A Stroll Through Clanwilliam
The wildflower of the Cederberg
You should be near the corner of Augsburg Road and Hoof Street, next to the police station, Looking down the length of Hoof Street, Clanwilliam's main road, and the mighty Cederberg Mountain Range will be on your left, stretching out in the distance from here all the way down to Citrusdal. Not far from here is the famous Clanwilliam Dam.
Welcome to one of the 10 oldest towns in South Africa. My name is Gary. I'll be taking you on a stroll through the centre of Clanwilliam, explaining a little bit about the town, what it means to me and why it's worth spending some time here. Along the way I'll give you a bit of history, point out some great spots to visit and introduce you to a few of the famous locals.
I've been visiting Clanwilliam since I was 6 months old. I've spent time roaming the streets and backroads with friends, waterskiing on the dam with my parents, and driving into the surrounding areas of the Cederberg mountains with my fiance. I hope that this walks helps you discover some of the town's low-key charm, which has rubbed off on me over the years.
Let's get going. Start walking down Hoof Street, keeping to the right side of the road.
[1 SECOND PAUSE]
VoiceMap uses your phone's GPS to play audio automatically, in exactly the right place, and I'll give you directions along the way. The occasional period of silence is normal, and you'll be notified if you go off course. To get yourself back on track, just take a look at the map on your screen. For now, you can put your phone away now and relax.You'll hear from me again in a moment.
Saturday morning on Hoof Street
If you're doing this walk on a Saturday morning, you'll find yourself immersed in a myriad of sounds and sights, as Clanwilliam comes alive with everyone doing their shopping and meeting up on Hoof Street. Clanwilliam is an agricultural town, so many of the people are farm workers who come from the outlying farms once a week to stock up on goods.
Keep walking and I'll catch up with you soon.
Old Criterion Hotel
Coming up across the road on your left is the Criterion building, with it's second-floor balconies held up with square columns.
The structure was built in the 1920s and was owned by Hymie Ginsberg, the son of a rooibos tea merchant you'll hear about later on. It used to be the Criterion Hotel, and then became an annex of the Clanwilliam Hotel. I spent many childhood days wandering around this building, and was wary of the rumours that it was haunted by the ghosts of old traders who used to frequent it in its early days.
Carry on going straight.
A famous petrol attendant
As you walk, look across the road to your left.
Can you see the low building with the tiered, angular facade?
In the 1970's there was a petrol station there. One of the attendants used to tell everyone jokes and stories while he filled their cars or boats, including my dad. His name was Tolla van de Merwe, and he would eventually go on to become a household name across South Africa, known for his jokes about small town life. He sharpened his trade at the old petrol station on Hoof Street. Further down the road is a building called Tolla se Sentrum, named in his honour.
The Karoo's only surf shop
Let's stop here for a moment.
Across the road to your left is Tolla se Sentrum. This building houses the only surf shop in the Karoo. Unfortunately, they don't sell surfboards, but they do have a collection of bush shoes, or 'veldskoene'. These shoes come from Wupperthal, a small village in the Cederberg about 70 km from here. Go have a look inside if you like.
When you are done, come back to this side of the road, or if you would rather keep going, take a few steps on down the road.
Clanwilliam's renaissance man and the old Anglican church
Stop here, at the building just past Tolla se Sentrum.
Can you see it? It has two sculptured busts by the entrance. They're slightly hidden behind the trees in front.
That's the local library. One of the busts is of C. Louis Leipoldt, a man of many talents. He was born in 1880 and grew up here. Leipoldt was mostly known as a writer, but he also practiced as a physician, journalist, naturalist and part time chef. He's buried in a cave just outside Clanwilliam.
[2 SECOND PAUSE]
To your right, across the road from the library, is the Anglican Church. It sits behind a low wall, and dates back to 1867. As children, my friends and I would dare each other to go in at night - it's a rather spooky place. I was also once a ring bearer for a wedding here.
[1 SECOND PAUSE]
When you're ready to get moving again, just keep walking down the street in the same direction as before.
Clanwilliam Hotel, Reinholds & Nancy's Tearoom
Coming up on your right is the Clanwilliam Hotel, with four flags flying outside it. Stop here for a moment.
The hotel has been around since the 1920s, and was the place to be in Clanwilliam's early days. It was owned by the Strassberger family until the early 2000s.
The Strassbergers were originally a German missionary family. They've been in Clanwilliam for over one hundred years now, and Strassbergers are still involved in all facets of Clanwilliam life.
