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.
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.
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.
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.
Here are the coolest things we saw during our wanderings around Arniston:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Just exquisite. What a wonderful time you must have had ! I love the cute kitty looking out of the red framed windows ! Happy anniversary !
Thanks so much, Maureen. The kitty is also one of my favorites.
^^I missed that! Me missing a kitty pic! 😮 I was giong to say I liked the red windows. Good idea.
Looks amazing. I’m mad about anything with sour figs or as we call them ‘suurvye’ occasionally I get them in a masala preserve in Fordsburg.
Yeah, apparently they were foraged from the area around Arniston. I haven’t eaten any of the jam yet — excited to try!
How beautiful! Except that cave. The hole and a cave that can kill you daily? Seems like it would feel ominous and haunted and I’d be like, “Can we leave yet!? The sea is coming!” every thirty seconds.
Hahahahaaa. This made me laugh. You are not wrong…As much as I was obsessed with the cave and wanted to stay there for hours, I also had little alarm bells ringing inside my head the whole time. (The woman who took our picture climbed down to the entrance but did not crawl through the hole, I think for the same reason.)
Wow, what an amazing place. Thanks for the article and happy anniversary!
Thanks! You’d love it there I think.
What a beautiful place. And the weather looks magnificent too. Happy anniversary but DON’T GO BACK IN THAT CAVE!!!
Hahaha. I’m already thinking about how I can take better pictures in there the next time I go 😂
One can enter that cave very safely during low spring tide. Done that many times
Yeah, it’s a little nerve-wracking but deep down I knew we were safe!
When slaves at the Cape freed, starting in early 1830s, they had few options: stay working on old master’s farms, run away to the north as “drosters”, or become fishers – hence the “coloured” fishing communities at Kalk Bay, Hout Bay and places like Kassiesbaai and Paternoster.
Happy to see you happy Heather. xoxo
Thanks Lani! 💙
I live your description of the beach town where I grew up during holidays . . We had a house there, next to the hotel. If I could make a correction , the rock where you are standing on the rock, that is Roman beach, the main swimming beach, not the stretch of beach leading to the beacon. You cannot swim there due to strong currents
Oh, thank you – I’ll correct that.