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ARNISTON, THE JEWEL OF THE WESTERN CAPE
My love affair with Arniston, a small seaside fishing village in the Overberg region began three years ago and I have been going back there countless times alone or with guests.
Just north-east of Cape Agulhas, on the shores of Agulhas in the Western Cape, about 210km from Cape Town, you will find the small picturesque fishing village of Arniston. Some refer to it as The Wreck of Arniston while others call it Waenhuiskrans, an Afrikaans name meaning literally “Wagon house cliff”, named after a local popular sea cave, Waenhuiskrans Cave, large enough to accommodate a wagon and a span of oxen.
The name ‘Arniston’ comes from one of the many shipwrecks on the area’s jagged coastline, “The Arniston Transport”. The Arniston sank here in 1815 with wounded soldiers, it was on its way from Ceylon to England via Cape Town. Only 6 of the original 378 passengers survived to tell the story – one of the worst in South Africa’s history.
There is also a small fishing village in this area called Kassiesbaai, this village started off with 5 families (Hopie, Murtz, Dyers, Maritz, and Newman) believed to be descendants of the Hessequa (people who lived in the Southern Cape long before the arrival of the colonists) and freed slaves, settled here around 1850 and by around the year 1870, there were approximately 30 families making up the fishing community that we all know today as Kassiesbaai. Besides fighting the forces of nature, the community members of Kassiesbaai have also had their fair share of fighting for their land. There were plans to develop this village into a modern holiday destination. The development plans included the relocation of the local fishing community, but the community members would not allow that to happen without a fight. Community members, with the help of a lawyer from Caledon (another town in the Overberg region), drew up a petition to fight for their rights as landowners and to protect their fishing rights as residents of the area and they won the battle. It was also included in the ruling that the residents would have free thoroughfare to sections of the beach to uphold their fishing rights.
The court’s ruling was greatly influenced by the fact that 5 of the local fishing families had lived here for over 50 years already. All their hard work paid off as the beautifully renovated Kassiesbaai was officially declared a National Heritage Site in 1986.
Arniston was known to many as just a small fishing village, but over the years has become a holiday destination for many travellers and a paradise for nature photographers when hosting photography workshops. Kassiesbaai, a small village in Arniston characterised by its lime-washed and thatched fishermen’s cottages remain unspoiled by modern civilisation and the entire village has been declared a National Heritage Site. Even today, you can still see fishermen go to sea in their 19th century-shaped boats like their forefathers used to do over 200 years ago.
One thing you will love about community members here is their friendliness, warmth, Ubuntu, and their spirit to share food and stories with visitors.
The only low down about this village is the lack of public transport going there. I strongly recommend hiring a car and getting few friends to join you on this trip, it makes a wonderful road trip.
THINGS TO DO IN ARNISTON
1. WILLEEN’S ARTS AND CRAFTS RESTAURANT
To shop for some souvenirs and eat authentic local dishes, make a stop at Willeen’s Arts and Crafts Restaurant. This home-based restaurant started as a crafts shop, offering craftworks and local dishes however due to high demand, the internal walls of this fisherman’s cottage were soon removed to create space to add a restaurant, which serves local traditional dishes such as pickled fish, bobotie, fried fish, prawns, calamari, mussels, fish pie, fish cakes, fresh bread, and many delicious dishes. There is an outside sitting area where you can sit and enjoy breath-taking ocean views, a long sandy beach, and dunes.
This is not a fancy restaurant but a perfect homely spot to connect with the locals while listening to inspirational stories from the lovely owner, Aunty Willeen. Willeen’s Arts and Crafts Restaurant is located next to the beautiful Kassiesbaai beach.
2. WAENHUISKRANS CAVE
Waenhuiskrans Cave is a large natural wonder not to be missed! This is a beautiful and hidden cave naturally carved by the sea. This enormous cave leaves one wondering how something that beautiful and great could be naturally formed.
On your way back from the cave, make sure you pass at the “Arniston Cauldron” – a shelf of rocks that causes the sea to “swirl” through the opening before being sucked back out to sea and the seaside nests.
About a 4km walk from the Arniston Spa Hotel along the beach, you will find the wreck of The Arniston Transport, but there are only a few pieces of wood that still remain. The Arniston sank here in 1815 with wounded soldiers, it was on its way from Ceylon to England via Cape Town. Only 6 of the original 378 passengers survived to tell the story – one of the worst in South Africa’s history.
There is a monument erected in an elevated position, with the backdrop of desolate sand dunes, facing the wreck site and the ocean where The Arniston Transport came to its tragic end.
4. GO BEACH HOPPING
Beaches in this area are a real paradise and sometimes you forget that you are still in South Africa, and not somewhere on a tropical Island.
