Cape Agulhas has an unfortunate reputation as the Cape of Good Hope’s flat-chested sister. The Fairest Cape, the darling of Sir Francis Drake, certainly knows how to pose for the camera, even in inclement weather. In contrast, Agulhas doesn’t strike the same sort of spectacular poses, preferring to slide unobtrusively into the sea, but that’s not to say it lacks a desolate beauty of its own or the capacity for drama. - By David Muirhead
Portuguese mariners gave Agulhas its name, which means Cape of Needles. There is some debate about what they meant. This is one of the few places on earth where magnetic north and true north coincide, so a compass needle doesn’t have to lie. But another view holds that they were probably referring to the deadly needle-like rocks that project from the seabed for many miles out from the coast. One hundred and fifty ships have impaled themselves over the years, includ-ing HMS Arniston in 1815 and, forty years later, further to the east near Danger Point, HMS Birkenhead. The latter catastrophe famously gave rise to the maritime tradition of giving women and children first dibs on the lifeboats.
In those early days, if you’d somehow man-aged to trample over Bertha and the kids and make it safely to shore at Agulhas, you would have found yourself on a sparsely populated plain, bisected by ephemeral streams and lazy rivers. Chief among these is the Nuwejaars, so called because it stops flowing on New Year’s Day, not necessarily on the stroke of midnight, but as near as be damned. Perhaps it should more accurately be called the Oujaars because when it does flow, it does so very, very slowly. It meanders about the flat Agulhas Plain dur-ing the winter months as though it’s forgot-ten where it’s supposed to be going. In the process, it spreads out and helps to sustain a vast wetland which attracts huge numbers of water birds.