Around the Langeberg | 265km
...at the foot of the Langeberg Mountains, is the third-oldest town in South Africa. Established in 1743 as a magisterial district, Swellendam briefly enjoyed the status of a republic when the local burghers revolted against the maladministration of the Dutch East India Company on 17 June 1795. The republic was short-lived, though, as three months later the first British occupation of the Cape began.
The South African holiday town is renowned for its many well-preserved Cape Dutch and Georgian buildings, among them the Drostdy (magistrate's court), the only 18th-century drostdy still in existence. The stately building forms the focal point of a museum complex consisting of the Ambagswerf (tradesmen's yard), the old gaol, Mayville with its Victorian rose garden and Zanddrif, an 18th-century farmhouse (now a restaurant).
Several day walks, ranging from easy one-hour rambles to a strenuous full-day hike, range over the mountain slopes of the Marloth Nature Reserve just north of the town. Swellendam is the centre of the world's largest youngberry-producing area, as well as the surrounding wheat, fruit, sheep and dairy farms.
...on the farm Rietvallei was established around 1734 to protect farmers against stock theft by Khoikhoi raiders and to prevent illegal cattle-trading. It consisted of a small fort manned by seven soldiers under the supervision of a post houder (post holder). Situated on the road into the interior, the outpost became a popular stopping place with travellers, among them the Swedish botanist Carl Thunberg, Governor Joachim van Plettenberg and Lady Anne Barnard.
The history of Suurbraak dates back to 1812, when the London Missionary Society founded a mission station at an Attaqua Khoikhoi settlement known as Xairu. The Khoikhoi name, meaning 'beautiful', was later changed to Suurbraak, a reference to the sour fallow land used as the village square. Situated at the foot of the Langeberg range, the tranquil village is shaded by stately oak trees, and orchards and vegetable gardens are spread along the main street.
Many of the houses are the original dwellings built by converts of the missionaries, and, unique among the mission stations of the Cape, there are a number of double-storey houses. Be sure to visit the Suurbraak (square) which is surrounded by beautifully restored houses and the old mission church dating back to around 1835. Suurbraak is famed for its handmade chairs, and the craft shop offers fine embroidery and local crafts.
...meaning 'long mountain', is an apt name for this range, which forms a natural barrier nearly 400 km long between the coastal plains and the Breede River valley to the south and the Little Karoo to the north. Stretching from the Hex River Mountains to the Outeniqua Mountains, the Langeberg reaches its greatest elevation (1 710 m) at Misty Point near Swellendam.
The range has a rich diversity of ericas, proteas, reeds, rushes, orchids and other flowering plants, and the slopes are particularly attractive in spring when they are covered in masses of pink ericas.
Before the Tradouw Pass was built, the Khoikhoi used two routes between De Oude Post (where they traded) and their settlement north of the Langeberg. The men used a longer, more difficult route, while the women used the easier route known as the Tradouw, a name translated as 'women's path'. The building of the pass started in 1868, under the direction of the famed road engineer, Thomas Bain. At one stage, as many as 300 convicts worked as labourers on the pass.
After various delays the pass was opened in 1873. The historic bridge over the Gats River, built of Burmese teak by Bain after the original bridge was washed away, can still be seen. Known as Letty's Bridge, it was named after Aletta Catherina van Reenen, the wife of John Barry, a nephew of trader Joseph Barry.
When the new pass was built in the mid-1960s, the sections of Bain's pass that were not incorporated into the new route were put to use as viewpoints. From these, travellers can enjoy the magnificent scenery of the Tradouw Pass, with its lichen-encrusted cliffs, deeply folded rock strata, cascades and wild flowers.
Nestling below the northern slopes of the Langeberg at the top of the Tradouw Pass, Barrydale lies in a lush green valley contrasting sharply with the sparsely vegetated plains of the Little Karoo. The fertile valley is a great stopover on any South African holiday, boasting a productive farming area noted for its dried fruit (especially apricots and prunes), pears and apples, as well as wine.
The town developed around the church built here after the completion of the Tradouw Pass and was named in honour of the Barry family, who played a significant role in the economy of the Overberg between the 1820s and the late 1860s.
...is named after a former Civil Commissioner of Riversdale, AH Garcia, who in the 1860s saw the necessity for a direct route between Riversdale and the Little Karoo. After surveying a route, Garcia used convict labour to built a footpath over the mountain. Following appeals by the residents of Riversdale for a proper road, the Cape Parliament approved the construction of a pass in 1872. The route was surveyed the following year by Thomas Bain, and convicts were put to work to build the pass.
Progress was slow, however, and it was not until 31 December 1877 that the pass was opened to traffic. A tollhouse was built at the summit of the pass, and tolls were collected until the end of 1918. The tollhouse, a national monument, now serves as a starting point of two hiking trails traversing the Langeberg Mountains. Dominating the scenery to the west of the pass is the well-known peak, Sleeping Beauty, the outline of which resembles a sleeping woman.
The pleasant town of Riversdale was established on the farm Doornkraal in 1838 as an agricultural centre for the surrounding farms. It was named after Harry Rivers, Commissioner and Resident Magistrate of Swellendam from 1834 to 1841. Art-lovers should be sure to visit the Julius Gordon Africana Centre in Versveld House, a magnificent residence built in the Georgian style.
The centre houses a fine collection of South African paintings, including the second-largest collection of paintings by Thomas Bowler, as well as works by Jan Volschenk, Gregoire Boonzaaier, Pieter Wenning and Irma Stern. Among the collection of antiques are stinkwood chairs, old clocks, china and a horse-drawn hearse.
Other attractions are Jurisch Park, which includes a section for exotic plants, and the indigenous Van Riebeeck Park, noted for its variety of aloes. Among the town's historic buildings are St Matthew's Church (1856) and the Old Prison (1859).
Established on the banks of the Duivenhoks River below the Langeberg, Heidelberg is the centre for the surrounding wheat and sheep farms. The town developed around a church established in 1855 to serve the farming community living in the area between Swellendam and Riversdale, and was named after the German city where the catechisms were originally drawn up.
Grootvatersbosch Nature Reserve
22 km northwest of Heidelberg, covers some 250 ha of magnificent indigenous forest of yellowwood, stinkwood and red alder. Visitors can explore the reserve along a network of trails ranging in length from 2 km to 10 km. The Grootvadersbosch forest is the largest tract of indigenous forest west of Knysna.
Noteworthy among the nearly 200 bird species recorded in the reserve to date are the Knysna woodpecker, Narina trogon, forest buzzard and Victorin's warbler. The forest offers excellent birding opportunities, and a canopy-level bird hide is a delight to birders.
Bontebok National Park
This small but delightful national park was proclaimed in 1961 to save the bontebok (Damaliscus dorcas dorcas), a species restricted to the coastal plains of the southwestern Cape, from extinction. The park was originally established in the Bredasdorp area in 1931, with a nucleus of only 17 animals. However, it proved to be too small and unsuitable, necessitating a move to a larger site.
The population grew rapidly in the new park (which has a carrying capacity of around 200 bontebok), and so animals have had to be moved to other nature reserves and private land. Today, the total population stands at between 2 000 and 3 000. In addition to bontebok, visitors can also see red hartebeest, Cape mountain zebra, springbok, grey rhebok, grey duiker, steenbok and Cape grysbok.
Among the over 190 bird species found here are Stanley's bustard, blue crane and Cape sugarbird. Picnic facilities are available for South African holiday guests or day visitors on the banks of the Breede River and swimming is possible in the river in the vicinity of the rest camp. There are two short circular trails, starting and ending at the rest camp.