Friday, March 1, 2013

Noordhoek Beach

For a good leg stretch Noordhoek Beach on a warm morning is hard to beat. The sea is freezing cold, definitely only for wet-suited surfers, but as you walk along beside it it’s like having a giant, cooling aircon right at your side. You can take dogs and horses, too, but you need an ‘Activity Card’ from the National Park to make this legal. We once met someone walking a large grey wolf there, but I don’t know whether you need a card for your wolves. You don't really need a map for the walk, but our Silvermine/Hout Bay map will help you find where to start.

Noordhoek is a beach that has always had a wild loneliness, even when there are lots of people about – maybe because once you’re clear of the usual bizarre beachfront architecture of the ‘village’ there are no human habitations for miles and miles on the landward side. The great Noordhoek wetlands, remnants of the ocean channel that once divided the Peninsula in two, are a part of the National Park and apart from occasional muggers [none for several years now] are home only to a selection of small and mostly inoffensive Cape fauna.
On the beach: Boomers; Birds; Babies; Blondes
The ocean channel silted up several thousand years too soon for Captain Niels Pete Fischer Nicolayson, a Dane captaining the ss Kakapo, his first command. The Kakapo was a 663 ton schooner-rigged steel steamship built in 1898 and originally named Clarence. In 1900 she was sold to the Union Steamship Company of New Zealand, who renamed her Kakapo after a rare, flightless parrot [see below].
On 25th May 1900 the Kakapo, on delivery to her new owners and en route to Sydney, Australia put in to Table Bay Harbour for coal. Coaling was quick and like all ships anxious to avoid harbour dues she sailed for Australia that afternoon.
It was, of course, a wild and stormy night, with a rising Nor’wester. The seas were huge – the famous Dungeons, some of the biggest surfing waves in the world, occur off Noordhoek  – and visibility was poor. Mistaking Chapmans Peak for Cape Point, the officer-of-the-watch turned hard to port and steamed up Noordhoek Beach at full power and full speed [9.5 knots].
663 tons moving at 9.5 knots makes an impact, and today the remains of the Kakapo lie 60 to 100 metres from the sea, depending upon tides and seasonal shifts in the beach-line. 

The crew were able to climb down a rope ladder on to dry sand, but legend has it that Capt Nicolayson was too embarrassed to leave and lived on board for three years, through several failed attempts to salvage the ship. This is undoubtedly rumour; in the subsequent enquiry his ticket was suspended for three months, while a number of Kommetjie residents were prosecuted for pinching liquor [of course] and bales of fabric [why not?] from the ship.

The Kakapo makes a great destination if you’ve walked from Noordhoek, and a good turn-around point for a 2-3 hr walk. The rusting old boiler still dominates the view after 113 years, but be careful where you sit with all those spiky old ribs sticking up out of the sand. She was used during the filming of the Academy Award-winning movie, ‘Ryan’s Daughter’; if you watch carefully during the Kakapo scenes you might just spot – in this story of the nineteenth century – a couple of cars flashing past on Chapmans Peak Drive.

A kakapo is a rare flightless parrot and there are only about 160 of em left in the wilds of New Zealand. Most of these are apparently known by name. It’s the largest parrot known, being as large as a chicken – read all about it at . However, if you want a really funny experience watch Stephen Fry pretending to be David Attenborough, and suffering extreme shock at a first-hand experience of the perversity of Mother Nature ... a must-watch at ... that should get you off those Oscar jokes for a while.

All the best
Kaartman, 28 Feb 2013, sojourning temporarily in Betty se Baai.

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