Around the Swartland | 245km

Around the Swartland.

Swartland

This well-known wheat-producing area is centred around the town of Malmesbury, and stretches from Philadelphia in the south to Piketberg in the north. In the east, the Swartland is bounded by the Winterhoek Mountains, Heuningberg and the Olifants River Mountains, while the dunes of theWest Coast and the Groen Kloof River form its western boundary. The South African holiday region is characterised by its gently undulating hills and rolling wheatfields, which account for about 20 per cent of the country's wheat production.

Although the Dutch name 'het Zwartland', which means 'the black country', was first used in 1701, there are several interpretations of its origin. One of the more plausible is that the name refers to the colour of the once-plentiful renoster bush (Elytropappus rhinocerotis), which is black when wet. The main centres of the Swartland are Malmesbury, Mooreesburg, Piketberg and Porterville, as well as the Riebeeck Valley. The Swartland Wine Route consists of several estates, co-operatives and cellars and one private cellar.

Darling

Once little more than a dot on the map (except during the spring flower season), Darling has become a fashionable country retirement dorp (village). It is also home to several artists, including satirist Pieter-Dirk Uys who has converted the Darling Station into a mini-theatre and restaurant called Evita se Perron 2. Founded on the farm Langfontein in 1853, the town's name honours British Governor Charles Henry Darling.

Darling is aptly known as the 'Flower of the West Coast' because the surrounding farmlands are transformed into a kaleidoscope of colours when the spring flowers burst into bloom 3. The floral wealth of Darling lies mainly in its bulbous flowers, with species like chinkerinchee, ixias and heliophila, and the best season is usually between August and mid-October. The town is famous for its wild flower show (in the third week of September) which has been held since 1917.

During the flower season, several flower reserves on local farms are open to the public, among them Oudepost, Waylands, Slangkop and Contreberg. A section of the Darling Museum depicts the region's butter-making industry and has a fascinating collection of wooden butter-washing machines, old butter churns and farming implements.

Mamre

...is a picturesque mission settlement, with neat rows of whitewashed hipped-roof cottages, each with its own little garden, and stately oak trees. Originally named Groenekloof, a military outpost known as De Kleine Post was established in the lush green valley in 1701. The outpost later served as a trading station until it was closed in 1791. In 1808, the Moravian Church founded its second mission station in the country here, renaming it 46 years later after the biblical Mamre (Genesis 13:18), which means 'fatness'.

In time, the mission station became an important educational centre, and members of the community were trained in various skills. Among its architectural treasures are Long House, a farmhouse which served as barracks for the garrison between 1701 and 1791, the Parsonage (1701) and the mission church (1814), with its Cape Dutch gable. Other historic buildings include the school, bakery, packing shed, stables and the water mill (1844), which now serves as a museum.

Two of South Africa's most threatened vegetation types, West Coast renosterveld and sand plain fynbos, are protected in the Mamre Nature Garden, established on land owned by the community.

Malmesbury

...is the principal town of the Swartland. Settlement of the area by the Dutch dates back to the early 1700s, when the first farms were awarded. After the Dutch Reformed Church was established in 1745, the town became known as Zwartlandkerk. It was renamed in 1829 by Sir Lowry Cole in honour of his father-in-law, the first Earl of Malmesbury. In addition to wheat, the Malmesbury area 4 is also noted for wine, sheep, dairy farming and as a popular South African holiday destination.

Of historical interest are the Neo-Gothic Dutch Reformed Church, dating back to the early 1860s, the old Jewish synagogue of 1911 (now a museum depicting the development of the town and the history of bread and baking) and the Masonic Lodge (1866).

Cruythoff Monument

This monument at the foot of the Kasteelberg recalls the trading expedition led by Corporal Pieter Cruythoff in 1661 to barter with the Khoikhoi for cattle needed to supply the ships of the Dutch East India Company. One of the expedition members, Pieter Meerhof, ascended the mountain on 3 February 1661 and named it 'Riebeeck Casteel' in honour of Jan Van Riebeeck, commander of the settlement at the Cape.

Riebeeck-Kasteel

It seems incongruous to have two 'Riebeecks' a mere 4 km apart, and that this state of affairs should have come about through religious dissent. Until the 1850s, the communities of Riebeeck-Kasteel and Riebeeck-West fell under the Dutch Reformed Church at Malmesbury.

Following a decision in 1854 to establish a congregation in the Kasteel Valley, a dispute arose between the two communities over the location of the church, eventually resulting in two independent congregations. The cornerstone of the Oude Kerk was laid in 1855, and in time the town developed around the church. Another building of interest is the Royal Hotel.

Riebeeck West

Situated on the eastern slopes of the Kasteelberg, Riebeeck West lies in a farming area noted for its peaches, nectarines and wines. It is also an important producer of the country's cement requirements. Two of South Africa's former prime ministers were born on farms close to each other. DF Malan, who led the National Party government into power in 1948, was born on the farm Allesverloren (now well-known for producing port-style wines) between Riebeeck-Kasteel and Riebeeck West.

About 3 km northwest of Riebeeck West, a signpost indicates the turnoff to Bovenplaas, where Jan Smuts was born in 1870. Smuts was Prime Minister of South Africa from 1919 to 1922 and again from 1939 to 1948. The original farmhouse, school room, poultry house, coach house, dairy and stables have been restored by the owners of the farm, cement company PPC. An interesting collection of photographs is displayed in one of the outbuildings.

Moorreesburg

The importance of wheat to the town of Moorreesburg is reflected in the Wheat Industry Museum - one of only three such museums in the world. The museum focuses on the history and development of the wheat industry, and activities such as harvesting and milling are portrayed in dioramas. There is also an interesting collection of sowing and harvesting machinery. The Dirkie Uys Art Gallery houses a collection of paintings by noted South African painters, such as Jacob Pierneef, Gregoire Boonzaaier and Maggie Laubscher.

Originally known as Hooikraal after the farm awarded to Tobias Lochner in 1839, the town developed around the Dutch Reformed Church which was built after the farming community decided in 1863 to found a congregation independent of Malmesbury.

Hopefield

Travelling on your self-drive South African holiday, you will find Hopefield situated in the Sandveld, a region bounded by the Olifants River in the north, the Berg River in the south and the Olifants River Mountains in the east, Hopefield is a popular destination during the spring flower season. The season usually stretches from mid-August to the end of September, and during the last weekend of August the town hosts the annual Hopefield Flower Show. Of interest in the town is a replica of a wattle-and-daub cottage (hartebeeshuisie) typical of those built in the area by pioneer cattle farmers.

The information office has an interesting collection of fossils and stone tools from nearby Elandsfontein, an archaeological site of major importance. Among the displays is a cast of part of the Saldanha skull, from an early human being dating back to the Middle Pleistocene (780 000 to 125 000 years ago).

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