Encounter our Eastern Cape Info Letter – April 2022


In the April 2022 issue of Firefly the Travel Guy’s Encounter our Eastern Cape Travel Letter

  • The history of Hankey in the Gamtoos Valley

  • Visit the museums of Graaff Reinet

  • Learn more about Darlington Dam

  • Animals of the Eastern Cape – The Cape Ground Squirrel

  • Discover Takazi Waterfall on the Wild Coast

  • Video – Tour the Tsitsikamma forest on a Segway

If there is something that you would like to see featured in our monthly “travel letter” or have any suggestions, please drop us a mail at jonker@fireflyafrica.co.za

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The history of Hankey in the
Gamtoos Valley

Hankey Bergvenster view

The town of Hankey was established in 1826 and is the Gamtoos Valley’s oldest town. It was named after the Rev. William Alers Hankey, an ex-banker and the secretary of the London Missionary Society (LMS). He was born in Aberdeen, Scotland.

John Philip monument in Hankey

The purpose of the establishment of the village was to grow mielies and corn for the LMS main station at Bethelsdorp and also to carry out evangelistic work. The first inhabitants consisted of a large number of Khoi, a few Mfengos, a few farmers and mixed descendants. The first irrigation scheme on the Klein Rivier was started by James Wait in 1827 and completed in 1830. It extended for 3.5 miles and he was awarded 50 cattle and the use of 50 workers.

Philips Tunnel in Hankey

The second irrigation scheme on the Gamtoos River, a National Monument in Hankey today, was carried out by William Philip, the son of the Superintendent of the LMS, Dr John Philip. His inspiration was the window in the hill between Backhousehoek and Vensterhoek and was dug using pick and shovel and wheelbarrows. The length of the tunnel is 228 meters and the speed of construction was very slow – about 1 to 2 feet a day. It was started in April 1843 and completed in August 1844 – 15 months later. It was in use from April 1845 to 1970 – a period of 125 years. This was the first ever tunnel scheme in South Africa. Ironically, William Philip drowned nearby just the next year when his small boat overturned

A view of Hankey from Sarah Baartman's Grave

Hankey is also home to the last resting place of Sarah Baartman, a Khoi woman who was exhibited as a freak show attraction in 19th-century Europe under the name Hottentot Venus. The town is surrounded by citrus and vegetable farms, beautiful scenery, lots of history and probably the best lookout spot in the valley at the Bergvenster.

Read more about Sarah Baartman – Wikipedia

Graaff Reinet’s Museums

Reinet House in Graaff Reinet

Graaff Reinet isn’t just the 4th oldest town in South Africa, but its also the town with the most historic monuments in the country. Over 220 in total. The Graaff Reinet Museum Complex is made up of five individual museums showing off the rich historical heritage of this Karoo Heartland town.

Reinet House was formerly a Dutch Reformed Church parsonage built in 1812. The house was occupied by both Rev Andrew Murray and his son Charles between 1822 and 1904. By 1944 the building became unoccupied and restoration work started in 1952. Reinet House is a fine example of a Cape Dutch Style H-plan house and it houses a fine collection of period furniture and relics of the past. Other attractions include the Laubscher doll collection, a Mill house with water wheel, the grape vine planted in 1870 and a Withond distillery.

The Military History Museum is the most recent addition to the Graaff-Reinet Museum Complex and was established in 2005. The building was built along the lines of a stable situated on the same premises and provides an overview of the military history of Graaff-Reinet from the 1800s until 30 June 2007.

Urquhart House is located on the southern extremity of Market Square and was built between 1806 and 1821. The museum includes a collection of Victorian furniture, Merino room and farm implements. a peach pip floor and archival repository.

The Old Residency, situated diagonally opposite Reinet House, is another well-preserved example of the early 19th Century Cape Dutch H-shaped house and was built in the 1820s. The Government of South Africa acquired it in 1916 for use as the residence of the Magistrate until 1978. The museum includes the Jan Felix Lategan Collection of Historical Firearms, a photographic exhibition, the Harriet Rabone drawing room and a Music Room.

