Thorsten and I spent two days in Arniston, a tiny seaside town about three hours southeast of Cape Town, as part of a mini Western Cape road trip to celebrate our anniversary. Our stay in Arniston was courtesy of the Arniston Spa Hotel and Cape Country Routes.

I should have been prepared for how charming and beautiful this town is, as many people told me about it before we went. Nonetheless, I was stunned.

Beautiful beach in Arniston
Roman Beach, one of several beautiful (and virtually empty) beaches we visited in and around Arniston.

Many of the road signs leading to town read “Arniston/Waenhuiskrans”, which doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue. But this is the only town in South Africa with two official names — one English and one Afrikaans — and apparently lots of people call it Waenhuiskrans even though Google Maps and other official sources call it Arniston. The name Arniston comes from an English ship of the same name that wrecked here, and Waenhuiskrans comes from a cave of the same name (both of which I’ll write about later in the post).

People might disagree on the name of this town, but there’s one thing I think everyone can agree on: Arniston/Waenhuiskrans looks extremely good in pictures.

Beautiful view of the beach and oceam
I think this is my favorite picture.
Arniston entrance to Waenhuiskrans Cave
The entrance to Waenhuiskrans Cave — another favorite.
Gratuitous anniversary selfie, celebrating one year of dating during a global pandemic.

Our Stay in Arniston

We stayed at the Arniston Spa Hotel, the only full-sized hotel in town. Our room looked right out onto the ocean.

The town with the hotel in the middle
The hotel is the big white building on the left.
Our hotel room
Our ground-floor room at the hotel.
Swimming pool at Arniston Spa Hotel
Swimming pool in the interior courtyard. I would have loved to lounge here for a few hours if we’d had a bit more time.
View from Arniston Spa Hotel ground floor room
The view from our room. The ocean in Arniston is an insane shade of turquoise. On our last morning, just as we were checking out, we spotted a whale swimming past.
Seafood platter at the Arniston Spa Hotel
Massive seafood platter that we ate in the hotel restaurant on our first night. It was delicious.

We spent most of our time in Arniston simply walking around, ogling the beaches, the ocean, and the architecture. You can walk for miles in either direction and never run out of interesting things to see.

Empty beach
With the exception of a few fisherman, we were nearly always the only people on the beach.
Ocean scene
Ocean, clouds, rock, sand. Perfection.
Heather standing on rock
Obligatory standing-on-rock picture.
Thorsten playing a kelp horn
My boyfriend, as it turns out, is a talented kelp horn player.

Here are the coolest things we saw during our wanderings around Arniston:

Kassiesbaai

Adjacent to Arniston, which is mainly an affluent holiday town, is a working fishing village called Kassiesbaai. The history and culture of Kassiesbaai are incredibly complex, and there is no way I could properly explain it without: 1) Spending several weeks talking to and learning from people in Kassiesbaai; and 2) Writing a dissertation. But in brief: Kassiesbaai has been around since 1905 (although the fishing community has been there since at least 1850) and is a National Heritage Site due to its unique architecture and cultural importance.

Traditional home in Kassiesbaai
A traditional house in Kassiesbaai.

Over the decades, government authorities tried several times to demolish Kassiesbaai and remove its residents. Each time, the community fought back and refused to leave. Today the homes in Kassiesbaai are collectively owned by the Waenhuiskrantz Fishermen’s Union and can only be sold or passed down to people within Kassiesbaai. (Read more about Kassiesbaai here and here.)

We loved walking around Kassiesbaai and admiring the houses, which are made of stone (some whitewashed, some in their natural color) and have thatched roofs. I photographed the houses and Thorsten sketched them.

Kassiesbaai community hall
The Kassiesbaai community hall.
Thorsten's sketch of Kassiesbaai community hall
Thorsten’s sketch of the hall.
Kassiesbaai house sketches
More pretty house sketches. See more at @thethinking_hand.
Kassiesbaai house
Another Kassiesbaai house
I have so many more Kassiesbaai house pictures but I don’t want to spam you.
Kassiesbaai cat
Kassiesbaai cat.

There are a few places selling food and crafts in Kassiesbaai, the most well known of which is Willeen’s. Willeen’s started out as a craft shop but eventually evolved into a full-service restaurant. We had a great meal there on our second night.

Willeen's restaurant
Willeen’s is on the edge of Kassiesbaai, right beside the sea.
Dinner at Willeen's
Dinner by lamplight at Willeen’s — there was loadshedding on the night we went. I had calamari and Thorsten had fish. We loved it. Note that it’s best to book ahead at Willeen’s.

We also visited Kassiesbaai Crafts, a small, community craft shop run by Lillian Newman. We had a nice chat with Lillian and her dog, Soekie, and left with a jar of homemade sour fig preserve.

Lillian and Soekie outside Kassiesbaai Crafts
Lillian and Soekie outside Kassiesbaai Crafts.

Waenhuiskrans Cave/Nature Reserve

The Waenhuiskrans Cave, about a 15-minute walk from the center of Arniston in the Waenhuiskrans Nature Reserve, is a true natural wonder. Waenhuiskrans means “wagon house cliff” in Afrikaans; the cave was so named because it’s big enough to fit a large wagon and a team of oxen inside.

The cave is under a cliff, right where the sea meets the rocks, and can only be accessed at low tide. Luckily low tide happened at 7:30 a.m. on the morning after we arrived.

Just outside Waenhuiskrans Cave
Just outside the cave.
View outside Waenhuiskrans
Looking out from the entrance to the cave.

The cave is well signposted and fairly easy to walk down into. (Don’t go barefoot or in flimsy flip-flops, as there are some sharp stones along the way.) You have to crawl through a relatively small opening in the rocks to get into the cave, but the experience is totally worth a few moments of claustrophobia.

Heather and Thorsten at Waenhuiskrans Cave
There was another woman there who kindly offered to take our picture. Look carefully on the left side — you can just see the hole we were about to crawl through.
Hole to the Waenhuiskrans Cave
Looking back at the hole.
Looking out from Waenhuiskrans Cave
The view looking out — this is where the water pours in when it’s not low tide. Photos can’t really convey what it feels like to be in there…I can’t help wondering how many people and animals have died in Waenhuiskrans Cave.

After the cave we continued south into the nature reserve toward Roman Beach, which is insanely beautiful. At the end of the beach is a 150-year-old beacon erected to help ships navigate around the point, as well as a series of ancient, stonewalled fish traps that indigenous people have used for centuries to catch fish with the tides.

Roman beach and flowers
We were lucky to see a lot of blooming spring wildflowers on this trip.
Waenhuiskrans beacon
The beacon.
You can sort of see the walls of the fish traps here.

Arniston Monument

On our second morning we walked north from town (across more beautiful, deserted beaches) to the Arniston shipwreck monument about four kilometers away. The monument commemorates the sinking of the Arniston Transport, the town’s namesake, in September 1816. The original monument was erected soon after the wreck by Lord and Lady Molesworth, who lost four sons in the wreck, but that monument was eventually moved to the Shipwreck Museum in nearby Bredasdorp. The current monument, modeled after the original, went up in 2010.

Arniston Monument
Looking up at the Arniston Monument.

Wow, this is a really long post. Somehow my small-town posts are always the longest. Expect a couple more Western Cape road trip posts to follow.

Thanks to the Arniston Spa Hotel and Cape Country Routes for accommodating us on this visit.

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