Welcome to the February 2023 issue of Firefly the Travel Guy’s Encounter our Eastern Cape Travel Mailer. This month we look at the following:
Discover the village of Riebeek East
Go on a Frog Safari in St Francis Bay
Stretch your legs (and loose your clothes) on the Tsitsikamma’s Striptease Trail
Marvel at the Dutch Reformed Church in Cradock
Learn more about PE / GQ’s Donkin Lighthouse and Pyramid
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A town that time forgot
The small village of Riebeek East lies about 40km north-west of Grahamstown. The village is considered a “town that time forgot” and is surrounded by game and sheep farms and beautiful Eastern Cape landscapes.
The 1820 British Settlers settled in the area which led to an “anglicizing” of the area. However the independent Afrikaner farmers remained loyal to the Dutch Reformed Church and had to travel to Graaf-Rienet and Uitenhage to attend church services.
In 1826 the Afrikaans speaking community of farmers in the Albany District petitioned the church but this was declined. One of the signatories to this petition was Piet Retief, one of the leaders on the Great Trek. In 1830 another petition for the appointment of elders and deacons was successful and the magistrate of Albany appointed a church council consisting of two elders and four deacons. The first visiting preacher was Dr George Morgan who presided at the first church gathering on 7th May 1831 on the farm Driefontein.
In 1841 the church was able to appoint its own permanent minister Dr John Pears. Pears persuaded the church council to buy a portion of the farm Mooimeisiesfontein that previously belonged to Retief. The church purchased 1275 hectares and to pay for this they subdivided the property so they could sell of the individual lots.
The town was founded in 1842 and developed around the newly built church. It was initially named Riebeek after Jan van Riebeeck, but this was later changed to Riebeek East in order to avoid being confused with Riebeeck West, located in the Western Cape.
The Riebeek East skyline is recognisable by the local church steeple. The building itself encapsulates the village’s history and houses the province’s largest church clock. This church remains the religious and social centre of the village and is a pleasure to visit. You can also visit the Mooimeisiesfontein farmhouse, the home of Voortrekker leader, Piet Retief which is one of SA’s National heritage sites.
Frog Safaris in St Francis
The Eastern Cape is the perfect safari destination. You get Big 5 safaris where elephant, lion, buffalo, leopard and rhino can be viewed. Then there is marine safaris in search of whales, dolphins, penguins and great white sharks while some reserves offer walking safaris to view giraffe, rhino or cheetah. During the hunting season you get hunting safaris and then there are still a few folk who wear safari suites with combs in their socks. But have you ever been on a frog safari?
Dune Ridge Country House in St Francis Bay offers a very unique experience. Definitely one like no other. A Frog Safari! Visitors head out onto the reserve with gumboots and headlights along with a qualified guide to safely identify and list a variety of frog species using a catch and release method.
The frog safaris are offered daily for pre-bookings, so contact them ahead of the time to confirm a spot for you and your family.
The Tsitsikamma’s Strip Tease Trail
The Striptease Trail in the Tsitsikamma starts at the Tsitsikamma Lodge, covers 11 pools along the 5km trail and usually takes about 4 hours to complete. But the length of time will depend on just what you get up to en route! The crystal clear rock pools all have names. You’ll start your back to nature ramble at the Pebble pool. Don’t stay there too long because the inviting Honeymoon pool is waiting for you, followed by the pretty waterfalls of the Cataract pool. Then it’s on to the Bikini pool, the Topless pool, the Bottomless pool (not named for the deep water), the Halfway pool, the Boobs pool, the Fantasy pool and, finally, the rather rudely named Kaalgat pool. Just make sure you ring the warning bell before approaching the final pool. You can either return along the same route or walk back along the shorter mountain route.
Cradock’s DRC Mother Church
The first Dutch Reformed congregation (and also the first church) in Cradock was established back in 1824, 10 years after the town received its name. The present Dutch Reformed Mother Church building, situated on the upper end of Church Street, was completed on the original site as the first church in 1868 at an apparent cost of some £24,500. The building’s design was based on St. Martins-in-the-Field on Trafalgar Square in London.
At the opening ceremony, the builder refused to hand over the door keys as he hadn’t been paid for everything owned to him. Appeals went out to those in attendance and an amount of money was raised on the spot, enough to satisfy the builder. During the Anglo-Boer War (1899 – 1902) the church roof was used as a lookout post by the British troops who garrisoned the town, as it was the highest spot in town.
Paul Kruger, who went on to become the President of the Transvaal Republic, was born on a farm near Bulhoek south of Queenstown in 1826 and was christened (by a Welsh pastor) in the original church. His name appears in the register.
The Donkin Lighthouse (actually called the Hill Lighthouse) in Port Elizabeth was built in 1861. At this time Port Elizabeth was starting to develop as a residential town and more and more ships were coming into the Bay. In 1932 it’s height was increased as the lights of the town behind was starting to interfere with the light. In the early 1970’s the lighthouse was decommissioned and replaced with the North End Light. Visitors can climb the lighthouse and entrance can be organised through the tourism information office in the lighthouse building. The climb up to the top is quite steep and a bit difficult with the steps being more of a ladder than stairs, but the view from the top is truly worth the climb.
The Pyramid (Donkin Memorial) was built in 1820. It’s a monument commissioned by Sir Rufan Donkin, Acting Governor of the Cape Colony at the time, as a monument to his wife, Lady Elizabeth Donkin, who passed away in India not long before he came to the Cape. One of the plaques on the pyramid says:
“In the memory of one the most perfect of human beings who has given her name to the town below.”