The Old Library was built around 1847 and expanded in both 1878 and 1926. This building served the town as its library until 1981. The museum section includes a fossil collection, rock art and stone age exhibition, the Mangaliso Robert Sobukwe Permanent Exhibition and the Slavery and the Long Road to Restitution Exhibition. The building is also home to the Graaff-Reinet Tourism Office.

Learn more about the Graaff Reinet Museums

Darlington Dam

Darlington Dam wall

Darlington Dam, also referred to as Lake Mentz’ is located off the main road between Kirkwood and Jansenville and was completed in 1922. The primary reason for the dam being built was to provide an adequate supply of water to especially citrus farmers further down in the Sundays River Valley with irrigation water for their trees.

The story of the land on which the dam is located goes back to 1905 when P.W.F. Weyers settled on Darlington in the fertile Sundays River Valley and planted fruit orchards and vineyards. Later a hotel, post office, shop, smithy, house and several outbuildings were established on the farm, but these all disappeared under waters of Lake Mentz when it was established in 1922.

Darlington Dam aerial

The original dam was designed to store 142 million m3, but the high sediment yield of the Sundays River meant that sediment delivery into the reservoir basin quickly reduced its capacity. The dam wall was raised by 1.5 m in 1935 and again by 5.8 m in 1951. By 1979 the reservoir had lost a total of 41.47% of its design capacity.

The serious drought of 1966 and 1967 emphasized the necessity to commence work on the Skoenmakers Canal to link the Great Fish River to Darlington Dam in view of an expected increase in irrigation below Darlington Dam and the demand for water in the Port Elizabeth area.

In the 1990s the ‘lake’ was renamed the Darlington Dam and today it has been incorporated into the Addo Elephant National Park.

The Cape Ground Squirrel

Cape Ground Squirrel

Is it a mongoose?
Is it a meerkat or a squirrel?
No, it’s a Cape Ground Squirrel.

The Cape Ground Squirrel (Geosciurus inauris) is found in most of the drier parts of southern Africa like the Eastern Cape’s Karoo Heartland. The name Cape Ground Squirrel is somewhat misleading as it actually has a much wider area of habitation. This common name may have been arrived at to distinguish it from the tree squirrel found around Cape Town and which was imported from Europe by Cecil John Rhodes.

Cape ground squirrels live mainly in arid or semiarid areas. They prefer to live in veld and grasslands with hard ground. Ground squirrels are generally active during the day and do not hibernate. They are burrowing animals that dig and live in clusters of burrows which serve to protect the squirrel from extreme temperatures at the surface as well as predators. Nevertheless, most of the day is spent feeding at the surface. They eat bulbs, fruits, grasses, herbs, insects and shrubs.

Takazi Waterfall on the Wild Coast

Takazi Waterfall on the Wild Coast

The Wild Coast has some absolutely stunning waterfalls and recently launched a waterfall route in the northern part of the region. But there are many waterfalls that nobody will probably ever seen. One such an obscure waterfall is located off the road to Wavecrest Hotel. You turn off the main dirt road and follow the road for about a kilometer to water crossing and a small gorge on the left. The photo was taken during a dry period, but the waterfall will be beautiful after rain. Takazi Waterfall. I probably would never have stumbled on it if it wasn’t for a Geocache placed at the waterfall.
GPS coordinates –
S 32° 33.556 E 028° 27.139

Segway tours in the Tsitsikamma forest

Tsitsikamma Segway Tours

The most fun you can have on two wheels exploring the Tsitsikamma forest. Best of all, it’s an adventure for the whole family, big and small, and something you can do no matter the weather conditions. Follow the link below to Tsitsikamma Segway Tours’ website for more information.

Click for more more information and rates
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