I grew up running around the hallways of the hotel, ringing the dinner gong, knocking on the guest's doors before running away and generally causing chaos.
[2 SECOND PAUSE]
Opposite the hotel, across the road is Reinhold's restaurant. It's the building with the green roof.
Reinhold's is run by Emile Strassberger and is named after the family's patriach. I recommend stopping by for a steak sometime. The walls inside are covered in photographs of famous and bygone Afrikaner singers that have passed through Clanwilliam over the years.
Next to Reinhold's is Nancy's Tearoom. Nancy is the matriarch of the family and is still alive. At the time of this recording, she is almost 100 years old.
Carry on straight.
The Dutch Reform Church & the Old Gaol
Here on your right is the Dutch Reformed Church. It's cool and spacious inside, so pop in for a look if you like. Otherwise just keep heading straight down the road.
The church was completed in the 1860s and became an official national monument in 1973. The mission used to run a school there, where a man called Harold Cressy used to teach. He was the first coloured man in Cape Town to gain a university degree.
The road forks here. You can just stay on this side of it, following the gradual incline.
Straight ahead of you, in the middle of the crossroad, is a one-storey building with two giant palm trees in front of it. That's the Old Gaol, affectionately referred to by its Afrikaans name, the "Ou Tronk".
The Old Gaol was built in 1808, making it one of the earliest buildings in Clanwilliam. It has gone through some renovations over the years, and now houses a very interesting museum documenting the early years of Clanwilliam and the Rooibos industry that has grown up around it. The museum is well worth a visit if it's open and you have time.
Carry on going up the hill.
A changing town
You're on the right track. Keep walking up the road and I'll tell you a bit about how Clanwilliam has changed.
The Khoisan people were the area's original inhabitants, and lived in the area for many thousands of years. Afrikaner farmers began moving into the Cederberg region in the late 1700s. One of these farmers was Jan Dissels, and the area of Clanwilliam was once his farm. In fact, the town was originally called Jan Dissels.
The town's name was changed to Clanwilliam in 1814 by the Governor of the Cape at the time. He named it in honour of his father-in-law, the Earl of Clanwilliam. But Jan Dissels hasn't been completely forgotten. The river just outside of the town is still called the Jan Dissels River.
During the 19th and 20th centuries, the town was mainly comprised of Afrikaner farmers and coloured farm workers. On your right is the beginning of the coloured suburb. Traditionally, the whites lived in spacious houses in the avenues above the town, while the coloureds were confined to smaller, roughly built dwellings.
Over the years, economic migrants from the Eastern Cape and immigrants from other parts of Africa have come here in search of jobs on the farms. There is not always enough work to go around, so many people here are unemployed out of season. A new township has started further up this road, built in the veld and made up of corrugated shacks without proper amenities. The people living there have moved here in search of economic security and a better life. As Clanwilliam grows, my hope is that everyone will be able to find some stability and prosperity.
Continue up this road. I'll catch up with you in a moment to tell you about Clanwilliam's most famous landmark, the Clanwilliam dam.
The Clanwilliam Dam
Look at the open grassy area on your right. On Saturday mornings you can find vendors selling food and sometimes medicinal herbs. You'll also find Clanwilliams residents hanging out and enjoying the weather. It's a good place to rest and enjoy a boerewors roll. You'll usually find them a little further up, on the opposite side of the road.
You might also catch a glimpse of the Rasta carwash. It was started by an entrepreneurial Rasta man, who does brisk business in the summer months when people from Cape Town come here in droves with their boats and 4x4s.
[2 SECOND PAUSE]
We aren't going that far, but the road you're walking on leads up to the entrance of the Clanwilliam Dam. You used to be able to just walk straight in or drive in with your boat, but now they are much stricter and you have to pay to enter the dam from this entrance. The caravan park there is always filled up in December, and parties are thrown at makeshift bars.
The dam was built in 1935. It's fed from the south by the Olifants Rivier, or "Elephants" River, named for the large number of elephants that used to inhabit this area.
The wall was raised to it's current height in 1964 and the water is mainly used for agricultural purposes.
I grew up water skiiing and boating on this dam, and I've spent many long lazy afternoons floating in the middle of it or exploring the islands that form at the top of the dam when the water level is at it's highest. If you want to take a boat onto the water, make sure you have a boating license. The fine is very steep if you get caught without one!
