Monday, 23 July 2012

Investigating Uniondale 20th July 2012

It is just outside Uniondale on the farm Vleiplaas that die oervlakte mesas first came to my attention. One sees them from the road as one comes into town from the north, standing next to each other, capped at the same height. I was fascinated by the geology and the fact that there were conglomerates at the top of flat-topped mountains, decided to investigate and so the concept and branding of die oervlakte unfolded. These mesas occur in many valleys in the Little Karroo.

“Standing on the Ancient African Surface, one is immediately aware that the surface is covered in pebbles of different sizes, patterns and colours. On closer inspection many appear to have been formed by eons of wind and water abrasions, some seem to be miniature conglomerates and others just pretty stones, but one is overwhelmed by the geological time of the place. Looking down the valley more hills with their thick duricrust tops can be seen, all capped at the same height – giving a glimpse into the millions of years of erosion, accumulation, sediments, dry periods and wet periods of this enchanted, magical place we call the Little Karoo”.

“Another remarkable feature of the area is a series of cliffs and caves. The weather during ancient times was warm and wet, deeply rotting the rocks on the plain. Water and wind weathered the sandstone fragments on the surface of the plain and in time many of them were rounded to pebbles and small boulders, which now lie on the present day surface of die oervlakte. During the formation of this surface, water carried silica and iron derived from the weathering into the rotted rocks below the plain, cementing these into very hard duricrusts. The narrow cliffs seen at the crest of the mesas are the cemented jumble of angular and rounded rock fragments. Soft, rotted rock is located beneath the duricrust. Weathering and erosion of the past few million years has removed the rotted rock and undercut the duricrust, forming caves which are of great significance in the history of land use by nature and man in the Uniondale area.

The view from Uniondale Heights on approaching the town from the north on the N9 is striking, and the three mesas are the first view of note.  Erosion, which started with the breakup of the Gondwana super-continent, reduced the land surface to an undulating plain, with the erosion-resistant sandstone and quartzite standing proud of the plain as impressive peaks; the most prominent of which is Mannetjiesberg, at an altitude of 1956 metres, visible to the northwest of the town. A drive along the Uniondale Poort road towards Avontuur reveals the sandstone rocks close up - there are several stopping points where bedding (from when the rocks were laid down) and folding (from the great upheavals the rocks underwent) can be examined”. Dr. Chris Lee

"Uniondale is rich in history and bloodshed. The first settlers to explore this part of the interior trekked through in 1689 under orders from Simon van der Stel. With the interior still largely unknown, and inhabited by the indigenous Inkwa tribe, these first settlers approached this arduous journey apprehensively. According to an old map, Isaac Schrywer and a party of 22 men and two ox wagons visited the region on 1 February 1689, and explored the shores of the Kammanassie River, or t’Kamt’Nasi. The Dutch East India Company often sent exploring parties into the interior, who not only reported back about the conditions of the land and its peoples, but who also traded and bartered stock with the Attaqua, Inkwa and Outeniqua people.
This picturesque town came into being by joining two hamlets (Hopedale and Lyon) in 1865. Before this, the area was visited during various expeditions, while gradually settlers moved in from the west.
Uniondale was, a century ago, the hub of frequent military activity. The Anglo-Boer War saw many soldiers from both sides die on the outskirts of the little village.
The remnant of an old British fort looks down on Uniondale from a nearby hill. This fort was one of four that were built to defend the town against a Boer invasion during the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902)".  Leon Nell

Some historic buildings:

Voortrekker Hall: Used as the original place of worship of the Dutch Reformed Congregation from 1866 until 1884. When the new church was completed, Voortrekker Hall was used as a school. It was donated to the Voortrekkers of Uniondale after being bought from the Church Council in 1940.

The Dutch Reformed Church: A new church was built in 1884.

The Congregational Chapel Complex: In 1840, the London Mission Society sent Thomas Hood to Avontuur, where he worked for a short period and built a chapel. He later moved to Uniondale and founded the Hopedale Mission. The original building was used as a school once the mission moved into the present building.
This bluegum tree was planted in 1850 to commemorate the first open-air service of the congregation. It stands next to the police station opposite the church.
All Saints Church: In 1876, the Anglican Church was consecrated in Uniondale, and today it is the oldest building still used for worship. The original thatching lasted for more than a century and was only replaced in 1988. It still has the original yellowwood floorboards, some fine stinkwood and yellowwood panelling and craftsmanship dating back to the year of its completion. The original stained glass has also survived the ravages of time and war, and the main window to the east was erected in memory of one of the descendants of the missionary Thomas Hood.
The Jewish Synagogue: The synagogue was completed in 1906. Jewish children attended Hebrew classes from 1913. The cemetery was started in the early years of the 1900s with the first gravestone dating back to 1901. Forty-four graves with epitaphs written in Hebrew, Yiddish, German and English can be found in the small cemetery. The last service was held on Pesach 1963 with three families and some visitors.
The Water Mill was built by James Stuart and used from 1852 until 1952. Today an upmarket restaurant is run from these premises, offering excellent food, good company and an amazing ambiance! Adele: 082 497 7942
Uniondale was a wagon building town. The wood was brought by ox wagon over the Prince Alfred Pass and then transported from here into the interior. This is the original smithy.
The smithy door with some of the cattle brands embedded in it.

