The Plett Beacon Story
The Plett Beacon? Actually, there are four of them.
But we chose to name our house in honour of the newest one - the highest light on the South African Coast.
1630: Padrão of the São Gonçalo
It seems that a group of about 100 sailors off the Portuguese trading ship, São Gonçalo, were the first Europeans who spent any significant amount of time in the area we now call Plettenberg Bay. They'd put into the Bay to effect some repairs on their journey home from India, but a storm came up and destroyed their vessel and its cargo of pepper, and claimed the lives of 150 of their comrades. The survivors lived here for about eight months, during which time they built two boats from whatever they could salvage off their ship, with additional timber from the local forests. Just before they left the Bay, they erected a stone marker (padrão) on the shore. This was the first 'Plett beacon'
The padrão was re-discovered in 1980. It bore the inscription (in Portuguese) “Here was lost the ship São Gonçalo in the year 1630.”
Sadly, the story of the São Gonçalo ended in even further tragedy: although the sailors were eventually picked up by other ships of the Portuguese fleet who brought them back to Portugal, one of those ships sank just as it entered the Lisbon harbour, with the loss of everyone on board - including some of the survivors of the São Gonçalo.
1776: The van Plettenberg Beacon
The shipwrecked sailors of the São Gonçalo weren't the first Portuguese men to set foot in the Bay, though: that privilege went to the famed navigator, Bartolomeu Dias (1451 – 1500), who decided that Plett would henceforth be known as 'Bahia das Alagoas' (Bay of the Lagoons), Robberg would be Cabo Talhado' (Sharp Cape), and the highest point of the surrounding Outeniqua Mountains, 'Pic Formosa' (Beautiful Peak).
Somehow history didn't get that memo, though, and by the time the Dutch governor of the Cape Colony, Joachim Baron van Plettenberg, visited in 1778, the Bay had become known as ' Bahia Formosa' (Beautiful Bay).
Of course that wouldn't do!
So, after a very official inspection of the area, jolly ol' Jo renamed the place 'Plettenberg Bay' (no translation needed), decided that the whole now belonged to the Dutch East India Company (or VOC - Vereenigde Landsche Ge-Oktroyeerde Oostindische Compagnie) and erected a posessional stone to prove it.
And that's how Plett Beacon Number Two appeared. And it's still there: you can visit it at the lookout point on the corner of Hopwood and Meeding Streets.
1771: The Navigational Beacon
Why's the big hotel on the island in front of Plett called the Beacon Island Hotel? Because some civic-minded sailor erected a beacon there in 1771: a square block of stinkwood inscribed with the local latitude and longitude to help fellow mariners confirm their location.
That piece of wood appears to have been replaced at least twice before the local harbour master, John F Sewell, decided that a bit more permanence was needed, and erected a stone navigational beacon in its place in 1881.
And permanent it was indeed - Plett Beacon Number Three's still there in the gardens of the Beacon Island Hotel.
1950: Cape Seal Lighthouse
The Cape Seal Lighthouse was built at the very tip of the Robberg ('Seal Mountain'), and lit for the first time on 11 May, 1950. Although the tower itself isn't very spectacular - it's a 6-metre-high bit of steelwork - and the lighthouse isn't manned, the light does stand 146 metres above sea level, which makes it the highest on the South African Coast.
And by the way - it runs off batteries powered by their own solar collectors.
Those other beacons may be historic, but to us, this fourth one's inspirational. And that's the reason we named our business 'Plett Beacon House.'