Explore the rugged Agulhas coastline on a 5.5km walk that takes in a shipwreck, Stone Age fish traps, rock pools and more. By Roxanne Reid
The Meisho Maru may not be the most historically significant wreck along the southern Cape coastline, but it’s photogenically rusty and conveniently close inshore for those without telephoto lenses that cost about the same as a small car.
Perched on the rocks just west of the Agulhas lighthouse, it’s what remains of a Japanese tuna ship that went aground here in 1982, when all 17 crew members swam safely to shore. It makes an unmissable starting point for the Agulhas National Park’s Rasperpunt Hiking Trail. Once you’ve ‘done’ the lighthouse and stopped off at the stone cairn that marks the southernmost tip of Africa and the point at which the Indian and Atlantic oceans meet, the Rasperpunt trail should be your next port of call.
The 5.5km circular route meanders through varying landscape, down to the water’s edge and up to the dune ridges. It’s a pretty spectacular environment, from turquoise sea to rocky pools that reveal all manner of marine critters if you’re not in too much of a hurry, as well as pristine dune fynbos. A natty touch are markers along the way. Use these in combination with your info brochure to discover some of the interesting plants of the area – like the Bietou, or bush-tick berry (Chrysanthemoides incana), whose ash was used in making soap, or one commonly known as kooigoed (Helichrysum crispum), which was used in the old days as an insect repellant and for stuffing mattresses.
Perhaps the most fascinating things to see along this trail are the Khoi fish traps about 1.5 km from the starting point. Plan your walk for low tide, which is the best time to see these ingenious Stone Age no-sweat fishing aids, made by constructing dams across shallow gullies to strand the fish on the outgoing tide. Some of them have been maintained through the centuries and are still used by locals today.
Another 500 metres or so further on you’ll notice some dark reeds. Don’t walk by oblivious; they point to a secret freshwater fountain that seeps into the sea here. Wouldn’t thirsty shipwrecked sailors in days gone by have loved to know about this source of fresh water! It’s also a favourite gathering place for birds like black oystercatchers.
From here the trail turns away from the shoreline towards the dune ridge, so there’s some climbing to be done. What makes the effort worthwhile is a selection of fabulous viewpoints where you can look back along the shoreline and watch the breakers crash onto the rocks. And if you walk the trail between June and September, you may even be lucky enough to spot some whales.
If you’re like me and you don’t enjoy the heat, leave in the cool of early morning so you can take your time and soak up the history, the views, the fynbos, the birds and marine life before the trail leads you back to your starting point about three hours later – just in time for a coffee break at the lighthouse restaurant.