Saturday, June 15, 2024

Eye on Life

Broad interest online magazine


Cape Point Lighthouse and Diaz Beach

Two years ago, the climb up the hill from the carpark to the original Cape Point lighthouse was my nemesis. Having shunned exercise for much of my life, I found I was unable to manage more than about 30 paces on the uphill before having to rest and catch my breath, with my heart beating against my ribcage from exertion. After my pathetic performance, I immediately joined a few hiking groups and over two years have increased my fitness so that I barely get a raised heartbeat, although a lack of oxygen does cause me to pause sometimes.
Today I walked up to the lighthouse with pauses only to take in the magnificent views across the Peninsula, as far as Table Mountain and beyond, or to admire the orange-breasted sunbirds chasing each other in the sunlit branches of the aloes in their striking winter bloom. An icy wind blew in from the Atlantic, matching the temperature of the snow-covered peaks of the Western Cape, and we were all well wrapped up despite the bright sunshine and almost cloudless sky. A band of clouds lurking along the western horizon drew closer as the morning advanced, the reason for the strengthening wind and a tentative promise of a little rain later. I wore two down jackets and a scarf for the entire hike, something quite unheard of, which is further testament to the biting cold.
We were the first visitors to arrive at Cape Point and it was a pleasure to have the viewing area to ourselves even though we didn’t stay long. The wind kept all signs of wildlife well hidden in the shelter of the bushes, and the dassies, baboons and small reptiles that dart among the rocks were entirely absent. In fact, I don’t know of anyone who has seen a baboon at Cape Point for some months now, and one has to wonder what has happened to them.
Not content with a climb to the original lighthouse, we then made our way along the narrow path clinging to the eastern side of the promontory to the lookout above the new lighthouse, which was built after they discovered that the original lighthouse was covered by cloud so often as to be rendered totally useless. It transpired that the highest point was not necessarily the most visible point.
The Peninsula ends in a narrow strip of sheer, rocky cliffs that gradually step down into the sea, and only the very narrow cliff top provides access to the lighthouse, but not to the general public as it is too dangerous, and a wrong step will send you to a certain death way below. It is a place of spectacular grandeur and rugged beauty that should be on a bucket list, if you have one.
We toiled up a not inconsiderable height to rejoin the path back to the carpark, and found the place filled with tourists despite it being the winter season, and engaged in pleasantries with many of them, mostly American or Canadian. It’s always great to have an opportunity to interact with visitors to this country and help them identify birds or places or just generally answer their questions.
After a coffee break on the terrace overlooking False Bay, where we were literally divebombed by fearless and apparently hungry redwinged starlings, we continued our hike over to Dias Beach. A fairly long way along an easy boardwalk, we took the steps down to the beach itself. This pristine beach, possibly kept clean of jetsam by a fierce rip tide, is not easily accessible except via the wooden steps that wind steeply down the cliff, past the most interesting geology one could wish to see, and even less easy to leave, as the daunting climb back up had us resting frequently, and I doubt I would do it again. But still another good one for a bucket list. It is pretty much the last beach before Antarctica, bar a few volcanic islands on the way.
Although it wasn’t a particularly long hike at just under 5km, the buffeting wind added to the effort, and we gained an overall ascension of around 1 000 feet over that distance. And barely a raised heart rate. Not bad for someone who could barely put one foot in front of the other two years ago.

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