There is excellent whale viewing form the Old Harbour and environs. Whales come to the area from July to November to mate and calve. There are many illustrated boards along the coastal cliff path that provide information about whales.
The SA Shark Conservancy is located against the cliffs in the Old Harbour. Visit them for a close encounter with some awesome little sharks.
Other animals you might spot are the rock hyrax (known locally as a ‘dassie’ whose closest relative is the elephant), many types of gulls, as well as breeding rock kestrels.
The Old Harbour was first known as Visbaai (Bay of Fishes), because the first settlers moved to this part of the coast to catch fish to feed their families. Only 100 years later, after a second harbour was built and called the New Harbour, did people start calling Visbaai the “Old Harbour”.
For nearly 100 years, fishing boats operated here. Each boat had eight fishermen, under a captain (“skipper”) and the catch was cleaned and prepared for eating or for sale by members of the family.
At the busiest times, sixteen boats were launched from this harbour. When they returned full of fish, the shape of the harbour meant that only one boat could land at a time. The boat was beached and the fish unloaded before the boat was carried up the ‘hard’ (the concreted slope up from the water’s edge). Only then could the next boat enter the harbour.
Later, fish merchants set up businesses. They bought the whole catch of boats, took care of the processing and then marketed the product. Fresh fish was first sold to nearby farmers, then in neighbouring towns like Caledon and, once refrigeration was available, in Cape Town, the interior of South Africa, and even Mauritius. The merchants built offices (known as ‘vishuise’) right in the harbour. Their style has been copied in the buildings of the Old Harbour Museum.
After all the fishermen had moved to the New Harbour in the 1950s, the Visbaai fell into disrepair, as it was unclear who the owners were. The idea that it should be restored and turned into a museum came to the fore in the late 1960s. In 1970, under the new name of the Old Harbour the whole area was declared a National Monument and in 1972 the Museum was established as a (Western Cape) Provincial Museum.
You can visit the indoor museum, which has many artefacts and other items relating to the fishing industry. The outdoor museum preserves a sea-wall, a breakwater built as early as 1904, old fishing boats, ‘gutting tables’ on which the fish were processed and stands on which fish was dried for use or sale later.
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