There are lots of prehistoric sites along South Africa’s Garden Route, and stone tools and rock art have been discovered in many places. But one of the first sites to be excavated was the cave of Cape St Blaize in Mossel Bay, located beneath the town’s 19th century lighthouse.
Mossel Bay And The Cave At Cape St Blaize
Mossel Bay is known as the place where Europeans first set foot in southern Africa in the 15th century. But its history is much older than that and it is now thought that everyone living today may be descended from the people who lived in this area 200,000 years ago.
The cave at Cape St Blaize, to the east of Mossel Bay, is a natural grotto overlooking the sea. You can see why it would have been ideal for early human habitation. It is a vast cavernous space, 10m high and 72m wide. And there would have been an abundant source of food from the sea: archaologists have discovered that the first inhabitants had a diet rich in shellfish.
The cave seems to have been lived in until Europeans arrived in South Africa in the 15th century. Although humans have long left the cave it was later a haunt of bats, and it is sometimes known as Bat’s Cave. Today it is still inhabited – not by humans or bats but by inquisitive dassies (small furry relatives of the elephant).
An Important Archaeological Site
The first excavations at Cape St Blaize, in 1888, found artefacts going back 80,000 years. This would put occupation of the cave in the Middle Stone Age. However, more recent discoveries suggest that the cave was inhabited by the San (or Khoekhoek) people around 800,000 years ago. This would suggest that the Mossel Bay area was home to the very first people from whom we are all descended.
Today the cave is open to visitors, with a specially constructed walkway. Information boards tell the story of the site. And it has spectacular sea views!
Cape St Blaize Lighthouse
While visiting Cape St Blaize don’t miss the lighthouse immediately above the cave: this is part of the history of the area. Mossel Bay had been an important landing place for Europeans ever since Bartolomeu Dias first arrived in 1488, but the rocky coastline was always regarded as a hazard, especially at night. The lighthouse was built in 1864, and is still in use.
How To Visit Cape St Blaize
Mossel Bay (a few kilometres from Cape St Blaize) has a railway station and a domestic airport. However, most visitors prefer to arrive by car. Entrance to the cave is free. The lighthouse is open to visitors Monday to Friday (excluding public holidays) from 10 am to (10:00 – 12:00 and 12:30 – 15:00). The area is popular for whale watching, and a 13.5 km hiking trail (the St Blaize Trail) begins just beneath the lighthouse.
More To Do On The Garden Route And The Western Cape
Have a look at these posts for more ideas about the Garden Route and the Western Cape