An incredible difference between high and low tides on the coastline adds diversity to a place which is a symbol of a bygone era, and it is popular with photographers and artists for its well-preserved natural beauty
A comfortable two-and-a-half-hour drive from Cape Town, nestled on the east coast with the warm Indian Ocean lapping its extensive beaches, Arniston has become a symbol of a bygone era when time took longer to pass and personal relationships meant a lot.
The village’s name comes from one of the numerous shipwrecks on the area’s jagged coastline. The Arniston sank in 1815 after the ship, already laden with wounded soldiers on the way from Ceylon to England via Cape Town, decided to cut its three anchors and try to run ashore after heavy winds had destroyed its sails.
Alas, it foundered on the sharp rocks of the Arniston Reef. Only six of its 378 passengers survived – one of the worst in South Africa’s maritime history.
“Arniston is the end of the road. There is no through-road to anywhere else,” says architect Charl Steytler. “It has developed little over the 50-plus years I have been going there.
“My children are fourth generation in our same old house, and Arniston has remained constant through all those years. The fishing community of Kassiesbaai is an essential part of the Arniston experience. They are the custodians of a beautifully preserved Cape vernacular village which has become world famous.
“Families can trace their old neighbours and friends back for generations and this adds to a real sense of belonging in a fast changing world.”
The small seaside settlement is close to Cape Agulhas, the southernmost tip of Africa. It is also known as Waenhuiskrans (wagon shelter cliff) after a large low tide sea cave eroded in such a way as to resemble the structures used by settlers to house their oxen and wagons.
The village is popular with photographers and artists for its picturesque setting, well-preserved natural beauty, solitude and serenity. One small shop provides general commodities. Most shopping is done in Bredasdorp, about 24km away. As with most of the Cape south coast, it is a whale-watching hotspot and provides excellent fishing.
Air Force Base Overberg is located a few kilometres outside Arniston and is home to 525 Squadron and the Test Flight and Development Centre. “Arniston is renowned for its stunning white-washed fisherman’s-style architecture and this is also what draws visitors,” says Seeff area agent Elaine Beyers.
“Aside from its sizeable resident fishing community, it is primarily a holiday village.” The average asking price for an Arniston property without full sea view is around R3.1million, and for vacant land about R1.91m. Sea view properties are always in demand and few come onto the market. Seeff, however, has two such properties, one at R8m and another at R8.995m.
The highest price achieved to date was R8.9m for a property sold in March 2017. More recently there was a sale for R8.2m in April this year. Properties change hands at around 10%-20% off the asking price.
“The village attracts buyers from nationwide and abroad. However, in keeping with trends across the country the market has flattened due to economic and political vagaries. “If you’re looking for a place to replicate the very best of the Mediterranean at a fraction of the price, Arniston works,” says Beyers.
Charl Steytler’s favourite places to go and things to do
Arniston is not known for shopping. An attempt to build a commercial centre was blocked by residents. Bredasdorp provides all.
Surfing, sailing, diving, fishing and sand boarding are all old favourites, with golf available in nearby Bredasdorp. Long beach walks to Die Mond or the site of the wreck of the Arniston are popular. The incredible difference to the coastline between high and low tides adds great diversity.
An authentic homecooked meal in a traditional fisherman’s village home, Willeen’s Meals Arts and Crafts is a must. Pickled fish, homebaked bread are mainstays (083 729 0651).
Not exactly in Arniston, the Black Oystercatcher Restaurant has established itself for a menu reflecting the seasons(028 482 1618).
There can be few places with a better view of the ocean than on the verandah of the Arniston Hotel (028 445 9000). Sunset drinks at the lighthouse beacon are a firm favourite.