Map showing the Cape Peninsula, illustrating the positions of the Cape of Good Hope and Cape Point.
The peak above Cape Point is a little higher than that above the Cape of Good Hope. The rugged sandstone (Table Mountain sandstone) ridge that rises from Cape Point at sea level develops into two peaks. There is a major peak that dominates the skyline locally but there is also a smaller peak about 100 m further south. The higher peak has the old lighthouse on the top. A funicular railway runs from a car park to the north up to slightly below the level of the old lighthouse and a short flight of steps leads to a viewing platform at the base of the lighthouse. From the end of the railway a second path leads to the lower peak.
The new lighthouse is at a lower elevation (closer to sea level), for two reasons: the old lighthouse could be seen ‘too early’ by ships rounding the point towards the east, causing them to approach too closely. Secondly, foggy conditions often prevail at the higher levels, making the older lighthouse invisible to shipping. On 18 April 1911, the Portuguese liner Lusitania was wrecked just south of Cape Point at 34°23′22″S 18°29′23″E / 34.38944°S 18.48972°E / -34.38944; 18.48972 on Bellows Rock for precisely this reason, prompting the relocation of the lighthouse.
The new location cannot be seen from the West until ships are at a safe distance to the South. The light of the new Cape Point lighthouse is the most powerful on the South African coast, with a range of 63 kilometres (39 mi) and an intensity of 10 megacandelas in each flash.
Both the Cape of Good Hope and Cape Point are situated within the Table Mountain National Park, the Cape Point section of which occupies the whole of the southern tip of the Cape Peninsula and which takes in perhaps 20% of its total area. The park is generally wild, unspoiled and undeveloped and is an important haven for seabirds.
View over Cape Point; the lighthouse’s white dome is just visible. The Cape of Good Hope is behind the camera.
Cape Point is often mistakenly claimed to be the place where the cold Benguela Current of the Atlantic Ocean and the warm Agulhas Current of the Indian ocean collide. In fact, the meeting point fluctuates along the southern and southwestern Cape coast, usually occurring between Cape Agulhas and Cape Point. The two intermingling currents help to create the micro-climate of Cape Town and its environs. Contrary to popular mythology, the meeting point of the currents produces no obvious visual effect; there is no “line in the ocean” where the sea changes colour or looks different in some way. There are, however, strong and dangerous swells, tides and localized currents around the point and in adjacent waters. These troubled seas have witnessed countless maritime disasters in the centuries since ships first sailed here.
Fishing is good along the coast but the unpredictable swells make angling from the rocks very dangerous. Over the years scores of fishermen have been swept to their deaths from the rocky platforms by freak waves. False Bay, which opens to the east and north of Cape Point, is the location of the well-known naval port of Simon’s Town. The bay is also famous – or infamous – for its great white sharks, which hunt the Cape Fur Seals that live in the area.
Cape Point is the site of one of the Global Atmosphere Watch‘s atmospheric research stations. In the early years of the 20th century icebergs from Antarctica were occasional spied from Cape Point. Whether there have been any authentic recent sightings of ice in this age of global warming is difficult to establish.