Lying on the shores of Marcus Bay, just north-east of Cape Agulhas, is the tranquil little fishing village of Arniston, also known as Waenhuiskrans - ‘wagon shelter cliff’ - after a large low-tide sea cave, eroded in such a way as to resemble the structures used by settlers to house their oxen and wagons.
The name ‘Arniston’ comes from one of the numerous ship wrecks on the area’s jagged coastline. The Arniston sank here in 1815 after the ship, already laden with wounded soldiers on the way from Ceylon to England via Cape Town, decided to cut away its three anchors and run ashore due to heavy winds having destroyed its sails. It broke up on the sharp rocks of the Arniston Reef and only 6 of the original 378 passengers lived to tell of the disaster - one of the worst in South Africa’s history. But the village of Arniston has dispelled its origin of doom, and delights visitors today with its craggy cliffs and the quaint, whitewashed, thatched fishermen’s cottages of Kassiebaai, more than two centuries old and a national monument in its entirety.
Staying at accommodation in Arniston means getting to experience the magic of Cape Agulhas Coast up close and personally. This unpretentious, picturesque seaside village is not far from Bedasdorp and only 2.5 hours’ drive from Cape Town.
Artists and photographers in particular are attracted to Arniston because of its picturesque prettiness, and whilst the cliffs may be dangerous, the rolling sand dunes, golden beaches and intense blue of the sea make Arniston one of the best-kept secrets along the Overberg coast. The coastline is an invitation to long walks and has many examples of spectacular sea erosion with numerous displays of caverns and arches. The coastline is peppered with examples of prehistoric fish traps of the Khoisan Strandlopers (beach walkers) who submerged these stone-built enclosures at high tide in a bid to catch fish. Piles of fish bones and shells are all that remain of this vanished people.
Arniston is flanked by two nature reserves - the De Hoop and De Mond Nature Reserves. De Hoop Nature Reserve conserves a major wetland and is home to almost 100 aquatic bird species and of international importance for migratory birds. In fact the entire coast is a marine reserve, one of the biggest in Africa, and the rare African Black Oyster Catcher, the Southern Right Whale and at least 250 species of fish are protected.
De Mond Nature Reserve lies at the mouth of the Heuningnes River, between Arniston and Struisbaai and tends to be regarded as a satellite of the De Hoop Nature Reserve. It supports a number of small mammals, such as Grysbok, Steenbok and grey Duiker as well as the rather illusive Caracal. De Mond is ideal for bird watching and the reserve is particularly important for the protection of the threatened Damara, South Africa’s most endangered coastal bird.