Encounter the Eastern Cape Travel Mailer – November 2023


Summer is around the corner and the highlight of this past winter must surely be the Rugby World Cup coming straight back home. Peak season is about to kick off but take a few minutes, grab a coffee and read a little bit about our beautiful province, the Eastern Cape. Welcome to the December 2023 issue of Firefly the Travel Guy’s Encounter the Eastern Cape Travel Mailer.

This month we look at the following:

  • The water wheel of historic Glen Avon Mill turns again

  • Discover the legend of the wreck of the Grosvenor

  • Ride a Segway into the Tsitsikamma forest

  • Learn the history of the Cathedral of St Michael and St George

  • Gaze at the Karoo koppies called Mary and Martha near Tarkastad

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

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The historic Glen Avon Mill mills again

Glen Avon Mill on Glen Avon Farm outside Somerset East

The historic watermill on Glen Avon farm outside Somerset East has recently been restored and is grinding grain once again.

When Somerset Farm was closed down in 1825, Robert Hart who was in charge of the experimental farm, settled on farmland adjacent to the town which he was granted in recognition of his services to the government. Here he built a homestead – Glen Avon. Hart, who was a pioneer of Merino sheep farming, farmed sheep, grew fruit, especially citrus, and grain.

The first mill on Glen Avon was built by Robert Hart Snr. in 1823 already. It was built into the hill between The Gulley and the dairy, behind Hart Cottage. This mill would have had a wooden wheel and all that remains of it is the grindstone, which is paved into the entrance of the current mill.

Glen Avon Mill on Glen Avon Farm outside Somerset East

So successful was grain production in the region that it justified the building of a commercial mill for neighboring farmers. The present mill was built in 1862, evidenced by the wheel being dated 1861. This mill would have been built by Robert Hart Jnr, since his father would have been in his early 80’s by this time. The equipment and machinery were imported, mostly from England, and transported by ship and then by bullock-wagon from Algoa Bay to Glen Avon over the old Zuurberg Pass. Much of the machinery would have been assembled on site. The overshot waterwheel, with an 8.24m diameter is said to be one of the largest to be assembled in southern Africa.

The  Glen Avon Mill can be viewed by guests to Glen Avon Farm and by appointment.

Read more about Glen Avon Farm and book your stay

Legends of the Wild Coast:
The wreck of the Grosvenor

The Grosvenor is probably the most famous wreck on the Wild Coast. She ran aground and sank on a return voyage from India in a deep gully off a rocky little bay called Lwambazi, north of the the Umzimvubu River, on August 4th 1782. Out of the 150 people on board only 14 drowned. Six sailors went for help and reached the safety at a frontier farm near Port Elizabeth. An expedition was sent to rescue the survivors but they only found 12 people. Rumours were that those not found were living with local tribesmen. In 1790 a expedition was sent to find the wreck and a colony of about 400 people of non-African descent were discovered living on a tributary of the Mngazi River. The sad remnants of the various shipwrecks along the coast. The expedition found no trace of the Grosvenor though.

A story started doing the rounds that the Grosvenor was carrying a fortune in bullion and silver. One of the rumours insisted that the fabulous Peacock Throne of Persia (a royal chair made of solid gold with peacocks outlined in precious stones, and which had been looted round about this time) was also on board.

An absurd and costly series of recovery schemes, many of which cost more than any reputed treasure on board the ship, followed right through to modern days. Steam-drive cranes, suction dredgers, undersea tunnels, boulder breakwaters, high-pressure water- jets, explosives and mining efforts found very little whatsoever. Only two cannons and several gold and silver coins have ever been recovered from the wreck of the Grosvenor. It still lies down there somewhere in its dangerous little gully, its secrets hidden by treacherous currents and drifting sand. No man knows what is still on board and if it will ever be found.

Read more about the Grosvenor

Riding segways in the Tsitsikamma

Tsitsikamma Segway tour into the Tsitsikamma forest

The Tsitsikamma can easily be called the adventure capital of South Africa with fabulous activities like the Bloukrans bungee, canopy tours in the forest treetops, tubing on the Storms River and kayaking in the national park. How about an activity that can be enjoyed by young and old, couples, friends or the whole family? Tsitsikamma Segway Tours are based on the main road right in the heart of Storms River Village. It’s much easier to ride a segway than most people think and after a 10 minute orientation and training session the guide leads the group along the historic Storms River Pass into the indigenous forest. You get to experience the beauty of the Tsitsikamma on two wheels without the noise of an engine or having to peddle uphill. Best of all, the whole family can do it together without leaving anybody behind. Their guides are skillful and patient and will make sure the littlies enjoy the tour just as much as the adults.  

Tsitsikamma Segway Tours

Makhanda’s Cathedral of St Michael and St George

Like most cathedrals across the world, Grahamstown Cathedral has grown out of a much simpler building over a long period of time. When Graham’s Town was surveyed and laid out in 1814, the site the cathedral stands on today was identified as being “a very convenient site for a church”. Construction only started in 1824 and St George’s Church opened in 1830.

The Diocese of Grahamstown was founded in 1853. Conflict between the bishop and the church’s dean lead to the exclusion of the bishop from the cathedral. This action resulted in the setting up of St Michael’s Pro-Cathedral in 1883. After the dean’s death in 1885, reconciliation took place and the bishop started officiating at the services again.

Plans for a new “worthy cathedral” was drawn up and the foundation-stone was laid in 1890 and the completed structure was consecrated in 1893, combining the two names as the Cathedral of St Michael and St George to mark the healing of a historic breach in the diocese. A new nave was dedicated in 1912 and the building of the cathedral was finally completed in 1952 with the addition of the Lady Chapel.   

Mary and Martha near Tarkastad

Throughout the Karoo it’s common to see flat-topped hills called Karoo Koppies along the horizon. Karoo Koppies hills are capped by hard, erosion-resistant dolerite sills. This is solidified lava that was forced under high pressure between the horizontal strata of the sedimentary rocks that make up most of the Karoo’s geology.


One of the best-known landmarks in the Tarkastad district, at an elevation of 1454 meters above sea level, is two Karoo Koppies called Mary and Martha. They sit like two heavy women on a stoep, weary from a day’s hard work awaiting the return of men from the fields. Originally called the Tweeling Berge (Twin Mountains), the hills have been known as Mary and Martha since the 1840s. 

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