoop Marine Protected Area, which extends three nautical miles (5 km) out to sea, is one of the largest marine protected areas in Africa and provides a sanctuary for a vast and fascinating array of marine life. This reserve is also one of the world’s most important calving grounds for the Southern Right Whale and an important nursery area for depleted angling fish species. One of the best places for whale watching anywhere along the coast is the historic Koppie Alleen towering over the shoreline.
The De Hoop Vlei is a complex and highly productive ecosystem – a Ramsar Site of international ecological importance where aquatic birds and other organisms breed and feed undisturbed. Various waterfowl species and migrant waders, including flamingos, curlew sandpipers, ruffs, little stints and whiskered and white winged terns, visit the vlei in summer when water levels drop and the mud flats are exposed. Everywhere you go, you’ll be surrounded by birds nesting or foraging. More than 260 bird species, local and migratory, are found in the reserve and it is the only remaining breeding colony of the rare Cape vulture.
The reserve also has archaeological sites relating to Strandloper and Khoisan histories and the restored historic Cape Dutch and Edwardian homesteads of De Hoop, Melkkamer and Potberg.
Bredasdorp and the Shipwreck Museum
Because it is not on the coast, Bredasdorp is often overlooked by tourists, especially those from South Africa. The historical centre of town is a good place to browse and grab a bite to eat. Bredasdorp is also the best place to buy groceries and fuel if you’re staying in Arniston. It has an interesting Shipwreck Museum which is housed in a tranquil historical homestead with an extended back garden. It has a well-researched section on the Arniston Transport, particularly the undersea exploration of the wreck in the 1980s. It also has a mind-boggling array of artefacts recovered from some of the 150 ships that met their fate on this coast.
Black Oystercatcher Wines
Black Oystercatcher is a family-run wine farm at the cool southernmost tip of Africa. Here the boutique Black Oystercatcher Wines are made from intensely fruity grapes formed in Cape Agulhas’ extreme growing conditions. And having farmed at Cape Agulhas for generations, the Human family know these conditions well, and use the constant coastal winds, marginal soils and the unique geology to grow their small compact berries. The result? Top quality cool climate wines with penetrating fruit flavours and a distinctive minerality.
Africa's southernmost winery! Strandveld Vineyards is a beautiful, wind-swept winery located 9km from the sea. Situated between Elim and Cape Agulhas, it is the southernmost winery on the continent of Africa. “Strandveld” refers to the coastal belt of land which spans the coastline around Africa’s tempestuous southernmost tip at Cape Agulhas. Lying almost 35˚ south, the Cape South coast is characterised by severe wind, mist and cool temperatures. This confluence of maritime climate, varying sites and soil types creates the diversity of terroir that distinguishes the wines of Strandveld Vineyards.
Zoetendal Wine Farm
Zoetendal Wine Farm, just outside Elim, is a destination wine farm suitable for the whole family. Other than being the home of delicious red, white and rosé wines, the farm is host to a range of easy drinking craft beers. Stock up on traditionally cured cold meats, homemade preserves and handcrafted goods at the farm’s Trading Post. Enjoy hearty breakfasts at the Zoetendal Coffee Shop and sample Zoetendal wines, craft beers and sumptuous ploughman's’ platters at the Zoetendal Tasting Room. Zoetendal Wine Farm is a nature lover’s paradise, and outdoor activities include MTB, hiking, fishing, canoeing and bird watching. If that sounds too strenuous, you can order a packed picnic or braai basket from the coffee shop and relax at the river as you watch the clouds go by. The farm's owners, Jan and Christine Becker, invite visitors to experience the full Zoetendal experience and offer a self-catering accommodation unit that sleeps three.
Originally the winemaking project of boyhood friends Francis Pratt (wine grower) and Bruce Jack (Flagstone wine maker) who together produced seven vintages of two wines - Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon, until the joint venture dissolved due to the sale of the Flagstone brand in March 2008. The winemaking was then bought back to the farm from Flagstone in Cape Town where Francis is now both wine grower and wine maker. These sought after wines are created from the cooling effects from maritime winds blowing in on three sides of the vineyards, allowing the grapes to spend longer on the vine producing wines with greater intensity of flavour with each vintage. These conditions provide the perfect environment for making Sauvignon Blanc. If you make a journey to the southernmost tip of Africa wine region then make sure you stop by and enjoy tasting these unique and unusual wines, particularly ‘Weather Girl’, a Semillion / Sauvignon Blanc blend, The Berrio Sauvignon Blanc, The Berrio Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir and Shiraz.
Wine Boutique L’Agulhas
Anyone visiting L'Agulhas who loves wine should stop at the Wine Boutique when stocking up for the weekend. There are daily tastings with wine sales and exports if you are from overseas. The selection of wines from this region have distinct flavours due to the cold marine winds blowing through the vineyards and allowing the grapes to stay longer on the vines. Locals and travellers often drop by to collect a picnic basket for a day out at one of the stunning beaches in Cape Agulhas. If you just want a snack try the cheese platters.