The Thomas T Tucker Shipwreck Trail in Cape Point
Better known as Olifantsbos shipwreck trail, the Thomas T Tucker Shipwreck Trail might sound rather forbidding, but it’s actually a walk in the park, as you can turn back when you want to, and perfect for those with children as you reach the wreck fairly quickly.
A wonderful aspect to living in Cape Town (and there are admittedly several) is that one can travel but a few kilometres and, in fact, barely leave the city, before you find yourself out in the middle of nowhere, not a building in sight.
Unless you count the accommodation at Olifantsbos, and that hardly qualifies.
Our Wild cards at the ready, and a rather smug smile for managing to sidestep the rather hefty R85 per person entrance fee at the gate, we swing left at the first offshoot from the main road through the beautiful Cape Point Nature Reserve at the sign indicating Olifantsbos.
The car park holds only one other vehicle, and the European looking couple beside it are already layering on the sunscreen. I eye the woman’s shorts and t-shirt with admiration as I can already feel the chill of the autumn breeze as it flows in across the chilly waters to our left. I’m bundled up in a couple of winter fleeces and a hat, my hands thrust into pockets to keep them warm.
I visit the compost loo set at a diagonal to the car park in a little wooden hut, the wind whipping up through the loo from the outlet pipe beneath me, whilst keeping a sharp look out for snakes – another of our party having just mentioned the sighting of a mole snake on a former visit.
We set off at a pace that barely indicates enthusiasm, but the children bound ahead and we follow along the path that soon reaches a series of loose white and grey stones that separate the beach from the fynbos. To one side beautiful boulders and hills.
Photographs — Left: Nature – her own canvas / Right: The wreck
Suddenly we’re sighted by a couple of ostriches who deem this territory theirs (well, it is, we’re the intruders). Rather than give chase, as we’re anticipating – given the rumours of the verocity of an ostrich kick and their supposedly foul tempers – they decide to head off onto the beach on almost the exact path we are taking. For a while it is as if they lead the hike and we follow in their footsteps.
Every few feet they turn to look back to see if we’re still behind them. Only when we reach Olifantsbos accommodation – a cottage virtually on the beach – do we part company, leaving them on the dunes near the cottage to watch our retreat as we head off across the beach.
The day is beautiful. The beach is devoid of people. Vivid blue skies, effortless grey boulders, white sand and a slate grey sea form a canvass for our walk. Off to my right I marvel at a couple of Egyptian geese and a group of sacred ibis who seem to regard the sea as their rightful domain here at Olifantsbos. I’ve never seen either in the sea before.
There is a wind, but not much of one, and it’s behind us. Only on our return will it worry us, and then we easily head up to the road from behind the house, returning to the car park on a path less hindered by the wind.
We pick up a large sea sponge and a few pumice stones lying on the sand. One of us muses that it is supposed to be volcanic lava foam. Actually pumice stone is volcanic glass formed when lava solidifies and is permeated with gas bubbles, which is why it has that lightness, and looks as though it has holes or air in it. This ‘glass’ usually floats on the surface of the lava flow and is colourless or light grey.
It’s the sponge that gets me though. Its brown, light, almost dirty hair-like quality and its holes a delight. That night we put it in the bath, but all it does is leave great swathes of sand beneath one and fills with water until it’s saturated and heavy. It might be what we model our bath sponges on, but it doesn’t have quite the romantic appeal I thought it would. But it does add a slightly different element to the bathroom – this large hairy brown thing on the side of the tub.
We round a mini peninsular into the next little bay (there are several on this walk) and the shipwreck is suddenly upon us. It’s more of a scrap yard than a wreck of any description. Immediately ahead of us is a whale pelvis, its bleached bones beautiful yet indescribably desolate against the blue sky.
Photographs — Left: The beauty of Olifantsbos / Right: Whale bone
The Thomas T Tucker went down here because of fog banks off Cape Point. It was a human error that caused her to run ashore here at Olifantsbos. The steamer (which explains the rather large funnel lying on its side) became confused as it neared the southern tip of the peninsula and headed straight for the coast in the fog.
The captain of the ship thought they had run aground off Robben Island only to be informed that no, they had missed Cape Town by 23 nautical miles. The weather was bad enough at the time that not even tugs could make their way to the wreck to help.
The ship’s cargo was salvaged. In fact they even constructed a ferricrete road down to the coast to help remove the material that included war material, barbed wire, ammunition and Sherman tanks for the Allies – it was late 1942 when the ship met its demise on this beach. The rescue operation took about 5 months.
Interestingly there was a second attempt to salvage the wreck, once they had all the cargo off the ship, but they seem to have waited until the weather again turned, and this time the ship was swept broadside onto the rocks.
From where I stand today, the wreck seems miles from the sea. I can only speculate as to the extent of the storm that laid it up here on the sand, shredding it into several pieces and distributing them helter skelter.
Now they lie in amidst seaweed and shy red beaked oyster catchers that I watch avoid the spray of the waves as they run amidst the rocks.
There is plenty of sea life in the rock pools at the water’s edge, but we shelter in amongst the boulders for a quick bit of nosh and a chat, before heading back. The circular route is roughly 3 km and can take anything from an hour to three.
Photographs — Left: Wreck closest to the sea / Right: Nature’s bounty
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There are other routes to hike from Olifantsbos that are a little more taxing:
Shipwreck circuit – roughly 5km
Head on past the Tommie Tucker wreck and around the next bend, where you will sight another wreck, this one known as the Nolloth. Carry on up to an inland ridge. The path leads back to the Olifantsbos parking area, but go past the sign that goes to Sirkelsvlei and keep going to Staavia Edge.
Sirkelsvlei circuit – roughly 6.5km
Sirklesvlei is a vlei, a large body of water said to be fed by underwater springs. Hook up with this route by taking the path near the boom gate at the top of the road that heads up from the parking lot. The path splits and you can take either, as it’s circular. The sea side path takes you along Staavia Edge and around to Sirkelsvlei to a rock shaped like an arch and then back to Olifantsbos.
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