Warmed by the warm ocean current, the warm water allows for a nice dip, surfing, and sun-basking. Beach hop between Kassiesbaai Beach next to Willeen’s Arts and Crafts Restaurant, Arniston beach located in front of the beautiful four-star Arniston Spa Hotel, Roman Beach opposite the Arniston Dunes, there is another one after Roman Beach on the left-hand side, on your way to the cave, and Otter Beach after the cave, on your way to Baken and old Fishing Traps.
5. EXPLORE KASSIESBAAI FISHING VILLAGE
Kassiesbaai is home to the traditional lime-washed and thatched-roof fishermen’s cottages.
A trip to Arniston is not complete without a visit to Kassiesbaai fishing village. Hidden behind the seaside golden dunes, lies this Instagramable heritage site. The descendants of the founding families have managed to beautifully preserve the essence of this 200-year-old village and it is only right to show our appreciation by visiting it when visiting Arniston – You are welcome to leave any donations at the Arniston Spa Hotel. Owners of these traditional fishing cottages will welcome you to their homes like you are one of their own. Click here to watch us play our childhood game in this village.
6. SEASIDE DUNES
Unlike at the Atlantis dunes, unfortunately, 4×4 activities have been restricted, but you are allowed to use the dunes for surfing, building sandcastles, or just taking a walk. Being on the highest point of these dunes gives you almost an aerial view of Arniston.
7. WELCOME FISHERMEN AT THE HARBOUR (THE SLIPWAY)
Arniston harbour (Slipway) is situated just a few metres from the Arniston Spa Hotel. You can go there to watch the fishermen when they return from long hours of fishing in an open sea. Ocean in Arniston has kept this small village going for many years as a thriving fishing community and this means there is always fresh fish daily.
On calm windless days, an afternoon visit to Arniston harbour in Kassiesbaai when fishermen return from a long day of fishing in the open sea is an absolute must. Witnessing fishermen being welcomed by women and children is a magical thing to experience. On good days these fishermen bring yellowtail, geelbek, red roman, or red stumpnose in their “Chuckies” (That’s what they call this fleet of old-school boats).
8. EXPLORE TRADITIONAL FISHING TRAPS
The coastline of Arniston still has examples of traditional prehistoric fish traps of the Khoisan Strandlopers (beach walkers) who submerged stone-built enclosures at high tide in a bid to catch fish.
Go and explore them too, and you might find a fish or two if you are lucky.
9. EXPLORE THE ARNISTON BAKEN
About a 45-minute walk from Arniston Seaside Cottages is the Struispunt Beacon, or ‘Baken’ as it is known locally.
This nondescript concrete obelisk, plonked on a patch of straggly coastline is there for a reason – to warn sailors of the undersea perils of Die Rift (Saxon Reef) – an archipelago of submerged rocks that extends just under five kilometres out to sea and has already claimed at least 14 ships.
10. DE MOND NATURE AND MARINE RESERVE
Arniston is flanked by two nature reserves – the De Mond and De Hoop Nature Reserves.
De Mond Nature Reserve lies at the mouth of the Heuningnes River, between Arniston and Struisbaai. It supports a number of small mammals, such as steenbok, grysbok, grey duiker, and caracal. De Mond is ideal for birdwatching and the reserve is particularly important for the protection of the threatened Damara, South Africa’s most endangered coastal bird.
The Reserve also has various hiking and cycling trails and is a must-visit for any bird and plant enthusiast. Be on the lookout for Cape Mountain Zebras, Bonteboks, Ostriches, and the Southern Right Whales that frequent the coastal area every year from July – November.
11. DE HOOP NATURE RESERVE (70KM AWAY)
De Hoop Nature Reserve, on the other hand, is located about 70km from Arniston but it’s worth a visit too if time permits. This 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.
Activities here include whale watching, vulture experience, guided mountain bike trails, interpretive marine walks, guided bird walks, pre-arranged picnics, wine trails, beaches, children activities, guided eco-boat cruises, restaurant, spa, and a variety of accommodation.
12. INSTA SPOT (BONUS)
Behind the Arniston Cauldron, you will find some cliffs. Water on this side has turquoise colour and cliffs add a dramatic look and feel to the scene too. A must-visit spot if you are looking for the best Instagram shot. Be careful because the edges tend to collapse on their own.
If you are looking for warm paradise-like white sandy beaches, delicious freshly caught seafood, a place with a rich history, hidden unspoiled unique tourist attractions, and photography spots then Arniston should be on your travel bucket list.
Planning a trip to Arniston? Book accommodation at Arniston Spa Hotel and hire a car now to get the best rates or contact me for a private tour and discounted rates.
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