Calitzdorp lies in the lee of the Swartberg range. I am always curious to know how the names of towns come about and so am interested to know that Calitzdorp is situated on the site of the original farm, Buffelsvlei (Buffalo Valley), granted to J.J. and M.C. Calitz in 1831. Our visit was fleeting as the next stage of our journey awaited. We nonetheless had a good look at Queens Street, well-known for its Edwardian, Victorian, and Karoo-style buildings. The wooden shutters, casement windows, sash windows, loft staircases and bullnose porch awnings reflect a time when architecture took into account the weather – cool verandas meant a cool interior during the heat of summer and the shutters block out the warm air. It is such a pity that most modern houses in this country no longer have verandas – they are regarded as expensive ‘add-ons’. Apart from the delightful architecture, I was struck by this open invitation to browse relics of bygone days – alas, there was no time to indulge on this visit!
The beautifully constructed sandstone Dutch Reformed Church is impressive. Originally built in 1857, it was declared a national monument in 1991.
Its clock keeps accurate time too – not a common expectation anymore!
Bougainvilleas abound. This multi-coloured hedge …
Almost matched a load of grapes …
Piled on a trailer.
Vineyards are so close that they seem to form an integral part of the town.
We didn’t even scratch the surface of the attractions this small town has to offer – which means a return visit is a must.
It is significant that the first governor of the Cape, Jan van Riebeeck, noted in his diary on the 4th August 1652 that he had sent men out to make a road “for the wagon to transport wood” for it reminds us that there were no roads at the time, nor would there be any for the next 150 years. Dr. Malcolm Mitchell points out in an article published in the January/February 2014 issue of Civil Engineering that “the ox wagons of the time merely follow[ed] the footpaths and game trails over the mountains.” The two passes I have already highlighted, Uniondale Poort and Meirings Poort, are examples of this.
Wagon transport has been integral to the early development of South Africa. Not only did the early settlers move their families as well as their goods into the untamed country by ox-wagon, but wagons were the most effective means of conducting trade for many years until the system of railways and roads was opened up. It is thus not surprising to find remnants of old wagons dotted about the country.
Several examples are still preserved in museums.
The part of wagons found most commonly are the wheels – they are symbolic of adventure, overcoming apparently insurmountable obstacles, and are visual reminders of our past history. Wagon wheels – and the stylised form of them – formed the theme of our self-catering accommodation in Calitzdorp.
De Wawielhuis (The wagon wheel house) lived up to its name, with the specially designed gates:
Wagon wheels in the garden:
There is something ‘romantic’ in the sense of having an idealised view of the past wrapped up in wagon wheels. Given that De Wawielhuis offered comfortable accommodation after a long journey – and the hospitality we received there was delightful – the name is an apt one!
From De Rust we headed towards the spectacular Meirings Poort that cuts through the Swartberg mountain range towards Klaarstroom.
The poort follows the natural gorge eroded by the Groot River connecting the Great- and Little Karoo. It was named after a De Rust farmer, Petrus Johannes Meiring, who campaigned for a road through the gorge, having already pushed through a bridle path. This tarred road twists and turns, crossing twenty-five drifts, each with its own story and name commemorating an aspect of the environment or an event. Some examples of these include Skansdrif – where stone ramparts were built in the river to prevent flooding; Boesmansdrif – a place where Bushmen used to live; Witperddrif – where a rabbi is said to have been washed away together with his horse and cart; and Peerboom se drif – where, it is said – a large saffron pear tree used to grow.
These curves, together with the wonderful scenery, require a high level of concentration from the driver!
The road was opened to the public in 1858. Among the many interesting stopping places is Herrie Klip (Herrie’s Stone), where CJ Langenhoven (1873 – 1932) – a beloved South African poet who played a major role in the development of Afrikaans literature and cultural history – enjoyed relaxing. It was here that he chiselled the name of the imaginary elephant from his story Herrie op die Tremspoor (Harry on the Tram Line), written in 1925. We saw a group of people collecting water from the crystal clear water trickling down the cliffs nearby.
This stone was declared a National Monument in 1973. Meirings Poort itself is part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
What is incredible about the drive along Meirings Poort are the high cliffs which provide views of the phenomenal geological processes that have taken place over more than 200 million years. Layers of rock have been twisted, pleated, folded and lifted up to form the scenery we can witness today.
One cannot help feeling insignificant when looking up at the towering cliffs and the evidence of more turbulent times in our geological history.
It was a breath-taking experience to drive through the impressive rock formations visible on both sides of the Uniondale Poort [a steep narrow mountain pass] along the R339. First built in 1925, the road through the poort was tarred in 1960 – which ensures a pleasant driving experience.
The scenery is spectacular – especially the patterns created by the folding of the rocks. The sheer mountain slopes rise way above the road, not only making it difficult to see them all at once, but serving to make one marvel at the forces of nature.
In the aftermath of the recent rain are these examples of fungi in my garden:
Although oak trees, many of them English Oak, can be found in a number of South African towns, they are not indigenous to this country but originate from the early European settlers, who tended to plant what they were familiar with. It is believed that many of the oaks in parts of the Western Cape probably originate from trees imported by the Dutch East India Company as a source of wood for the manufacture of wine casks.
Under the right climatic circumstances, oaks have a life expectancy of between 300 – 600 years and so it is not surprising to find mature oaks still growing in a number of the older towns and cities in this country. Our little town, established as a military post in 1812, still has a number of streets lined with oak trees – what stories they could tell of the changes that have taken place over the past two centuries!
Here a group of schoolgirls is inspecting a relatively young oak tree growing next to the tennis courts on their campus.
Not all of the oak trees are old – saplings abound, many of which have been left to grow into mature trees. There are even the odd oak trees growing next to the roads, possibly remnants of deliberately planted trees or ‘escapees’ that found favour in the soil. We are used to the presence of oaks and love them for what they are.
The Urban Herd, which regular readers will be familiar with by now, continue to wander through the suburbs at will – munching on the grass verges, as well as any flowers, shrubs or leafy plants they can reach. I watched some of them doing just that and was surprised by the odd loud crunching noises, until I realised they were eating the acorns that had fallen onto the pavement! A little further on, I spotted this bull – which we have dubbed ‘The New Year Bull’ – reaching up to pull clusters of acorns from the trees.
I have mentioned elsewhere that the hibiscus flower was used in our primary school classes to demonstrate the different parts of the flower, such as the stem, calyx and ovary; the pistil which consisted of the stamen, style, and stigma; and then the petals. It is a large flower and there were several bushes of them growing in the tiny school garden; they were easy to cut open for demonstration – and fairly easy to draw in our Nature Study books.
Although tropical in origin, these hardy plants manage to grow in a variety of places. While hibiscus flowers are freely associated with tropical islands, the few we inherited with our garden still flower every year despite being totally neglected by me! They attract butterflies, beetles as well as a variety of sunbirds – in our garden these are usually the Amethyst (Black) Sunbird and the Greater Double-collared Sunbird.
Although we knew these flowers are called hibiscus, as young children we got into the habit of calling them ‘Hi Biscus!’ because that is what my father used to say every time we drove past the hibiscus hedge that grew next to the tennis courts in Barberton – especially when the bright red flowers were in bloom. You see, along with about 6% of the male population, he was inflicted with deuteranopia (red-green colour blindness), and so was unable to really appreciate the bright colours of these flowers. He could see the size of them though, thus he would call out “Hi Biscus!” to them, much to our amusement.