When Marius and Melanie Kearney arrived in Mossel Bay in early 2021, the restoration of the town’s historic lighthouse was certainly not on their wish list. They planned an early retirement, wanted to see dolphins frolic in the waves, eat oysters and drink champagne. But then they crossed paths with the town’s Cape Sint Blaise lighthouse and now, two years later, they work side by side and seven days a week in their own restaurant in that very lighthouse.
The lighthouse was built in 1864 and Marius says that they spent six months scrubbing and carpentry to make the badly dilapidated place livable. Moreover, the Covid pandemic was in full swing when they started the restoration work. The site belongs to Transnet and because the tower is a historic building its structure may not be changed. The small rooms therefore had to be preserved and the outer walls may only be painted white. The characteristic red roof also had to remain, because that’s how Mossel Bay’s lighthouse is identified by ships.
The tower’s living quarters, which stood empty for around thirty years, were converted into a tasteful two-bedroom guest house during the restoration. “And now it’s fully booked months in advance,” says Melanie. She studied hotel management and in the first few months after the restoration was completed, she and Marius did all the work in the restaurant and the guest rooms themselves. “With our own hands, until we appointed a waiter and a coffee specialist as the barista.”
Marius comes from a different industry but is very much at home among the guests he keeps happy. Most prefer to sit outside on the wooden deck for the breathtaking view it offers. It extends to the west as far as Gourits and eastwards past Herolds Bay and George. For those who want to see even further, there is a tour to the top of the 15 m-high tower.
The rock cup on which the lighthouse was built about 160 years ago is 73 m above sea level. An old farm gate at the end of a dead-end town street, high above Die Punt, provides access to the site. A narrow two-track winding path made of cement follows the contour line to a second gate and a small parking area where Dassies keep watch on the loose stones. Furthermore, one has to walk, but it’s just over a hundred meters to the entrance of the still-working lighthouse.
Three lighthouse keepers worked in the tower in 8-hour shifts for up to thirty years. They had to turn on the light and note which boats were sailing in and out of the harbor. Nowadays, the light turns on automatically after sunset. It has the strength of 1,350,000 candles and can be seen 25 nautical miles away.
“There are no longer cannon barrels sticking out of the tower’s windows, but people who spend the night in the guest rooms actually once again fulfill the role of the lighthouse keeper of old,” says Marius. So he once received a call after midnight from a distressed guest who realized that the lighthouse’s light was off. The error could then be quickly repaired by a technician from Transnet.
The Saint Blaise name is historical. Blaise was an Armenian bishop who lived 1,700 years ago and was honored by Christianity as a saint because he could heal people and animals. The feast of Saint Blaise is celebrated on February 3, the same day that the legendary Portuguese navigator, Bartholomeus Dias, moored in 1488 in the bay that is known today as Mossel Bay. Dias was looking for fresh water and when he found a spring he found the bay Saō Bras Watershed (Saint Blaise) named after the place where he got water.
Although Dias was the first Westerner to set foot on land in this area, nomadic Khoisan groups had already been in the area for more than 200,000 years. The cave under the lighthouse was an inhabited shelter and in 1888 artefacts were excavated there which are around 80,000 years old.
The Kearneys say they feel honored to have their restaurant on this historic site, but sometimes they are still amazed by the success of the project. Their Cape St Blaize Lighthouse restaurant opened its doors in December 2021. Marius says that on the first day only three cappuccinos were sold. The next day it was four and then the interest became overwhelming. “Our menu is small, but the dishes are exquisite and affordable because we want people to come and sit here and, like us, experience that this is a special piece of earth. The place is blessed,” says Marius.
With such a history, one involuntarily wonders if Marius and Melanie also encountered a few ghosts during the restoration. “Many stories can be told about it here on deck,” they laugh.
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