Voyage’s end at an ancient, evergreen land

The Southern Coast, after several hundred kilometres of low-lying sandy shores, reaches Cape St Blaize and curls into a gentle blue bay. The golden sand continues around the bay, punctuated by sleepy river lagoons, but now a high range of mountains comes into view and the sands give way to a gigantic coastal shelf that juts out into the sea.

The mountains are the Outeniquas, and they bring year-round rains to the land at their feet, keeping it constantly emerald green. Where the coastal shelf meets the sea, waves have ground it away into high cliffs of orange-red rock, and here and there have carved coves and inlets. Many a ship has come to grief on this violent shore, and legend has it that a chest of treasure lies caught here in the rocks amid the foaming surf.

A mere 110 kilometres, or one and a half hours drive, from Knysna lies the booming town; Mossel Bay where giant waves relentlessly punish the awesome, towering cliffs that line the southern shore of Cape St Blaize, baring the rock strata and gouging out huge caverns. And yet, just 3 km along the coastline, tucked away around the corner of the cape, the water in the sheltered little cove known as Munro’s Bay is as calm and gentle as an inland lake… which is why this spot was the first landing place of Bartholomeu Dias and his men. Today the calmness of the water in the bay, one of the most sheltered stretches of open sea along the entire southern African coast, attracts thousands of holiday-makers and water sport enthusiasts.

All along the Mossel Bay shore there are beaches sprinkled among the rocks. Even at the very point of Cape St Blaize there is a sandy channel set between two rocky ridges that have long been treated by locals as the town swimming pool – known to all as the ‘Poort’. Travelling around the great bay from here the first major inlet is the harbour, then comes Munro’s Bay, Santos Beach, a string of little beaches separated by rocky ridges and known collectively as Die Bakke, the Pansy Beach and the long golden stretch of Dias Beach, which in summer become the vibrant heart of the holiday town. The coast immediately behind the shore is kept tidy and attractive with green lawns and a succession of neat camping grounds, and caravan sites, interspersed with clusters of luxurious holiday chalets.

Anyone tiring of the lovely beaches will find the town itself has much to offer. Its history is well presented in a new museum complex near the old Post Office Tree where Pedro d’Ataide posted South Africa’s first ‘letter’ in 1500. A section of the museum is devoted to maritime history, another to a shell collection with fine specimens gathered from various seashores all over the world.

Also interesting is a drive or walk past the harbour to the Point at Cape St Blaize. You will pass a large number of sturdy stone houses: there are at least 200 of these, many of them built during the last century by immigrant Cornish stonemasons. The majority of the houses in the town are built in ranks that climb up the hillside, with the result that most residents wake in the morning and retire at night to magnificent views out over the little harbour and across the bay to the jagged blue-grey line of the Outeniqua Mountains in the distance. At the Point, directly above the sandy Poort, you will see a cave in the cliff face beneath the Cape St Blaize lighthouse; this was long the home of so-called Strandlopers. From the south side of the cave a narrow footpath zigzags up towards the base of the lighthouse then leads east for several kilometres along the clifftops, offering grand vistas down over the majestic cliffs.

Mossel Bay offers a variety of holiday accommodation and recreational activities. Especially popular is the range of opportunities for the angler, produced by the varied character of the shoreline and the extreme differences in sea conditions; Mossel Bay is also one of South Africa’s leading centres for powerboat fishing.

Recently the development of offshore oil wells in the region has begun to transform what was once a slightly sleepy coastal town into a bustling growth centre, but this is unlikely to mar the appeal of the place for holiday-makers. The town will remain blessed with an attractive blue-sky climate and there are so many beautiful beaches along the shore that they can absorb huge numbers of holiday-makers without being spoilt.