This historical town has a lot to offer the visitor. The history buff will find a lot to explore in this seaside town, while the leisurely holidaymaker will enjoy the vast beaches and interesting shops. Its central location makes it an excellent base from which to explore the surrounding towns and countryside.
The name Saldanha Bay originally applied to the present Table Bay, where Antonio de Saldanha, a Portuguese admiral anchored his fleet in May 1503. Ironically he never got to see the bay that was named after him. He planned to sail around the Cape of Good Hope on his way to the East, but due to navigational error; he landed in Table Bay. When the Dutch cartographer Joris van Spilbergen sailed past Saldanha Bay, he mistook it for the bay “discovered” by De Saldanha, and named it after him.
Sea Battles and Shipwreck Stories
During the American War of Independence the Netherlands, France and Spain jointly declared war against England. The British immediately took to the offensive and before the commander of the Dutch task force lying in the Saldanha Bay could react, the British, under the command of Admiral Johnston, had sailed between Gull & Marcus Island. One of the biggest sea battles in the South African Naval history followed and on 21 July 1781 the Middelburg was set alight by its own crew near Hoedjies Point. The Batavier II, the ship on which the president Paul Kruger was brought from exile from Switzerland to South Africa in 1904, used this bay as its first mooring point in South Africa.
Legend has that there are actually two stories behind this name:
An Irish gentleman lived in the cave at the time when ‘White Gold’ (Guano) was collected off the islands in the bay, round about 1845. He kept all sorts of goodies, which he sold to the guys who came on the ships to collect bird droppings. He called himself Doc because amongst the goodies, were medicine and “medicine” (booze).
The other story goes that an old medical doctor stayed at the cave, at the time of the great Quarantine. From the cave he treated the patients who arrived in small dinghies and who were not supposed to set foot on land anymore. Between the 1870’s & 1880’s the Bay of Saldanha became a Quarantine Station. A ship carrying contagious disease had to be removed as far and as fast as possible from Cape Town. What better place than the isolated and deserted harbour of Saldanha. It marred the beauty and serenity of the bay. At the southern horn of the bay at Salamander there were a large group of tents for the victims, spread over the little headland. Smallpox victims were regularly sent here. The graveyard at Salamander is proof of that. It was only after the Anglo Boer War that the Bay was finally cleared.
We do not know whether these stories are true, but it does add a bit of romantacism.
French Huguenot Memorial
The first French Huguenots left the Netherlands with the Voorschoten in 1688. On sea one of the passengers died. The boat got problems and had to go into Saldanha Bay. Another boat the Jupiter was sent to take people to Cape Town.
In 1988 there was a big French Huguenot Festival in Saldanha, Cape Town & Franschhoek. During the 3-day celebrations the French Huguenot Memorial was erected on a boulders on the beach next to the Saldanha Municipal Resort.
SAS Saldanha Nature Reserve & Trails
The military area comprises about 1800 ha and is administered as a nature conservation area to preserve the fauna and flora. The indigenous fynbos and animal life are typical of the West Coast region. There are 5 hiking trails of varying distances.
The fertile waters of the Benguela Current, with its high concentration of plankton, makes Saldanha Bay an excellent natural breeding-ground for mussels. The mussels are grown on ropes suspended vertically in the water from floats. It usually takes 4-6 months for the mussels to reach the required marketable size of about 60 mm.
On the West Coast one finds 2 common varieties of seaweed: brown kelp and the more delicate red seaweed (cracilaria), which occurs in sizable quantities. Red seaweed is commonly found on the beaches of Saldanha Bay. Many workers are kept busy gathering and drying this delicate plant. After cleaning, it is baled and exported to the Far East. This seaweed is used mainly in the production of jelly.
Information supplied by SBTO