Cape Point has an intriguing, albeit somewhat sombre, maritime history, and the shipwreck trails at Cape Point take you to the heart of the action. The shoreline is littered with wrecks from years gone by, and while major shipping accidents along this coastline are thankfully a thing of the past, their presence on the peninsula’s beaches make for a fascinating journey into an altogether different era. Two main variations of the famous shipwreck trail offer unparalleled views into this turbulent time in Cape Point’s history, and each are worth exploring.

The shipwreck trails at Cape Point start and end from the Olifantsbos parking area, which is clearly signposted from the main road running through Cape Point.

Thomas T. Tucker Trail

The shortest and most accessible of the shipwreck trails is well-marked from the Olifantsbos parking lot. Yellow markers guide you through the fynbos down toward the beach, and it’s worth stopping en-route to search for untouched marine life in the jagged rock pools.

The walk to the famous Cape Point shipwrecks crosses a variety of terrain, including the rocky coastline. Photograph by  Dave Knight.

The walk to the famous Cape Point shipwrecks crosses a variety of terrain, including the rocky coastline. Photograph by Dave Knight.

From there, you will follow the pristine, often isolated beach towards the prominent wreck of the SS Thomas T. Tucker. This so-called liberty ship, built by the United States during World War II to carry troops and weapons, wrecked on these rocks in 1942, as she was sailing close to the Cape Point coastline in an attempt to avoid detection by German U-boats. The foggy weather made for difficult navigation, and believing they were close to Robben Island, the entire crew ran the ship ashore and safety, unaware of the distance from Robben Island, leaving the large cargo ship behind to ultimately meet her demise. The SS Thomas T. Tucker is possibly the most photographed wreck at Cape Point, and the birdlife that has taken up residence on the hull of the old ship makes for great photo opportunities.

The wreck of the Thomas T Tucker is one of the most accessible at Cape Point. Photograph by Dave Knight.

The wreck of the Thomas T Tucker is one of the most accessible, and photographed, at Cape Point. Photograph by Dave Knight.

After the Thomas T. Tucker wreck comes the Nolloth. The Nolloth was wrecked in 1965 with a full load of liquor, and while this has long since been removed, it makes for a good resting point before returning back. If you still have something left in the tank, follow inland ridge just past the Nolloth wreck and take it back to the Olifantsbos parking area, or continue on to Sirkelsvlei.

Distance and difficulty

If you opt to retrace your steps from the Nolloth, the route is an easy 3km and should take approximately an hour and a half. The inland route is 5km, and will take approximately two and a half hours.

Sirkelsvlei

The Sirkelsvlei Trail is reached by proceeding past the Nolloth and following the signs from the inland ridge, and this is the recommended route if you’re on the lookout for shipwrecks.

While many wrecks look somewhat like scrapyards, they offer fascinating insight into a turbulent maritime history. Photograph by Dave Knight.

While many wrecks look somewhat like scrapyards, they offer fascinating insight into a turbulent maritime history. Photograph by Dave Knight.

There’s also the option to leave from the top of the Olifantsbos parking area alongside the boom. The path from this direction quickly splits into two, and each will bring you back to the parking area, so there’s no need to agonise too long about which option to take.

The Sirkelsvlei walk will take you through a beautiful loop up to the Sirkelsvlei pan, the largest body of water in the region, which is still fed by fresh underwater springs. It’s an impressive, rugged route that over the years has braved the harsh Cape Point elements, and the stark fynbos makes way for reed flats, which are often punctuated by sightings of the rare red hartebeest, bontebok, and a multitude of birdlife. Along the route there’s the option to visit Staavia Edge, from which the Olifantsbos Cottage can be sighted.

Red hartebeest are a common sight on the shipwreck trail. Photograph by Dave Knight (https://www.flickr.com/photos/96681555@N02/)

Bontebok are a possible highlight for visitors walking the shipwreck trail. Photograph by Dave Knight.

Tracing the route via the two major Cape Point wrecks is a fantastic half-day outing, and you’ll leave with a new appreciation for the torrid time that early sailors had while navigating these tricky waters.

Distance and difficulty

The Sirkelsvlei trail is long but relatively easy, and the 7.5km return walk should take approximately 3 hours.