On the outskirts of the town there are still working farms which have been in families for centuries. One of them is the Stewart farm where the sheep are still herded by sheep dogs at the close of day.

The area around Uniondale offers an abundance of unique plants, some found only here.
There is much to experience in this quite Karoo town.

For orders for die oervlakte book contact: Louise Heckl 044 752 1143 |083 861 2209 |

Saturday, 5 May 2012

Investigating de Rust April 2012

de Rust lies nestled close to the foot of the Swartberg Mountians on the southern end of Meiringspoort, the gateway from the Little Karoo to the Great Karoo. I went to have a look at what is not obvious on a first visit to the town with its characteristic white-washed Karoo-style houses with gables and green and red roofs sheltering the large street-facing stops from the fierce summer sun. I always start off with coffee at The Village Trading Post, enjoying the interesting conversation and often meeting some fascinating traveller passing through or a farmer from the area.

Some of the historic houses

The Dutch Reformed Church Hall, built in 1908

Due to lack of funds, the parsonage was constructed in 1903 without a foundation. Ds. J.P. Burger was fetched from the le Roux railway station with great fanfare on 24 November 1905 and received into the new congregation.
The old boarding school in Hoop Street was built in 1915
The Schoeman Gallery, also known as Robertson House, was built during the ostrich boom in 1903
The Village Trading Post and Riverside Accommodation offers guests a unique caravan experience, beautifully renovated and situated in a fascinating garden.

Die Kraaltjie, a coffee shop in the main street, has an array of interesting and fascinating 1950's garden gnomes and decoration
The Hotel in de Rust is an enigmatic building, its balconies festooned with plants, sculptures and gnomes with strange expressions.

The old cemetery lies at the top of a hill just outside town with some interesting inscriptions
Donkey carts are seen often in de Rust with families going about their business transporting people or goods.
 I drove out of de Rust, inspired and refreshed with more than enough to think about. Should I overnight in the hotel next time, or in the caravan?
de Rust is well worth a visit for any traveller passing through. It is filled with old world charm, the people fascinating and interesting, the coffee and food good where you see the cockerel!

Friday, 23 March 2012

Investigating Willowmore 22 March 2012

Having been to and investigated Willowmore on numerous occasions while researching die oervlakte book, I decided to go and have another look to see if I could find aspects of the town that are not obvious on a first visit. I started off as I always do when entering the town with a cappuchino and something scrumptious to eat at Sophie’s Choice. Decided to try the chicken mayo wrap with a delicious and beautifully presented salad.

The town has some impressive and beautifully restored buildings from a by-gone era that are well worth investigating and inspecting.

The Town Hall: It is believed that the town hall was built around 1896. It was used for a variety of functions, including funerals of prominent people, soirées, plays, wedding receptions and film shows.
Scholtz/Greef Building: The erf was first registered in 1873. The first building, owned by F.W. Baker in 1889, burnt down and the present building was built at a later date.
The Old Gaol: This building was once the police station and prison and is believed to have been built in 1896. It consisted of a hospital cell, hard-labour yard cells, awaiting-trial cells, cells for females and a kitchen. This building has been renovated and is now a luxurious bed & breakfast called The Old Jail
The church was not built during the lifetime of the Grays but between 1876 and 1881 and is the oldest church in Willowmore. This white-wshed church was probably the last of the churches built to a Sophy Gray plan
The Jewish Synagogue: The erf was purchased for the building of a synagogue in 1906 and the foundation stone was laid on 8 April 1907. The Jewish community applied for a loan for the building in 1908 and by 1917 the Willowmore Hebrew congregation had 30 members. The 1930s saw the rise of anti-semitism and in 1937 Dr. D.F. Malan addressed a meeting in the town accusing Jewish shopkeepers of selling goods cheaper to Jews than to Christians. However, the experience of Mr. Freedman, who tendered two years running to the Indigent School Committee for its milk contract, provided another perspective. Although his tender was lower than others, the contract was given to a Mr. Steyn as the School Committee did not feel justified in giving it to a Jew if it could go to an Afrikaner. In 1958 no services were held in Willowmore as the congregation could not make up a minyan (ten men) and the community attended High Holy Day services in Uniondale. By the mid 1960s the synagogue was no longer in use.
The roads in the town are wide and untarred, originally laid out as in many of the small Karoo towns, to accommodate ox wagons and horse drawn carts, the postman still rides his bicycle and delivers post by hand and children have the freedom of the quiet streets.


