Mossel Bay: Where it all began

Mossel Bay is the spot where the first Europeans landed on South African soil, when Bartolomeu Dias rounded the Cape and arrived in 1488.

However, Mossel Bay was occupied long before the Portuguese discovered it. Archeological digs have discovered that Mossel Bay’s human history can be traced back more than 160,000 years. All human life today evolved from a core population that lived in Africa, and it is believed that Mossel Bay provided perfect living conditions for this original population who were the progenitors of modern humankind.

Mossel Bay is also regarded as the beginning of the ‘Garden Route’.

It’s a pretty amazing thought – that after a long and hot drive, we arrived at the beginning of all human history.

After settling into our hotel, we hurried off to the beach for a refreshing dip in the rock pool. I was scared to go beyond the rocks into the open ocean. Sharks.

We then walked up to Cape St Blaize Cave, right under the lighthouse and near another amazing natural rock pool. While it’s not much to look at, it is regarded as one of the most important caves in the world. Archeological excavations have revealed that early man, believed to be San or Khoisan people, lived here some 164,000 years ago.

The next morning we awoke to a miserable, rainy day, so we decided to give the beach and miss, and visit the Dias museum instead.

Here is just a little of what we learnt:

History of Mossel Bay

Dias left Lisbon in 1487 with two caravels of 100 tonnes each.

He sailed along the coast of Africa. But due to bad weather, Dias sailed out into the open sea. As a result he overshot the Cape and rounded the southern tip of Africa without realising it. After sailing east to find the coast again, he had no luck. So he took a northerly course, and found land.

Finally he landed in a quiet cove in 1488, which he named “Aguada de São Bras” (watering place of Saint Blaize) later renamed Mossel Bay by the Dutch. For several years after the Portuguese used São Bras as a resting spot to take on fresh water and meat.

Post Office Tree

This story sounds like something out of a Terry Pratchett novel.

In 1501, another Portuguese navigator, Pedro d’Ataide, on his return journey from the east sought shelter in Mossel Bay after losing much of his fleet in a storm. He left an account of the disaster in a shoe under a milkwood tree near a spring. The report was found by the explorer – João da Nova – and thus the tree served as a kind of post office.

Since then, a boot-shaped post box has been erected under the now same Post Office Tree, and letters posted there are franked with a commemorative stamp. So this has become one of the town’s biggest tourist attractions.

We posted a few postcards to Matt’s parents.

Replica of Dias Bartolomeu’s caravel

Mossel Bay’s Maritime Museum, also within the Dias Museum Complex, houses a replica of the Caravel in which Bartolomeu Dias sailed into Mossel Bay. The replica was built for a voyage from Portugal to Mossel Bay in 1988 to commemorate the 500 year anniversary of the discovery of Mossel Bay and South Africa.


Replica of the Caravel
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