History of Pringle Bay and Rooi Els
The Pringle Bay and Rooi Els area has a rich heritage dating back to the Stone Age. The mountains and coastline have been inhabited by nomadic tribes for thousands of years. However, the actual villages were only founded in the 1930s when the land was purchased by three businessmen hoping to turn the area between the Rooi Els River and Palmiet River into beach estates.
The name Pringle Bay was actually originally given to the stretch of land between where the two villages of Rooi Els and Pringle Bay now lie. This was back in the late 1700s and the name came from the Royal Naval Commander-in-Chief, Sir Thomas Pringle. He was in charge of the Simons Town Naval Base from 1796-1798. When the bay was named in the late 1700s, the plan was to turn the area into a port to ship farm produce across False Bay to the naval base and surrounding town. However, this never actually happened, which allowed Pringle Bay to remain a quiet area that is now a wonderful retreat from city life.
The earliest history of Pringle Bay and Rooi Els can be traced back to the Stone Age. Back in 1921 and 1922, two separate excavations of the Rooi Els Cave turned up some remarkable finds. Archaeologists discovered eleven burial sites, bone tools and even a crude wooden fish hook. The area was then left alone for over 50 years before archaeologists returned to do further investigations. In 1979, studies of the cave and surrounding areas revealed much about the way of life of these ancient people.
The Kogelberg mountain range, above where the villages are now, appear to have always been populated by nomadic people. There is much archaeological evidence to show that the Khoikhoi tribes roamed the area from the fifth century AD. These herdsmen found that the mountains were suitable for cattle grazing, hunting and gathering other food supplies. They were also the first native people to come into contact with Dutch settlers in the 1600s.
As the trade routes were established and many ships came past the coast of Pringle Bay, the area became infamous. There are many stories of shipwrecks due to captains turning north too early as they thought False Bay (of which Pringle Bay forms part) was Cape Point. There are also many caves in the area that are said to have been hideaways for pirates and runaway slaves. The most famous being ‘Drostersgat’ – Deserters’ Cave.
In the 1930s, the land was bought by three businessmen, Harold Porter, Arthur Youldon and Jack Clarence. They formed the Hangklip Beach Estates and sold off properties to people looking to build holiday homes. Under this umbrella, the three villages of Rooi Els, Pringle Bay and Betty’s Bay were created.
Development in the area was then halted during World War Two as the military took over and created a restricted zone. They built a secret radar station on the side of the mountain above Pringle Bay, which was responsible for tracking U-boat activity in the surrounding waters. The building which is now the Hangklip Hotel was used as army barracks for British Servicewomen who manned the station. The area also had a Prisoner of War station on the outskirts of Pringle Bay – now the Glen Craig Conference Centre – for Italian soldiers who had been captured. These soldiers were put to work extending the coastal road that is now Clarence Drive.
The Kogelberg mountain range was reasonably inaccessible up until this point. Clarence Drive made it possible for more development to happen in the area and the small villages and towns began to expand. The Department of Forestry became responsible for the area in 1937 and after the war, declared that the land would be used as timber plantations. It was a local landowner who campaigned for the area to rather be conserved. In the early 1950s, Harry Molteno won the support of the Cape Western Conservancy and Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens. It didn’t take long after that for the Kogelberg Biosphere and the nature reserve to be established.
The heritage of Pringle Bay and Rooi Els is deeply rooted in conservation, which makes this quiet, little village so appealing to nature lovers, as well as to those who want to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city.