You might not find Puntjie on a map, but it’s worth the trip
As far as seaside resorts go, the “hidden” village of Puntjie on the Cape South Coast is in a class of its own.
Roughly four hours’ drive east of Cape Town, seemingly absent from the map, lies the seaside village called Puntjie. Unlike most other coastal spots today, it reminds you of a long-forgotten time, charming you with simple architecture and dramatic scenery.
We first heard the name Puntjie mentioned by a wealthy Johannesburg businessman, who described the area as one of the most alluring landscapes he’s observed on his travels through South Africa. His name is on a long waiting list of people eager to buy land in the village. Intrigued by what this exclusive paradise would be like, we find ourselves on our way there.
It turns out that finding Puntjie could be difficult, as it’s only accessible by dirt road, south of Vermaaklikheid. We recommend using a map to locate the estuary of the Duiwenhoks River, where Puntjie sits.
A small sign that reads “Puntjie, no trespassing” lets visitors know they’ve arrived. Don’t be alarmed by this sign, as the locals are friendly and they welcome visitors.
Upon our arrival, we meet Date Beukes, who’s agreed to give us a tour of the village and the inside track on Puntjie’s development and settlement. Date has been a part-time resident here since his birth. His house used to belong to his grandmother, who left it to Date’s mother. He, in turn, took it over in the early 1980s.
Date lives in nearby Vermaaklikheid but often spends time at his house in Puntjie. He used to be based in Cape
Town, and would come to Puntjie once a month for a weekend getaway with his family, but now that he’s retired he’s only 10 minutes away and visits more frequently.
Besides the house Date maintains, his family also owns a few other houses in the village. Passed down from generation to generation, these properties will remain in the family unless they decide to sell them to the Molly Lazarus Trust, which was established to prevent further development in Puntjie.
The binding nature of the trust means few people are able to purchase property in Puntjie, if at all. This is not a place one merely buys into. There’s an extensive waiting list to own a plot. Many would try bribery, even offering millions, to get themselves higher up on the list – but to no avail. The only way to get your hands on real estate here is to wait your turn, which may take years.
“Most of the people are old, old families who all know one another. They’ve been here for generations,” Date says. A family has to move out and notify the trust before anyone on the waiting list can move in.
Walking around, I immediately understand why no one wants to leave and so many want to get in. Life in Puntjie is leisurely. With the fresh ocean breeze and the sound of waves crashing below the cliffs, it’s a balm to the soul.
As we wander along dune trails, Date notices that I’m admiring the simple style of the thatched A-frame cottages and explains that the kapstyl architecture dates back to the 18th century, when the first settlers here followed in the footsteps of the Portuguese founders.
Date continues on the subject of the Portuguese heritage. He says although most families in Puntjie aren’t new to the area, it’s important that everyone is educated about Puntjie’s history.
In the 1500s, when sailing was the only means of international trade, business and travel, many passed around the southern cape of Africa following the Agulhas and Benguela currents. Portuguese navigator and cartographer Captain Manuel de Mesquita Perestrelo was doing exactly >
that when he and his crew shipwrecked north of the Great Fish River in 1554. He was one of 64 survivors out of a total of 473 crew members and passengers. They first set eyes on Puntjie while making their way through the bush to Delagoa Bay, where they were rescued. In the years 1575 and 1576, Perestrelo returned to chart the south-eastern coastline of South Africa.
A settlement was only established here when free burghers began fishing the Duiwenhoks River. Eventually, more than 200 Portuguese fishermen and their families called it home. The design of the settlement reinforced a cultural way of life, with inhabitants living and thriving off the sea and the Duiwenhoks River mouth.
Puntjie is situated where the Agulhas ocean current, which flows south from the warm Mozambique and Madagascar currents, mingles with the cold South Atlantic Benguela current, which flows north to cool the warm tropics of the equator. Together, the two currents are recognised as part of the global “conveyor belt” circulation. During winter the interaction between the Agulhas and Benguela currents drives powerful winds up the mountains skirting the coastline, thus forcing air to condense and rain to fall, resulting in mild winters when a wet, grey haze often covers the landscape rapidly.
In Vermaaklikheid, in 2004, such a rainy winter sent floods through Puntjie. Date says sections of the Duiwenhoks River rose by as much as six metres in one minute! Although the majority of the houses maintained their foundations and sustained only minimal damage, all that water still wreaked havoc on the landscape, with long-term negative impacts on the natural vegetation.
