Early Explorers Footsteps | 280km

Heerenlogement Cave walk.

Clanwilliam

...is synonymous with rooibos tea, the Cedarberg Wilderness Area and velskoene (handmade leather shoes). The South African holiday town is the centre of a region where farmers cultivate the indigenous rooibos (Aspalathus linearis), the leaves of which are used to make a healthy, caffeine-free tea. Set against the backdrop of the rugged crags and buttresses of the Cedarberg's Krakadouw peaks, Clanwilliam lies between the Olifants and Jan Dissels rivers.

Initially named Jan Dissels Valley, it was renamed in 1814 after the Earl of Clanwilliam, the father-in-law of Governor Sir John Cradock. The town's annual wild flower show is held towards the end of winter in the old Dutch Reformed Church (1864). About 360 species of flora are displayed and there are also concerts and a street carnival. Other historical attractions include the St John's Anglican Church, a beautiful dressed-stone building dating back to 1866, and the old gaol, with its simple Georgian façade.

Built in 1808 as detention barracks for the British garrison stationed here, the building was later converted into a civilian gaol and now serves as the town's museum and information centre. At Clanwilliam Dam, the water backs up as much as 22 km behind the dam wall. The dam is popular with watersport enthusiasts and is rated as one of the best spots for water-skiing in the Western Cape.

Graafwater

...owes its name to the fact that water could only be obtained here by digging wells or drilling boreholes. The settlement was established after the railway line between Cape Town and Bitterfontein was built in 1910. After good winter rains, the sandveld to the south of Graafwater is transformed into a colourful tapestry of spring flowers. Among the flowering splendours are the yellow rapuis (Euryops), a variety of daisies, sporrie (Heliophyla), mesembs or vygies and viooltjies (Lachenalia).

Olof Berg Spring

In the early days of travel, the spring at Klipfontein Mountain was an important landmark for travellers heading into Namaqualand. It owes its name to Dutch ensign Olof Bergh 1 who rested here on 9 November 1682 during his expedition to Namaqualand in search of copper. Numerous other travellers to the region stopped here, including Governor Simon van der Stel (1685), J Starrenburg (1705) and Ensign IT Rhenius (1721). Bergh and Rhenius are among those who inscribed their names on the rock above the spring.

Heerenlogement

Brought to the attention of travellers after Olof Bergh described it in 1682, the Heerenlogement Cave became another important landmark for travellers and explorers bound for Namaqualand. The Dutch name means 'gentlemen's lodging', and among those who slept in the overhang were Governor Simon van der Stel (1685), Kaie Jesse Slotsbo (1712), Ensign IT Rhenius (1721), the Swedish botanist Carl Thunberg (1774) and the French traveller François le Vaillant (1783).

Several well-known travellers also visited the cave during the 19th century, among them Captain James Alexander and Andrew Geddes Bain (1854). Many of these people carved their names on the walls of the overhang; during a survey carried out in 1940, a total of 174 names and initials were recorded.

Old Iron Fort

The Old Iron Fort, the next destination on your South African holiday, lies on the lower slopes of the Heerenlogement Mountain. This fort was one of a series of small bastions erected by the British Army in the Northern Cape during the South African War (1899-1902). Built to prevent incursions by Boer forces into the Cape Colony, the line of defence stretched from Lambert's Bay to Noupoort via Williston. It originally stood on a farm between Graafwater and Lambert's Bay, but was dismantled and re-erected here after the war.

Doringbaai

...originally served as a harbour from where goods were transported to Vanrhynsdorp by camel. In recent years this small village, with its rocky coastline, has developed around the rock lobster processing factory, while offshore marine diamond mining has become another important economic activity.

Strandfontein

...is the northernmost of the West Coast holiday settlements. The Afrikaans name means 'beach fountain', a reference to a spring that surfaces near the beach. Strandfontein is a popular summer holiday destination for West Coast farmers.

Papendorp

Close to its mouth, an island splits the Olifants River estuary into two arms that rejoin before entering the sea. Situated on the southern bank of the estuary is Papendorp, named after the missionary who founded the settlement. Fishing plays an important role in the economic life of the small community, while salt is still collected in the traditional way from pans in the area. At high tide, flat-bottomed boats can reach Lutzville, which lies 30 km upstream. In years gone by, fishermen used the river as a means of getting to Lutzville to sell their fish.

