The Explosive Story Behind Cape Town’s Signal Hill

Signal Hill, Lula Lula Mountain, or Lion’s Rump, is the flat, shorter stretch of mountain that runs from Lion’s Head towards Sea Point and the V&A Waterfront. It is an ideal sundowner spot, and many flock towards the peak to enjoy a picnic, something fizzy, and arguably some of the best and most dramatic views of Cape Town.

Lion’s Head and Signal Hill, with Table Mountain at the back. Image by Cape Town Tourism

While you sip on your drink, you might spare a thought about the fascinating history of the sloping, sphynx-like land. This viewing point got its name from its position high above the peninsula. During the 17th and 18th centuries, Dutch settlers used signal flags to communicate weather warnings and instructions to the arriving ships below, many of whom did battle with the stormy, unforgiving bay. They would also use gunshots to alert neighbouring farmers about the ship arrivals so that they could pack their wagons with produce to sell to the incoming crew.

 

The Noon Gun

If you are staying anywhere near the City Bowl or V&A Waterfront, the chances are that you have heard the big ‘boom’ of the Noon Gun – Cape Town’s oldest tradition.

Image by Cape Town Tourism

Based at the South African Navy’s Lion Battery on Signal Hill, the Noon Gun canons (there are two in case one fails) have been firing since 1806 and remain the oldest daily-used guns in the world. Their purpose? To relay the precise moment of 12 pm Cape Mean Time, enabling ships in the bay to check their chronometers – crucial for navigating rough seas.

Nowadays, it is a well-loved tradition that has withstood wars, changing governments, occupations, renaissance, and later, the birth of our democratic society.

Signal Hill. Image by Cape Town Tourism

The man behind the thunderous work? Chief Petty Officer Dudley Malgas, 59, who has been responsible for firing the Noon Gun for the last 20 years. Overseeing over 6000 firings, Officer Malgas reports that the thing he loves most about his job is all of the people he gets to meet, as visitors from across the globe gather each day to bear witness to the old ritual.

Mr Dudley Malgas. Image by David Ritchie (ANA)

Officer Malgas fired his last round on 31 August 2019, as he will be retiring from service from the South African Navy. Admirably, he will be studying tourism and hopes to become a local tour guide. We could think of no one better to continue to tell the unique tales of the Cape.

 

Dine at Signal Restaurant

Signal Restaurant is a grand dame. Chandeliers, white linen tablecloths, and heavy upholstered chairs create a ship-like atmosphere, in a nod to our maritime heritage. But, much like the Noon Gun atop the historic Signal Hill (the view from whence it derives its name), it never ceases to surprise. And while the noon firing of the canon might cause you to jump with fright, dining at Signal is more inclined to make one sigh with delight.

We invite you to enjoy gastronomy at it’s very best, with some European favourites given a distinctly South African twist.

Choose from a buffet breakfast, leisurely lunch, sumptuous dinner with wine, or Sunday brunch. Each menu is full of fresh, flavoursome dishes that vary from light and healthy, to full and hearty, so you and your dining companions will be well catered for, whatever your preference and the season.

Experience Signal Restaurant

Visit the Signal webpage for more, or email signal@capegrace.com to make a booking.

Blog post by Tarah Darge

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