Water sports and fishing are the main activities, and some of South Africa's top water skiiers have learnt their craft here. There's nothing better than finding a quiet beach, making a braai and watching the late summer sun set over the Cederberg mountain range in the background.
At the time of this recording, a massive renovation to increase the size of the dam wall had recently started. But it was put on hold soon afterwards amidst claims of corruption and missing funds.
Keep walking up the road.
Strassberger Shoe Factory & a Veldskoene rivalry
Coming up on your right is the Strassberger Veldskoene factory. You can see its big yellow sign on the side of the building. Veldskoene are rugged, long-lasting shoes made from leather.
This factory is part of a shoe business that was started in Wupperthal in 1834. The original owner was Johannes Leipoldt, but the Strassberger family took over in the 1930s, and it has now been run by them for four generations.
The factory was moved to Clanwilliam in 1954 because Wupperthal was too isolated. But Wupperthal's residents decided to keep the old factory going, and it became so well know that it was even visited by Nelson Mandela. Today, Strassbergers is the much larger company, and they have a "friendly" rivalry with Wupperthal over who makes the better veldskoene.
A tour of the factory can be arranged and is highly recommended. You'll see how veldskoene are brought to life. The current owner JJ is very friendly and will be happy to tell you more about the process if you like.
Continue up the road.
Ramskop Butchery: The best biltong in the Cape
On your right is the Ramskop Butchery -- or Ramskop Slaghuis, in Afrikaans. It's the one-storey building with a green roof and a large carpark.
You'll find arguably the best meat and biltong in the Cape here. The butchery cuts it any way you like and is particularly well known for its moist biltong. I also highly recommend their lamb chops.
Stop in for a packet of biltong and have a chat to Arthur behind the counter. He can help you make the right choice. The prices here are lower than in Cape Town, so it's best to stock up before leaving Clanwilliam.
Keep heading straight up the road.
Onwards to the Rooibos Factory
We're almost at our halfway point, the Rooibos factory, where we'll turn around and make our way back toward the centre of town.
But for now, keep going straight. I'll tell you a bit about Clanwilliam's most famous export in a moment.
The Rooibos factory
Now stop here for a moment.
On your right is the Rooibos factory with its low white walls surrounding the grounds and large trees at the entrance way. Inside the factory the famous brew now globally known as Rooibos is packaged and shipped off all over the world.
This is also where we change direction, so listen carefully.
We're going to walk back down this street, but on the other side. So cross over the road and start making your way back down it, towards the Old Gaol. You should have the Rooibos factory on your left and the mountains on your right. I'll fill you in on the factory and its 'red gold' while you walk.
[3 SECOND PAUSE]
Rooibos means red bush in English. The plant is endemic to the Cederberg region, and has been used for medicinal purposes by the Khoisan people for millennia.
It was a long and arduous journey to pick the leaves high up in the Cederberg, and few people were willing to put in the effort. It was only in the early 1900s that a marketing-savvy immigrant named Benjamin Ginsberg had the idea to brand it as 'mountain tea' and set up a farm. You might remember that the Ginsberg family also owned the Criterion building.
Academic research in the 1960s led to the discovery of its now famed antioxidant health benefits and a surge in sales. The tea is also caffeine-free, making it a great alternative to black or green tea.
Rooibos is still only grown in this region today. The name is trademarked and its use is strictly controlled by the South African Department of Trade and Industry.
There are now many companies producing rooibos in the region, from larger corporations to small-scale organic farmers who contribute to an industry with R600 million annually.
The plant is a way of life here and has made its way into many products besides tea, including soap and face creams.
So, if you ever find yourself in another part of the world having a cup of rooibos, just remember that it began it's journey right here.
[2 SECOND PAUSE]
Keep on walking down the road.
Khoisan rock art
You're heading in the right direction! Just continue going back to the old gaol.
[1 SECOND PAUSE]
While you walk, I'll tell you a few things about the famous Khoisan rock paintings found in the Cederberg.
The area has one of the highest concentration of rock paintings in Southern Africa, and there are many sites to view them in the mountains.
The Cederberg paintings range in age from 100 to 8000 years old, and usually depict animals as well as humans in various situations. Some had deep symbolic meanings, while others represented and documented the changes around them.
The paintings were made with various materials including animal fat, blood, clay and other pigments. These were applied with a stick or a feather, depending on the desired effect.
Some of them are amazingly well preserved because of the dry climate and the protection from the elements offered by caves. You'll pass by rock art on many of the hiking trails in the Cederberg.