The ruins of the house built for Katherine Fryer by her husband, Richard, tell a poignant story. The couple came to South Africa from Ireland in 1820, and were among the 350 Irish immigrants who were settled in the Clanwilliam area. Most of these settlers later left for the Eastern Cape, but Richard Fryer sought out a piece of land that somehow resembled Ireland to comfort the homesick Katherine.

Ebenhaezer

...was established in 1831 along the banks of the Olifants River by one of the founders of Wupperthal mission, Baron Theobald von Wurmb of the Rhenish Missionary Society (RMS). It was named after the biblical Ebenhaezer (1 Samuel 7:12) which means 'stone of help'. In those early days, the river was navigable for 50 km upstream from its mouth and fresh water and supplies were ferried to the mission by boat. Following an agreement between the RMS and the Dutch Reformed Mission Church in 1932, the mission was taken over by the latter.

Ebenhaezer lies at the end of the Olifants River Irrigation Canal, which was extended in 1978 when a dam was built to store the canal's surplus water, which otherwise would have flowed back into the Olifants River. Water from the dam is used for the irrigation of lucerne, coriander and beans.

Vlermuisklip

Until 1945, Lutzville was known as Vlermuisklip, a name derived from the original Dutch name Vleermuisklip ('bat stone'), for a rocky overhang that was inhabited by bats. On 15 December 1661, the Dutch explorer Pieter Everaerts stayed here during his expedition to find the legendary kingdom of Monomotapa. Following his visit, Vleermuisklip became a landmark for travellers heading to Namaqualand. Among those who camped here were Pieter van Meerhof and Governor Simon van der Stel.

Lutzville

The farming village of Lutzville is the next stop along your self-drive South African holiday. The village was established in 1923 and named after Johan Lutz, an irrigation engineer responsible for the surveying of irrigable land in the Olifants River Valley. The Lutzville Vineyards, on the road to Koekenaap, is among the largest co-operatives in South Africa and is renowned for its wines bottled under the Fleermuisklip label. The area also produce raisins, sultanas and currants, while beans and tomatoes are grown for the canning industry.

The Sishen-Saldanha railway bridge over the Olifants River, which can be seen en route to Vredendal, is a major landmark. The 1 035-m-long bridge was built in 1976 by sliding the 23 prefabricated spans, each weighing 610 tonnes, from the construction site forward on Teflon-coated plates using hydraulic jacks. The bridge is supported by 22 pillars, the highest of which is 52,5 m, with each pillar extending 45 m into the riverbed.

Vredendal

...is an important agricultural centre for the wine and vegetable farms along the lower Olifants River Valley. Originally known as Bakkeley Plaats, after an altercation between the Dutch and the Khoikhoi in 1668, the name was changed to Vreedensdaal, ('vale of peace') following the conclusion of a peace treaty. The Vredendal Winery is one of the largest co-operatives in the country and processes over 70 000 tons of grapes annually.

Among its well-known wines is a blend of chardonnay and sauvignon blanc called Goiya Kgeisje, a San name pronounced 'Hoya-heysee' (connected with a loud click), and meaning 'first wine'. Although primarily a white wine area, the cellar produces an excellent ruby cabernet. A wide range of wines is produced by Spruitdrift Winery, 5 km from the town.

Vredendal also has one of the world's most modern grape-juice concentrate plants. Other crops grown in the fertile alluvial soil include potatoes, tomatoes, onions, pumpkins, watermelons and sweet melons.

The Olifants Irrrigation Scheme

Although the irrigation potential of the Olifants River was recognised as early as 1832, the Olifants River irrigation district was only proclaimed in 1911. The scheme consists of the Bulshoek Dam, the Clanwilliam Dam and a 321-km network of canals. The main canal is 261 km long, while the total length of the 11 branch canals is 60 km. The Bulshoek Dam, 25 km north of Clanwilliam, and some of the canals were completed in 1924, but soon proved to be inadequate. Construction of the Clanwilliam Dam began in 1932, and was completed three years later.

Klawer

...lies at the foot of the Matsikamma Mountains on the banks of the Olifants River. The settlement developed around the railway station serving the Olifants River Valley and takes its name from the Afrikaans word for wood sorrel, common here, especially after rains. The Klawer Winery produces mainly white wine and dessert wine.

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