The Little Karoo

Little Karoo towns of South Africa.

Matjiesfontain

...is a charming Victorian village that was developed around a railway halt in the Karoo by a Scotsman, Jimmy Logan, and is now a popular South African holiday town. In the early days of rail travel in South Africa, trains did not have dining carriages, and in 1844 Logan obtained the concession to open a refreshment room at Matjiesfontein. Within a few years, Logan's village had become a popular health and holiday resort, as well as the headquarters of his business enterprises.

Famous visitors to Matjiesfontein included Cecil John Rhodes, Lord Randolph Churchill (father of Winston Churchill) and the author Olive Schreiner, who lived for some time in a cottage now known as Olive Schreiner Cottage. During the South African War, 10 000 British troops and 20 000 horses were quartered in a military camp established on the outskirts of the village. Matjiesfontein's famous hotel 1, with its towers and ornate cast ironwork, was built during the early stages of the war.

The hotel served as a military hospital, while the central turret became a lookout post. Among the many other fine Victorian buildings lining the main street are the Masonic Hotel (now the Losieshuis), Post Office, Village Office and the Laird's Arms, a Victorian country pub. After Logan's death in 1920, the village sank into obscurity, and declined even further when the new national road, built at the end of World War II, bypassed the village.

In 1968, however, the entire village was bought by the well-known hotelier David Rawdon, and after careful restoration the Lord Milner Hotel was reopened two years later. The Marie Rawdon Museum contains a fine collection of Victorian and Edwardian domestic articles and furniture, as well as a collection of costumes and dresses.

Matjiesfontein Cemetery

...lies a few kilometres to the west of the village against a hillside dominated by an obelisk erected in memory of Major-General Andrew Wauchope, the Commander of the Highland Brigade at the Battle of Magersfontein, which took place on 11 December 1899. Wauchope was killed in the early stages of the battle and was buried the following day in the Modder River cemetery near Magersfontein.

At Jimmy Logan's request, Wauchope's remains were exhumed for reinterment at the Matjiesfontein cemetery. Also buried here are Jimmy Logan, his wife Emma, their son and George Lohmann, one of England's greatest cricketers.

Tweedside

The cast-iron entrance gates and avenue of eucalyptus trees mark the location of the farm bought by Jimmy Logan in the early 1880s. The enterprising Logan sank numerous boreholes, planted pine and eucalyptus trees and established extensive orchards, which supplied fresh fruit to the markets in Kimberley, then abuzz with diamond fever. Tweedside even had its own private railway siding.

Witberge

To the unsuspecting South African holiday traveller, the valley bounded by the Witberge to the north and Suurkloof se Berg to the south is surprisingly lush, in sharp contrast to the arid Karoo plains. With an abundance of runoff from the mountains after rain, the fertile valley is a patchwork of waving wheatlands, fields of lupins and orchards. In spring, the uncultivated land is covered in a profusion of daisies and mesembs (vygies).

Swartberg Mountains (also known as Klein Swartberge)

This range forms the western extremity of the Swartberg range, and merges with the Anysberg to the southwest and the Matjiesgoed Mountains to the west, while the Elandsberg lies to the north. Seven Weeks Peak (2326 m) is the highest point in the Swartberg range, but the dominant feature is without doubt the twin peaks of Toorkop (also spelt Towerkop), which rise 2203 m above sea level. The name means 'magic hill', and is said to have been given because the mountain changes its shape when viewed from different angles.

Legend also has it that the two peaks were created when a witch struck the summit, splitting it in two. Endemic to the range is the Ladismith protea (Protea aristata), which has magnificent crimson flowers in summer.

Ladismith

...at the southern foot of the Klein Swartberge, was established in 1852 on the farm Elandsvlei. It was initially named Lady Smith after Lady Juana Smith, the wife of the Cape governor, Sir Harry Smith. In 1879, however, the name was changed to Ladismith to avoid confusion with Ladysmith in Natal, founded in 1850. The town is a centre for the district's ostrich industry, and wine, fruit and lucerne are also produced.

Ladismith is also famous for its dairy products, named after the peak which overlooks the town. In addition to the historic Dutch Reformed Church, dating back to 1873, there are numerous beautiful Victorian-style dwellings in the town.

Hoekoe

is the next stop on your South African holiday. Hoekoe is the name of the valley where the renowned Afrikaans author, poet and politician, CJ Langenhoven, was born in 1873. A man of exceptional qualities, he wrote numerous literary works and was a vigorous campaigner for the promotion of the Afrikaans language. In 1914 he entered politics, serving in the Cape Provincial Council and the House of Assembly before being elected as a senator in 1920. In 1918, he wrote the words of Die Stem, South Africa's national anthem from 1957 to 1994. He died in his house, Arbeidsgenot, in Oudtshoorn in 1932.

Zoar

is a picturesque mission station set amid lush green irrigated gardens. Founded on the farm Elandsfontein by the South African Missionary Society (SAMS) in 1817, the settlement was named after the biblical Zoar on the Red Sea (Genesis 14:2-8). Its history is closely linked with nearby Amalienstein, dating back to 1833, when the Berlin Missionary Society took over control of the mission station at the request of the SAMS.

As a result of dissatisfaction among some members of the congregation over, among other things, the introduction of candles and the crucifix, responsibility for Zoar returned to the SAMS in 1843.

Amalienstein

The focal point of this small mission station is the beautiful Lutheran church, painted in the traditional mustard, blue and rust colours of the early Lutheran Church. The Amalienstein mission was established by the Berlin Missionary Society and its name honours Amalie von Stein, who donated the money to purchase the land. Water from a nearby stream is used for irrigation, and a variety of crops, such as grapes, peaches, nectarines and plums, are cultivated.

Seven Weeks Poort

...with its spectacular folded and warped layers of sandstone 4, ranks among some of the most spectacular South African holiday routes. The course carved by the Seven Weeks River through the Swartberg  5 forms a natural link between the Little Karoo town of Ladismith and the Great Karoo. A route through the narrow poort was constructed as early as 1862, but the road was frequently washed away, prompting the decision to build the Swartberg Pass.

Various explanations as to the origin of the name range from a stock thief who hid in the poort for seven weeks to a corruption of the surname of Louis Zerwick (Zerwick se poort), an early missionary at Amalienstein.

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