Africa is a big, beautiful, bountiful place, bursting with abundant and diverse life sprawled over seemingly endless expanses of sun-drenched space. But even Africa comes to an end, and if you track south down the length of the continent, you eventually get there.
Cape Point is the most recognisable tip of Africa, where it sticks its craggy, aristocratic nose out into the cold vastness of the open Atlantic. For this reason alone it has an obvious, global geographic significance. But is this punctuation of a giant land mass all that the ‘Cape of Storms’ has to offer? I would argue strongly that it isn’t.
The other day my son Ruben and I witnessed a strange and disconcerting phenomenon at the Cape of Good Hope parking lot: a bustling queue of mostly foreign tourists, maybe 3-4 tiers across and perhaps 20 people deep, were lined up to take posed photos in front of the sign that declares their location to be the south-western extremity of Africa. As a local resident, I visit this very special place for its windswept, rugged splendour, its luminous light and glorious cloudscapes, and its hardy and under-stated biodiversity. The behaviour of these doubtless diligent and well-meaning travellers crystalized into thought a perception that I have probably held for some time – that most of the visitors to Cape Point – and perhaps to many other iconic natural landscapes around the world – just don’t get it. The people we saw that day had managed to get to the Point, but in doing so they had contrived to miss the Point completely!
Cape Point is not just a place on the planet to collect (and it’s not even the very southern-most point of Africa). Far more importantly, it is a raw and urgent expression of the natural soul-food on which humanity so unwittingly depends. It is torrential storms rocking in from the north and white-frothed rollers relentlessly pounding the white sands of Diaz Beach. It is salt-heavy air, scented by pungently rotting kelp. It is a myriad of different, brilliantly delicate fynbos flowers, shaking and blasted by the ripping south-easter. It is the jetted condensate of breathing pods of Humpback Whales and the crashing drama of breaching Southern Rights. It is the urgent pumping of Peregrine’s wings along the massive, dank sea-cliffs and the peeling panic of hundreds of shiny, bottle-green Cape Cormorants. And it is the bursting pride of a Cape Grassbird, singing for dear life from the top a back-lit, yellow-crested protea. These and a multitude of other, equally vital and magnificent things, are the real point of Cape Point.
After travelling thousands of miles to get there, how do so many visitors reduce this unique, dramatic and magical destination to a signpost and a selfie…?