Most visitors to South Africa will be aware of Cape Town, Johannesburg, Port Elizabeth or Bloemfontein. But what about the hidden gems, those smaller towns and villages of this country, that can be just as scenic and beautiful as the cities?
Some of these towns are just a few miles from stunning natural grassland, National Parks, majestic waterfalls, glorious local wildlife and much more. But each of them also has a few of their own unique sights and surprises to offer, that might just leave you wanting to come back for more – and maybe bring your friends or family too.
Known as one of the most glorious spots for trout fishing in the whole country, Hogsback is a secluded mountain village with some magical connections in its past. The Hogsback area was originally home to the Xhosa people, who called the region Qabimbola meaning Red Clay Face, after the deep red clay found here that they used to paint their faces.
It was first settled by white European colonisers in the 1800s. One of these immigrants was Thomas Summerton, a gardener from Oxford, who launched an extensive project to mould the local countryside into something more resembling rural England. This can still be seen today, in the pleasant and well-tended groves of his many gardens. Supposedly, Lord of The Rings author J.R.R Tolkien was inspired by the beautiful scenery when creating his series of classic fantasy novels.
Eagle eyed readers may recognise this name from one of our previous blogs, as this Eastern-Cape town is the home of the mysterious and haunting Owl House. Created by a local recluse, Helen Martins, The Owl House is a surreal collection of fantastic and bizarre sculptures and artworks put together over 30 years. Martins committed suicide in 1976 by drinking caustic soda, after the chemicals she had long used to stick crushed glass to the walls of her home had made her virtually blind. Her house remains as a fantastic legacy to the unusual and totally unique creations of this famous outsider artist.
Nieu-Bethesda was also home to celebrated palaeontologist James Kitching. Kitching collected fossils of vertebrates from all over the world and bought them to his home here. They include a therapsid fossil from Antarctica that helped prove the Pangea theory that long ago the Earth had only one supercontinent. His collection is (mostly) still on display today at the Kitching Fossil Exploration Centre.
Legendarily one of the most beautiful mountain towns in the entire country, Riebeek Castle is also one of the earliest colonial settlements in South Africa and possibly the entire continent. It was first settled by Dutch colonists in 1661 and grew to be prosperous town over the next 300 years. The Royal Hotel, which is now the oldest in whole of South Africa, was built in 1862. Today it is known for its lively community of artists, poets and other bohemian types as well as being the birthplace of two South African presidents: Jan Smuts and Daniel Malan.