As a child, my family and I would sometimes go on driving trips into the mountains, braving rough roads and many flat tires. I loved to swim in the rock pools and spend time gazing at paintings, imagining the people that crafted them many years ago.
The rock paintings are a reminder that the Cederberg was once inhabited by nomadic bands of Khoisan people. But as Europeans moved into the region, the Khoisan were forced out. They were left with no choice but to abandon the symbiotic life they lived with the landscape. The benefits of Rooibos were known by the Khoisan millennia before modern science came along and proved them right. One wonders what other scientific discoveries might have been made if their colonists hadn't dismissed their knowledge so quickly.
[2 SECOND PAUSE]
Carry on down the road. I'll catch up with you shortly.
Back towards the Old Gaol
Keep heading down the road on your way back to the Old Gaol, enjoying the view of the mountains you have here.
I'll let you walk in silence for a minute.
Gateway to the Cederberg
Keep making your way down towards the Old Gaol. You're getting close to the last stop on the tour.
If you get a chance to spend a summer evening in Clanwilliam, or anywhere in the Cederberg, you won't be disappointed.
As the sun sets, the mountains rapidly begin to change. The colours blend and dissolve. Violent oranges and reds morph into sombre blues and purples.
The name of the area comes from the cedar trees that are endemic to the region, but you'll have to look far and wide before you find one.
Today the Cederberg is well-known for its the fantastical rock formations. The range has a lot of sandstone and over many thousands of years, the elements have carved out more shapes than you can imagine.
Rock climbing and bouldering are very popular here too, and the mountains offer challenges for a variety of skill levels.
I can't put my finger on it, but there is an impalpable sublimeness to the Cederberg that one can tangibly feel. They truly exude an ancientness. I hope you will take the time to visit the mountains and let me know if I'm right or just getting carried away!
Stay on track and I'll catch you shortly.
Wupperthal, a village stuck in time
Keep making your way to the bottom of the road.
Let me tell you a little bit about one of my favourite places in the world. The tiny village of Wupperthal began its life as a Moravian mission station in 1830. It was established by Johann Gottlieb Leipoldt, the same man who started the original veldskoen factory, and grandfather of C Louis Leipoldt, Clanwilliam's renaissance man, who I mentioned earlier.
Not much has changed in Wupperthal since then. Obviously the population is larger. There's electricity and and phone lines too, but there isn't any cellphone signal yet.
It's roughly 12 kilometres from Clanwilliam as the crow flies, but that would mean going straight over the mountains. To get there without wings, you need to take a spine-jolting 50 kilometre-long dirt road winding through the Cederberg. It's as beautiful as it is desolate. Make sure you're well prepared! Last time I tried to go in my Volkswagen Citi Golf, I got two flat tires within 5 minutes of each other.
Once you're there, you really feel like you've stepped back in time. The Cape Dutch-style houses are beautifully kept and donkeys roam the streets carefree. I spent a few nights in the town guesthouse by myself, right next to the graveyard. It was fairly spooky, but during the night 4 donkeys gathered outside the house and kept watch for me. You can't beat countryside hospitality.
One of my favourite memories was using the one payphone in the village to call my fiancé Leticia in Brazil, on the morning of her birthday.
After a quick 15 minute walk up and out the back of the village, you come to the rock pools of your dreams. A day spent lazing in the pools and taking in the majestic formations around you is a day in heaven.
We're almost there. Keep going straight.
End of the walk & a stop at the Yellow Aloe
You made it! Now you deserve a nice bit of shade and a cold drink.
Right now you're outside the Old Gaol, at a fork in the road.
Standing with your back facing the Old Gaol, look to your right across the street.
Can you see the gravel driveway with the grassy area next to it? That's the entrance to the Yellow Aloe guesthouse and restaurant. If you're doing this tour anytime between morning and late afternoon, then the Yellow Aloe should be open.
It's not just a place to grab a quick drink. Prepare to be amazed at the botanical wonders that await you in the garden. It's a truly beautiful and remarkable work of effort and care, and the perfect sanctum to take a break from the piercing mid-day sun.
This is also where I leave you, to let you take a break from the voice in your head!
I hope this tour has been informative and enjoyable, both from a historical and personal perspective. I encourage you to meet and chat with the locals when you get a chance. You'll find some of the most humble and hospitable people around.
I also hope you'll see that this is more than just a small town next to a highway on the road to Namibia.
Enjoy the rest of your time here and safe travels.