Things To Do in YzerfonteinDassen Island Lighthouse
Where? Dassen Island, off Yzerfontein, Cape West Coast, Western Cape
How much? Free
Whilst lighthouses by their very nature are destined for remote stations, Dassen Island, off Yzerfontein, can today claim to be the most isolated manned lighthouse on the South African seaboard. Set on a rather barren outcrop of rock and sand some 55 km from Cape Town, and 11 km from the coast, the 28 metre high, circular lighthouse with its distinctive white and red bands is manned by a solitary senior lightkeeper.
Its importance, however, is unquestionable. It remains one of the major beacons on the Cape shipping route. In fact the island derives its name from the prevalence of shipwrecks in the area. It was so notorious that rabbits and tortoises were released onto the island to serve as a source of food for any survivors.
The tower's outer walls are painted in eight alternative horizontal bands of red and white, whilst its lantern is twelve feet in diameter, the light of which was initially commissioned in April 1893. Today the range of the light is 24 sea miles so that on a clear evening one can see it from the top of Signal Hill in Cape Town.
Obviously lying this far away from anything, the lighthouse keeper needed quarters. These lie roughly seventy metres east of the tower. Luckily for the lighthouse keeper the original recommendation to also have a fog signal on Dassen Island was not followed through. But he has to wait for provisions to arrive by helicopter, and any holiday is dependent on an air lift off the island.
The island was the home of thousands of African penguins before overfishing of pelagic fish and the collection of eggs meant the numbers dwindled. However, recent counts suggest the Dassen Islands penguin colony is one of the largest concentrations of penguins in the Southern Cape, at around 30 000.