Cape Point initially earned its place in the history books for all the wrong reasons. Originally labelled as the Cape of Storms by Bartolomeu Dias, it developed a notorious reputation as a hazardous trap for weary sailors. Many ships fell pray to the violent, turbulent seas and submerged rocks, and a startling number of ships wrecked in and around the point, many of which are still visible in the waters and across the various Cape Point beaches.
As a result of this fierce reputation, a number of plans were put into place to assist explorers circumnavigating the peninsula. An iconic lighthouse was built high above the ocean at the top of Cape Point to warn of impending danger, but it was ultimately decommissioned. The lighthouse was seen too early by ships rounding the point towards the east, luring them in too close to the rocky shoreline. At the same time, it often went unseen in the notoriously foggy conditions. A new lighthouse was subsequently built much closer to sea level, still in use to this day, which ensures that this dramatic point can only be seen by ships approaching from west at a point where they are far enough south to pass safely.
Other notable navigational landmarks include Dias Cross and Da Gama Cross, which were erected by the Portuguese government to commemorate Vasco da Gama and Bartolomeu Dias. When lined up, these crosses – together with two beacons in nearby Simon’s Town – pointed to the Whittle Rock, a large permanently submerged shipping hazard in False Bay. Reproductions of these crosses in their original positions are still popular attractions at Cape Point.
Ultimately, these measures helped to curb the notorious reputation of this iconic landmark. Today the region is better known as the Cape of Good Hope, coined by John II of Portugal in reference to the opening of the prosperous sea route to the East. As a tribute to the region’s fascinating history, the Flying Dutchman Funicular, which ferries visitors to the old lighthouse, is named after a mythical ship that’s said to haunt the nearby waters, and each of the funicular cars are named after wrecks one can still see on the beautiful Cape Point beaches nearby.