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Looking at the history of Plettenberg Bay

We are left with an interesting and colourful image when we are looking back at the history of Plettenberg Bay as it was named by the first Europeans stranded on these shores in the fifteenth Century. Those who have been here long ago have contributed to what we are enjoying today – the much loved town of Plett.
The history of Plett goes as far back as the Stone epoch. The Nelson Cave on the Robberg Peninsula and the Matjies River Rock Shelter nearby the Keurbooms are proof of Stone Age Man having roamed this area and later the successors – the Khoisan.
Ornaments, tools and other relicts of this time can still be viewed in these caves today.

History of Colonial Plettenberg Bay

During this era of adventure and discoveries the Europeans built their ships and set off to conquer the world subsequently colonising whereever they walked on foreign land.
While these early explorers travelled along the African Coastline they discovered this beautiful bay.


Long before Jan van Riebeeck went ashore at the Cape in 1652 – exactly 165 years – the Portuguese explorers drew up charts of the bay in the 15th and 16th Centuries. The first and best known was the Portuguese navigator Bartholomeu Dias ( Born 1451 – Died 29 May 1500 ) who opened the sea route between Europe and Asia. He named the bay “Bahia das Alagos“, meaning “Bay of Lagoons “.Robberg was called “Cabo Talhado“ meaning “Sharp Cape“ and in the distance the beautiful Outeniqua Mountains with their highest peak, “Pic Formosa“ meaning “Beautiful Peak“.


When Manuel Perestrello landed at this bay some ninety years later ,he would change the name to “Bahia Formosa“ meaning “Beautiful Bay“.


The first known Europeans to explore this area were a group of a hundred sea men stranded in the bay when their ship the “Sao Concalo“ sank sailing back from India carrying a valuable cargo of pepper to Portugal. While they anchored for repair the ship was hit by a huge storm and sank. Of the sailors on board one hundred fifty men drowned but a hundred men of the crew managed to swim ashore and survived in the Piesang Valley for eight months before they set out again on two boats they have built from the remains of the sunken ship and wood from the forests. They left a stone behind called “padrao“, a reminder of the original shipwreck which was rediscovered in 1980.
The stone—now called “The Van Plettenberg Stone“ was found by the Governor Joachim van Plettenberg about three miles from the beacon set up by him.
The sailors on their way back to Portugal were picked up by other Portuguese vessels. Tragically one of these vessels sank with all men on board just as the ship entered the harbour of Lisbon.


When the Dutch East India Company (VOC) took over control of the trade route to the east, it set up a refreshment station at Cape Town in 17th Century .It didn’t take long before the travellers from the new settlement discovered the treasures and riches of the Southern Cape Coast – today so well known as the Garden Route.
The first European settlers in the bay were farmers, hunters and frontiersmen who moved up from the Western Cape.
The life of these early settlers in the vastness of these forests was very hard. They cut down all the valuable woods and other huge trees without considering any consequences of their doing. Of course at those times all this demanded intensive manual work. They would use Percheron horses of French origin to pull the planks to agents that dwelled in the surrounding forests.


The first navigational beacon was erected on the Beacon Island. It was a square block of stinkwood, inscribed with latitude and longitude of Plettenberg Bay, to enable mariners to check their location. In 1881 it was replaced by a beacon made out of stone by Captain Sewell and can be viewed today on the grounds of the current Beacon Isle Hotel.


There were barracks built for the Dutch east India Company . The town was renamed Plettenberg Bay by the Governor of the Cape , Baron Joachim van Plettenberg. In 1896 the barracks were bought by the St. Peters Church and used as a rectory for the next seventy years. Today it is privately owned.

1777 - 88

The remains of the timber shed – erected by Johann Jerling and commissioned by the Dutch east India Company – can still be seen today and are preserved as a provincial heritage site.


In winter, on their to India, Plettenberg Bay served as stop over for ships passing by during winter time.

Modern Period

There was a whaling station on Beacon Island which was closed down in 1919. A hotel was built on its site instead called Beacon Island. This again was replaced by the famous Beacon Isle Southern Sun Resort which opened its doors in December 1972.
Today this beautiful town situated on the shores of the Indian Ocean is lovingly called “Plett is a Feeling“