Stellenbosch was founded in 1679 and is the second oldest European settlement in the Western Cape Province, after Cape Town. It was named after Simon van der Stel, the Governor of the Cape Colony at the time and it means “(van der) Stel’s forest”. The early settlers to this fertile region were encouraged to plant oak trees and Stellenbosch’s oak lined streets led to the town being known as “Eikestad” (village of oaks). Stellenbosch is situated on the banks of the Eerste River (“First River”), so named as it was the first river van der Stel reached and followed when Jan van Riebeeck sent him from Cape Town on an expedition over the Cape Flats to explore the territory now known as Stellenbosch. The Dutch were skilled in hydraulic engineering and they devised a system of furrows to direct water from the Eerste River through the town along Van Riebeeck Street to Mill Street where a mill was erected. Soon after the first settlers arrived, among them the French Huguenots, grapes were planted in the fertile valleys around Stellenbosch and soon it became the centre of the South African wine industry. One of the first schools in South Africa opened in Stellenbosch in 1683 and in 1866 the Dutch Reformed Church opened a gymnasium which is known as the Stellenbosch Gymnasium. The Gymnasium, renamed in 1881 as Stellenbosch College, finally 3 reached university status in 1918 and was renamed Stellenbosch University. More than 26,000 students attend Stellenbosch University today.
Oudtshoorn – Ostrich Capital of the World
The town of Oudtshoorn is situated in the Western Province of the beautiful South Africa and is known and loved by many local holidaymakers around the country. Originally the area was occupied by Bushmen and this can be seen by the large number of rock paintings which can be found in the caves surrounding the Swartberg Mountains. The first farmers settled in the area during the 1700’s and the first large permanent structure – the Dutch Reformed Church – was built in 1839 and the town started growing around this church.
The town of Oudtshoorn is especially known for its ostriches and many ostrich farms surround the town. The ostrich craze in the Karoo started with the fascination the town’s people had with the feathers as they were used as a fashion accessory. Ostrich feathers where obligatory items of high fashion just before world war one. The great feather boom began around 1870. At its height there were more than 750 000 domesticated ostriches in the little Karoo area and feathers where being exported at the rate of about 450 000kg’s a year. Then came world war one and then austerity became a way of supporting the war effort. Many farmers went bankrupt in this time. In later years the industry revived with the demand for ostrich leather, biltong, eggs and feathers. At present there are about 90 000 ostriches in the Little Karoo
The Cango Caves is one of South Africa’s most beautiful hidden treasures. Just 17km outside of the Klein Karoo town of Oudtshoorn, the Cango Caves are one of the Garden Routes most exciting and beautiful tourist attractions. Here, guests can explore the unseen beauties of South Africa and will be astounded by the sheer size and length of the caves. The Cango Caves are primarily dripstone caverns which lie in a limestone ridge which runs parallel to the Swartberg Mountains. Together the chambers and tunnels of the Cango Caves extend over 4km, placing them among the largest caves in the world. The largest chamber, Van Zyl’s Chamber, was named after an explorer who apparently come across the caves in the 1770s, however there is no record of a man named Van Zyl being in the area during that time and there is evidence that the caves have been known to man since the Stone Age; recent finds – of some tools left behind in ancient hearths in the Cave mouth – prove that humans have lived and sheltered here for at least 80 000 years.
The Cango Caves was the first tourist attraction in South Africa to employ a full-time tour guide, ensuring that each person who visited the caves could do so with a professional. In fact, you can only visit the caves today as part of a tour group. The standard tour will take you to the main chambers and front parts of the cave, however adventure tours can be embarked on which take guests into the narrower and in depth parts of the Cango Caves.
Today’s highlight is the Knysna Lagoon, a perfect spot for water sports or simply relaxing and admiring the striking beauty of The Heads. The town of Knysna, voted South Africa’s favourite holiday town, nestles in the 4 lagoon basin. It is protected by The Heads - two towering sandstone cliffs flanking a deep channel through which the tides flow. There are spectacular views and a cosy restaurant at the Eastern Head and the Western Head is a privately owned nature reserve – Featherbed Bay.
