Experience our Eastern Cape Info Letter – June 2021

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The aim of the Experience our Eastern Cape “travel letters” is to be more than a conventional newsletter. We want it to teach you something, show you places you may never have been and wet your whistle on places to add to your “to do” list . This month there is a bit on the history of Storms River Village, information on the Baviaanskloof, features the historic Dutch Reformed Church in Nieu-Bethesda, some did you know about the Sunday’s River, a guide to hiking and the waterfalls in Hogsback, an infograph on the Waters Meeting Nature Reserve outside Port Alfred and a destination video on the Wild Coast.

The history of Storms River Village

Storms River…a little village set in the heart of the forests and in the foothills of the majestic Tsitsikamma mountain range. Centuries ago, long before the Village was ever dreamt of, herds of elephants traversed the land on which it now stands. Every year, for thousands of years, they would migrate across this area en route to the drier lands north east of the now Port Elizabeth to return at the turn of the following season to the cool tranquillity of the coastal forests. Living in total harmony with these gentle giants were the San, hunter‐gatherers who periodically lived in this area and at the coast, migrating, like the elephants back and forth as the seasons dictated.

In 1879 the now famous pass builder Thomas Bain first surveyed the area known as Zitzikama and found it to consist of almost impenetrable forests eastwards of Plettenberg Bay. By 1884 the pass through the Storms River gorge was completed and the village of Storms River surveyed and laid out.

Read more about the village

Travel through the Baviaanskloof

The Baviaanskloof is one of the Eastern Cape’s most iconic natural attractions. But if you’ve never been through it, ho much do you know about what it’s like to experience the area?

The Baviaanskloof – (Dutch for “Valley of Baboons”) – lies between the Baviaanskloof and Kouga mountain ranges with the easternmost point of the valley around 95 km from Port Elizabeth.

The Baviaanskloof area includes a cluster of formal protected areas managed by the Eastern Cape Parks and Tourism Agency totalling around 500,000 hectares (1,200,000 acres), of which the most well-known is the 184 385 ha Baviaanskloof Nature Reserve – the third largest protected area in South Africa. The Baviaanskloof Forest Reserve was established in 1920 and includes the Groendal Nature Reserve and Formosa Nature Reserve, and encompasses private land.

The Baviaanskloof area is one of outstanding natural beauty, owing to its spectacular land forms, a diverse array of plants and wide variety of animals. The area is part of the Cape Floristic Region World Heritage Site as of 2004.

Learn more and experience the Baviaans

Nieu-Bethesda’s landmark Dutch Reformed Church

The historic Dutch Reformed Church is probably the biggest landmark in Nieu-Bethesda. It’s perhaps not as famous as the Owl House or interesting as the Kitching Fossil Centre, but when it comes to landmarks, it stands out in town.

The village of Nieu-Bethesda was established in 1875 on the farm Uitkijk which belonged to Barend Jacobus Pienaar. The early inhabitants of the farm were always on the lookout for wild animals and raiding Bushmen, hence the name Uitkijk, loosely translated as Lookout. The farm was located in the well-watered valley of the Gat River within the Sneeuberge. Although Nieu-Bethesda is relatively close to Graaff-Reinet, the mountainous terrain and the treacherous weather conditions with summer temperatures in the 40C and heavy snow in winter, made it difficult for the farming community in the area to travel the 8-hour journey to the mother church in Graaff-Reinet. The land was purchased from Pienaar on behalf of the Dutch Reformed Church council for the price of £4000 on 8 February 1875. Rev. Charles Murray from Graaff-Reinet made a few suggestions regarding a name for the village and at the founders meeting said: “Laten sy dese plaats nu Bethesda noemen.” These words are reported to have been minuted incorrectly as “Laten wij het Nieuw Bethesda noemen.”

The imposing church building, with seating for up to 700 souls, was consecrated in 1905 at a cost of £7000. Stones for building the church, some almost 2,5m long, were obtained from the town commonage and the problem of transporting the long beams by ox wagon was solved by placing bales of straw on the wagon so that the beams protruded over the hind oxen. The magnificent church organ was commissioned for the first time in June 1914 and built by Price and Sons in Cape Town. It consists of 16 registers and more than 624 pipes. The church is still lit by gas powered chandeliers that pre-date the arrival of electricity in the village.

Learn more about Nieu-Bethesda

The Sundays River

The Sundays River is said to be the fastest flowing river in South Africa. The Khoisan people originally named this river Nukakamma (Grassy Water) because the river’s banks are always green and grassy despite the arid terrain that it runs through.

The source of the 250 kilometres long Sundays River is in the Sneeuberge near Nieu-Bethesda. The river flows in a general south / southeasterly direction, passing Graaff-Reinet and through the Karoo before making its way through the Zuurberg Mountains and into the fertile Sundays River Valley around Kirkwood and Addo. It empties into the Indian Ocean at Algoa Bay running past the village of Colchester and it’s giant sand dunes.

The Sundays River isn’t just the lifeblood of the citrus industry, but also offers visitors the opportunity to enjoy a number of activities in, on and around it.

Activities around the Sundays River

A guide to hiking and the various waterfalls and attractions around Hogsback

Everything you can see and do in Hogsback

Trails in the Waters Meeting Nature Reserve outside Port Alfred

The beautiful and rugged Wild Coast – Mandela country

The beautiful and rugged Wild Coast - Mandela country