When you are cruising the Indian Ocean with MSC Cruises the historic centre of Mossel Bay is your perfect port of call in South Africa. It’s set on a hill overlooking the small working harbour and bay, with one of the best swimming beaches along the southern Cape coast and an interesting museum.
Mossel Bay bears poignant historical significance as the place where indigenous Khoi cattle herders first encountered Europeans in a bloody spat. A group of Portuguese mariners under captain Bartholomeu Dias set sail from Portugal in August 1487 in search of a sea route to India, and months later rounded the Cape of Good Hope.
In February 1488, they became the first Europeans to make landfall along the South African coast. On an MSC South Africa cruise excursion, Mossel Bay’s main urban attraction is the Bartholomeu Dias Museum Complex, housed in a collection of historic buildings well integrated into the small town centre, all near the tourist office and within a couple of minutes’ walk of each other.
The highlight is the Maritime Museum, a spiral gallery with displays on the history of European, principally Portuguese, seafaring, arranged around a full-size replica of Dias’ original caravel. The ship was built in Portugal and sailed from Lisbon to Mossel Bay in 1987 to celebrate the five-hundredth anniversary of Dias’ historic journey.
The Post Office Tree, just outside the Maritime Museum, purportedly may be the very milkwood under which sixteenth-century mariners left messages for passing ships in an old boot. You can post mail here in a large, boot-shaped letterbox and have it stamped with a special postmark. Of the remaining exhibitions, the Shell Museum and Aquarium next to the Post Office Tree is well worth taking time to visit.