The Knysna Lagoon is one of the few places in the world that supports an oyster hatchery and the town is well-known for its fresh oysters, as well as its beer, made locally at Mitchell’s Brewery. Rich in history, Knysna’s museums are well worth visiting: the Millwood House Museum, and the Angling Museum in the Old Gaol. There are many other attractions, from the lush surrounding rainforests, the nearby Buffalo Valley Game Reserve, Featherbed Nature Reserve and Noetzie beach to a wide selection of restaurants and craft markets. The forest, one of the largest areas of indigenous trees left in South Africa, is very dense and in some areas impenetrable.
Knysna was originally founded by George Rex in the 19th century as a port for the timber trade. The forest was nearly decimated as a result of logging but escaped devastation due to far-sighted conservation policies introduced in the 1880s. The herds of forest elephants that once roamed the forest have not been so lucky, they have all disappeared and one lone female is said to remain today. The beautiful and elusive Knysna Loeries can still be seen in the area, as well as a large variety of other birds and a few small antelope.
Tsitsikamma National Park
'Tsitsikamma' is a khoi word meaning ‘place of abundant or sparkling water’ – an apt name considering the abundance of bubbling natural rivers and streams decorating the region. The Tsitsikamma region stretches from the sweeping Bloukrans River in the west all the way to the Eerste Rivier in the east. Bordered on the north by the majestic Tsitsikamma Mountains and the tepid Indian Ocean on the south, the sought-after destination is flanked by incredible natural scenery every direction you look.
The lush park covers an 80km stretch of sweeping coastline with popular holiday destination Nature’s Valley resting on the western end and the world-famous Storms River Mouth at its epicentre. The protected area is covered in a thick blanket of indigenous forest along with the odd commercial plantation and an abundance of natural Fynbos. Deep river gorges fork between the plateau as they rush down towards the sea, resulting in a dramatic spectacle of tumbling waterfalls and deep kloofs. A mild all-year-round climate affords visitors the opportunity to engage in a myriad of fun outdoor activities encouraged by the region’s bustling tourism industry, while a high rainfall ensures the natural greenness that the area is renowned for. With exceptional hiking trails and unparalleled coastal scenery, Tsitsikamma is a top destination for eco-tourists and avid adventurers.
The Otter Trail is a hiking route along the Garden Route coast and is not only the most popular route in the Tsitsikamma National Park, but is widely regarded as one of the finest in the world. Stretching from Storms River Mouth to Nature’s Valley, the full trail takes a total of five days and exposes hikers to some of the most exquisite natural beauty, including imposing coastal mountains, dense gallery forest and sweeping white-sand beaches.
Addo Elephant Park
The Addo Elephant Park is situated about an hour outside of the city of Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape and is recognised as one of South Africa’s most popular national parks and game reserves. It is sanctuary to over 550 elephants in just 120 000 hectares. It is also the third largest national park in South Africa and is the only one to incorporate a marine area into its conservation strategy.
The history of the park is an uncomfortable one. In 1919 the administration of the Cape Province decided to cull the elephant population in the Addo region and hired a Professional hunter, Major Jan Pretorius, to destroy the entire herd that inhabited the area at the time. It took him a year to kill 120, before he was stopped due to public outcry. Only 16 traumatized Addo elephants remained, wounded, frightened and unable to coexist with humans. In 1931, when only 11 elephants were left alive in the area, it was proclaimed a National Park. The elephants, however, were still hostile - destroying crops and attacking anyone who came near them. Finally, in 1952, one of the farmers of the area suggested that a fence be erected around the park. This kept the Elephants secure and out of the surrounding farming area. Black rhino was reintroduced in 1961- the first in the Cape for a hundred years. Today the Park is a sanctuary to over 450 elephants, Cape buffalo, a variety of antelope species, as well as the flightless dung beetle, found exclusively in this area. Addo elephants are unique in that although they belong to the same species as the African Elephant, they are smaller with more rounded ears and the females generally have no tusks. The marine section extends to invite guests to observe the southern right whales, dolphins and sea life in the Indian Ocean coast next to the park.