The Cape Peninsula
… where the Atlantic Ocean began in deep time
The steep cliffs of the Cape Peninsula’s ancient mountains, gazing out across the vast expanse of the southern Atlantic Ocean, reveal colossal layers of granite, shale and sandstone, telling a story aeons in the making.
Here you see where southern South America, south western Africa, the Antarctic Peninsula and East Antarctica, once welded together, were slowly torn apart by volcanic granite, thrusting upward what had been, by turns, the floors of calm, shallow seas and the beds of deeper oceans.
At the rate that fingernails grow, the great continents of Africa, Antarctica and South America separated, each taking with them parts of the mountains that now stand proud on the south western tip of Africa, giving birth to the southern Atlantic Ocean.
… where equatorial warmth meets Antarctic cold
At the Cape Peninsula the great warm ocean current, Agulhas, ends its journey from the equator along Africa’s east coast, swinging southward to lose its energy. Meanwhile the cold Benguela current sweeps northward from Antarctica to brush the hem of Agulhas and chill the water of the Cape’s western shores.
These great ocean currents create two strikingly different marine environments and give the land between them one of the most richly diverse plant kingdoms on the planet.
…where time and hardship creates diversity and beauty grows.
Once deep beneath south polar seas and then untouched by glaciers for millions of years, the soil of the Cape Peninsula is poor but then has had time to produce its distinctive ‘fynbos.’
Over millions of years the ‘Cape Floral Kingdom’ has adapted perfectly to hot, dry, windy, fire ravaged summers and wet, cold winters. Low growing, with small tough foliage, ‘fynbos’ contains thousands of genera and species of plants, a diversity created by the microclimates the mountains and flatlands have forced on it. Proteas, ericas, flowering bulbs, shrubs and restios that speak of a time before the grasses evolved are part of the Cape’s bewildering and beautiful natural environment.
…where Africa, Europe and Asia’s people meet.
Piles of sea shells on the beaches, called ‘middens’, tell of ancient human communities gathering sea food on the Cape shores tens of thousands of years ago. Some say the brain nourishing long-chain fatty acids in their diet of shellfish gave rise to human culture, the ability to migrate and adapt to vastly different environments.
More recent history tells of San (Bushmen) hunter-gatherers here. Later came Khoi pastoralists with flocks and herds, then African tribesmen, European seafarers and slaves brought from Indonesia and Mauritius.
The Cape Peninsula’s people are as robust as the mountains and as richly diverse and beautiful as the fynbos.