For me the most extraordinary feature is the way the blue gum trees, planted probably in the late 1800’s, have been cut and how these 130 - odd year old trees send out new growth in this very arid and dry place. Came accross at least 10 of them in the caravan park behind the town hall that had been cut the week before. Only their huge stems and awful looking stumps left trying to reach out to the blue sky. I did have an urge to go out and hug each one of them for the trauma caused, whether it is because they have become too big or because they use too much underground water and are now classed as an alien species.

Sheep/lamb guarding a gate .... or welcoming to enter ....

Eighty year old resident of the town wishing me well on my journey

Back to Sophie’s for an ice cream with chocolate sauce and blueberries before I took the road home, my mind full of new impressions.

Saturday, 3 March 2012

die oervlakte gets a new route - The Kammanassie Route

Three geologists Peter Ginn, Paul Rixom and Colin Ralston, are making this route a reality on
12th and on 26th May 2012 when they will conduct two separate geological tours based on the route identified by Dr. Chris Lee in die oervlakte book. The route will include de Rust, the Swartberg Mountains, the Outeniqua Mountains and on past the Kammanassie Mountains. It has been arranged to gain access to the actual oervlakte on one of the farms in the area. It will be the farm that was used for the photography of the book and the branding of die oervlakte concept.

die oervlakte offers the traveller vistas of unsurpassed landscapes which are unique to the Cape Fold mountains and fertile valleys in all their splendour. Visitors have at their fingertips a range of environmental, geological, cultural and historical information. The different routes bring to life the ecology of the area, the ancient structure of the topography, the culture and the intriguing and sometimes tragic history of the people.

Standing on the Ancient African Surface, one is immediately aware that the surface is covered in pebbles of different sizes, patterns and colours. On closer inspection many appear to have been formed by eons of wind and water abrasions, some seem to be miniature conglomerates and others just pretty stones, but one is overwhelmed by the geological time of the place. Looking down the valley more hills with their thick duricrust tops can be seen, all capped at the same height – giving a glimpse into the millions of years of erosion, accumulation, sediments, dry periods and wet periods of this enchanted, magical place we call the Little Karoo.

Surface at the top covered with pebbles

Formations on the road up to die oervlakte

If one lingers a while, one meets a special traveller – we never know where he comes from or where he is going, but he seems as old as die oervlakte itself. Beautiful patterns adorn his back and he imparts a feeling of things primordial, things permanent and determined. He is either the beautiful angulate, leopard or tent tortoise.”

die oervlakte team are delighted that so soon after the launch of the book, the first spin-off in the area is taking place and that the geology of these magnificent primordial plains will be explored by the public.

We thank the geologists and Wessa for their initiative and are delighted that the money will be going to a fund for conservation and education and that it will stimulate interest in this unique area.

For more information please contact Christine Ridge-Schnaufer
Tel 044 873 4203 | Fax 086 646 5458 |

Published in Die Burger 1 March, 2012

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Sunday lunch at Sophie’s Choice, Willowmore |19 February, 2012

Decided to go to Willowmore for lunch at 'Sophie’s Choice'. It is a 68km drive from Uniondale, a good road and beautiful scenery through the mountains which separate the little Karoo from the Great Karoo and as I always do my thinking while driving, it gave me time for reflection and contemplation.

Sophie’s little restaurant is very pleasant and the food always beautifully presented on antique china and the tables covered with exquisite old linen. The interior is filled with antiques that create a fascinating and tranquil atmosphere. Service always excellent.

Patrons and manikins on the verandah

I had the chicken pie, which is my favourite, but there was also fish and calamari with salad, chicken salad and lamb curry amongst the many other dishes on the menu. The coffee is good, cakes are scrumptious and can be highly recommended.

Fish, calamari & salad

Chicken salad

My favourite, chicken pie and salad with added vegatables

Half-way through the meal, a group on Harley Davidson’s arrived on their way to Queenstown. Beautiful bikes and interesting people of all ages who thrive on open spaces and speed.

The antique shop is a haven for the collector and browser, stocked with many rare and beautiful items.

Before I left town, decided to investigate the historic cemetery. Pioneers arrived in the area in the early 1800’s and the first farms were granted by the Government on 20 November 1817. The town was founded and laid out on the original property known as Van der Westhuizen’s Kraal in 1858.

As I looked at the immaculately kept cemetery, read the names and dates of those founding fathers that established this town on the edge of the arid Karoo, I realized that they could not have envisaged that the area today would be exporting the highest yield and best quality mohair in the country.

As I drove back I noticed that the grey, blue karoo-bossies are now very distinct on the mountain slopes in expansive patches. February is the time in the Karoo when the veld is not at its best and everything is dry and grey as it is the hottest month when temperatures can peak at 45 degrees.

Sphie's Choice is in the main street as you come into town, you can't miss it!
Tel: 044 923 1117 Fax 044 923 2061 Cell: 073 140 5630