As the river swelled, alien trees that had been cut down but never removed from the agricultural highlands began drifting down the Duiwenhoks and took root downstream, invading the river banks in Puntjie. The native species were no match for the invaders. The battle between alien and indigenous vegetation in the area continues to rage. The invasive species, unlike the native ones, haven’t adapted to South Africa’s dry areas and effectively use more than their fair share of water.
This used to be more of a problem during the early days of the development, when residents relied heavily on the rain run-off from Bronn’s Dam,
There are 54 cottages in Puntjie, blending seamlessly with the landscape as if they have always been here.
just upriver from Puntjie, to fill their reservoirs. Today, however, the village’s water reserves no longer cause much concern, as locals usually bring their own drinking water and use a solarpowered borehole to obtain bathwater. The reservoirs, built in 1940 by Date’s father-in-law Lool de Jager, still remain but are used much less. Date’s reservoir, I later find out, is used so seldom that it’s filled to the brim.
There are 54 cottages in Puntjie, blending seamlessly with the landscape as if they have always belonged here. Each is constructed in the same fashion, beginning with a sturdy hardwood A-frame (the original ones were constructed from local milkwood). The roof is thatched with layers of reed grass, secured with twine.
Paraffin lanterns are hung from the
rafters inside, preserving the tradition of simplicity. A window faces the sea, providing light during the day and welcome sea breezes in summer. Many of the original cottages did not survive, but those that did have been renovated on concrete foundations, which extends their lifespan.
Because so many of the cottages have been renovated or rebuilt, the settlement today consists of both large and small houses – the larger ones being more modern. The smaller structures were used primarily for sleeping and did not include a kitchen. Originally, cooking was done in a designated kapstyl building or over a fire outside. This explains why these smaller cottages are built parallel to the shore: they would shield the cooking fires from the prevailing wind.
Today, many of the newer cottages have a coal stove with an aluminium chimney in the kitchen. Sleeping arrangements have also changed over the years: instead of having only one big bed on the floor where everyone slept together, a more modern large cottage offers separate beds. There are two double beds at the back of the house and two singles in front, with a curtain separating the two areas for privacy.
Date ushers us inside his cottage – the one that used to belong to his grandparents. It’s one of the larger houses, and was rebuilt in 1985. Construction took about a week and cost R2 900 (equivalent to R80 000 in today’s market). Date was crafty: instead of using a curtain to separate the sleeping areas like in most of the other large cottages, he installed a bed in the rafters with a ladder leading up to it.
Date’s family also owns a small flatbottomed boat with a simple engine. It was acquired in the 1960s by Date’s uncle, who traded a leopard skin for it. The boat is still used by the Beukeses, especially Date’s son, Tinus, who works with the Two Oceans Aquarium in Cape Town, catching and releasing fish. During one such fishing venture Tinus caught a puffer fish that’s not native to the region. He sent it to the aquarium in Cape Town, where it was rehabilitated. It was later flown to Durban and released in its natural habitat.
Acts such as this are ingrained in the locals’ attitude towards the sea. They know that the weather here can turn violent at times, so they have great respect for the ocean.
Puntjie has undergone numerous changes but, compared with development elsewhere, it remains largely untouched. The attraction of the place is its simplicity, and the development restrictions are its strength. The people who live here make thoughtful decisions and, if necessary, take action to sustain Puntjie. They limit their use of the resources around them, revering the beautiful coastline bestowed upon them. Unfortunately, Puntjie’s exclusivity prevents the average person from enjoying its relaxing pace and scenery. One may still visit the village on a day trip, however, and chat to the locals, who are more than willing to share a story or two.
1 The view of the seafront row of cottages in Puntjie from a small cave on the beach. 2 Some of the cottages overlook the Duiwenhoks River. 3 This is the first brick house that was built in Puntjie. 4 A sunset shot taken from the beach. 5 A typical kapstyl cottage in the seafront row in Puntjie. Kapstyl, directly translated, means roof-truss style, referring to the building method.
ABOVE A row of old boat houses are located in front of Date’s holiday home, next to the Duiwenhoks River. LEFT A thatcher is busy laying thatch on the frame of a new cottage being built in the same style as Puntjie’s historical kapstyl cottages. Thatching is a skill that was first brought to South Africa by Moravian missionaries.
1 A small cave on the beach below the village. 2 The seafront cottages in Puntjie have a panoramic sea view. 3 The inside of one of Date Beukes’s cottages in Puntjie.