In the May 2022 issue of Firefly the Travel Guy’s Encounter our Eastern Cape Travel Letter
The history of Bathurst’s Pig and Whistle Hotel
Discover Somerset East’s Glen Avon Waterfall
Learn more about Beervlei Dam near Willowmore
Animals of the Eastern Cape – The Flightless Dung Beetle
Crossing the Storms River Mouth suspension bridge
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Bathurst’s Pig and Whistle Hotel
The oldest continuously licensed pub in the country
More than 200 years ago more than 4000 British Settlers came to the eastern frontier of the Cape Colony for a new beginning. The village of Bathurst is what is known as a frontier town, established by these 1820 Settlers as they tried to find a place to eke out a living in the completely foreign territory of the Eastern Cape.
The Historic Pig and Whistle Inn was built by one such settler. Thomas Hartley put down roots in Bathurst where he built a forge and a house in the early 1820s. By 1832, he had also opened an inn, which he built next to his forge. Bathurst was well situated geographically as a waypoint for wagon travelers. There was a smithy, farrier, shops and, of course, the inn, then known as the Bathurst Inn.
The inn was highly regarded and, despite neighbouring a forge, the inn’s rooms were billed as “Subscription Rooms for Gentlemen”. High profile guests included Lord Charles Somerset, the Governor of the Cape, and Sir Benjamin D’Urban. Following Thomas Hartley’s death in 1840, his widow, Sarah, took over the inn. Her gift for hospitality allowed the inn to flourish, and it became the accommodation of choice for travelling dignitaries and government officials. In 1847 the Governor General of the Cape Colony, Sir Henry Pottinger, stayed at the Inn where he was visited by the Chaplain, the Magistrate and the Post Commander. The following year the next Governor General, Sir Harry Smith, also stayed at Widow Hartley’s Inn (as it was then known).
In 1849, the inn was painted in oils by famous English explorer and artist Thomas Baines. Sarah Hartley died later that year, leaving the inn she had made renowned in the colony to her son, Thomas Hartley Junior. In 1852 Jeremiah Goldswain bought the inn from Hartley Junior.
The inn acquired its current name about 100 years later, when soldiers from the Royal Air Force were stationed at 42 Air School nearby. They decided to name their new pub after their local pub in England, thus the Bathurst Inn became the Pig and Whistle. Today it is not just seen as the oldest continuously licensed pub in the country, but also the oldest restaurant in South Africa.
Glen Avon Waterfall – Somerset East
Somerset East lies below the Boschberg mountain which is anything but typical Karoo. The mountainside is covered in forest and even has a couple of waterfalls. One of these, hidden up a valley, is the Glen Avon Waterfall.
The waterfall, the scale of which is only appreciated from close up, is said to have one of the highest drops of water on private land.
Getting to the waterfall isn’t just a park and stroll. It’s at least a 10 km hike that takes you through indigenous forest into a riverine-forested valley where sneezewood and cabbage trees grow. The waterfall and the kloof have been declared the Glen Avon Falls Natural Heritage Site (No 71). Bird watchers could identify 235 species of birds, ranging from small sunbirds to birds of prey and an occasional sighting of the rare Cape Vulture. Large game includes kudu, bushbuck, duiker and mountain reedbuck. Day outings with a 4×4 can be arranged at an extra charge. A refreshing dip in the pool below the falls awaits you at your destination.
The pool below the waterfall is also stocked with trout and Alan Hobson of Wild Fly Fishing in the Karoo offers guided fishing trips to this beautiful spot. Details in the link below.
As the waterfall is on private land, permission and a key is needed to visit.
Enquiries: Reg and Vivian Playdon
Tel: 042 243 3555
Mobile: 076 775 8124
Beervlei Dam near Willowmore
The dam that was built to be empty
Motorists traveling along the N9 from the interior via Graaff Reinet and Aberdeen towards Willowmore, would notice a huge empty dam on the right. It’s not empty because of a drought though. The Beervlei Dam is supposed to be empty. The dam was completed in 1957 as a flood control dam to help protect areas downstream on the Groot River when good rains do happen.
The Karoo sediments in the area contain a lot of salts and it has been found that lengthy storage of water results in high water salinity, so the dam doesn’t supply any town with water. Any flood water would be used as quickly as possible by the downstream irrigators and the reservoir is kept empty for extended periods.
The dam’s wall is 31 meters high and it has a capacity of 85,800,000 cubic meters with a surface area of over 23 square kilometers. After extensive rains in the Karoo in December 2021 and January 2022, the dam had water for the first time in 20 years, cause many to travel long distances to see this unique occurrence. Unique for a dam designed to operate at a 0% capacity.
Addo’s endangered Flightless Dung Beetle
There are over 780 species of dung beetle in Southern Africa. The flightless dung beetle (Circellium bacchus) is quite a rare specie and endemic to a few areas in Southern Africa with the Addo Elephant National Park in the Eastern Cape having the biggest population. They are unique as they don’t have any wings and mostly feed on elephant or buffalo dung. This is also one of the reasons they are classified as vulnerable. When the elephants were shot out in the late 1800s and early 1900s, they couldn’t just take flight and look for alternative places where elephants were located.
As opposed to wings, flightless dung beetles have a tightly sealed elytra (wing case), which creates a convective cooling system where heat is drawn away from their body. Thus, they are perfectly suited to hot regions. The flightless dung beetle feeds on elephant, buffalo as well as rhino dung. The dung serves many purposes for these beetles which include a source of nourishment, an ideal den for breeding, and a gift to lure in a female.
Storms River Mouth suspension bridges
One of the most iconic attractions on the Garden Route is the suspension bridge over the Storms River mouth. The 77 meter long bridge was originally built in 1969 and hangs just seven meters above the dark waters of river as it enters the Indian Ocean. Two additional bridges were added in 2006.
The trail leading to the river mouth and suspension bridge covers 900 meters through the Tsitsikamma forest. There are plenty of steps to negotiate, but it remains a fairly easy route and done by the majority of visitors to the Tsitsikamma section of the Garden Route National Park.
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