Gansbaai accommodation is today rather luxurious compared to its humble beginnings. Although archaeologists suggest that early accommodation in Gansbaai started long before the arrival of the young man in this story, with cave dwelling hunter gatherers many thousands of years ago, it is the story of Johannes Cornelis Wessels that truly lends Gansbaai much of its present day character and indeed much its current lineage.
Young Cornelis, just 18 at the time, walked from Stanford over the dunes to what was to become Gansbaai. This is a mere twenty minute car trip today but in 1881 when the journey was undertaken this was no doubt a more difficult by foot over the hot sand dunes with the relentless winds that savage the area. Now Corenlis was a keen fisherman, in fact it was all he did. He belonged to a group of nomadic fishermen that were common along that coast in the late 19th century. Young Cornelis arrived at this lonely bay with the clothes on his back and a fishing rod, so legend has it. There was no sign of any other inhabitants and certainly no inkling of the accommodation in Gansbaai that we see today. Despite this he did what any good fisherman would do when arriving at a new undiscovered spot and cast a line. Now I don’t know much about fishing but what happened next is a clear indication in my mind that the fishing was good. Johannes Cornelis Wessels built himself a house and never left.
The fishing was so good in Gansbaai, accommodation was needed immediately. So it was all due to a good days fishing that the community this community was formed. A fisherman desperate for a private fishing spot and fishing so good it required instant accommodation. Gansbaai might not have been what it is today if young Cornelis had had a bad day of fishing back in 1882. Thankfully today the choice of accommodation consists of slightly more than the stone, daub and reed house he made for himself. In fact today for the modern traveller hoping to find that secret fishing spot that attracted Cornelis over a century ago there is no shortage of accommodation. The coastal waters around Gansbaai are still considered some the best fishing in the country.
Unwittingly Cornelis was also starting what was to become a fierce local fishing scene, which is understandable as the fishing is good and the town was built on a tradition of protecting your fishing spot.
At the time of Cornelis’ discovery that costal region was part of a farm known as Strandfontein, meaning beach fountain, named for the fresh water fountain by the harbour which provided fresh drinking water to the community. A family of geese had taken up residents in this fountain and it wasn’t long before the area became known as Gansgat which means “goose hole,” -Only a fisherman- It didn’t take long before it was changed to the more respectable Gansbaai, goose bay.