Heritage sites of the Voortrekkers – hidden and forgotten?

Weekend getaway and road trip on the edge of Northern Drakensberg – Maluti Mountains

South Africa

Hidden monuments of the Voortrekkers off the beaten track

 

Cabin we stayed in at Seletwane with the mountain as the backdrop

Cabin we stayed in at Seletwane with the mountain as the backdrop

In 2011 we’d discovered a secluded weekend getaway on the outskirts of the Northern Drakensberg called Seletwane. It is situated just off the Oliviershoek Pass near Bergville, a three-hour drive from Johannesburg and a two-hour drive from Durban. Seletwane is tucked away against a mountain on the edge of the Sterkfontein Dam Nature Reserve. The dam is nestled at the top of that mountain in the basin of the plateau. We also discovered some hidden heritage sites of the Voortrekkers.

 

View towards the Northern Drakensberg

View towards the Northern Drakensberg

Enormous chain links resting on ruins of gate

Enormous chain links resting on ruins of gate

 
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Seletwane

Seletwane only has two cabins, with two trout dams separating them, providing privacy and seclusion. Both cabins are built from logs. Ours was cosy, with a beautiful view looking towards the Drakensberg escarpment through windows that span from floor to ceiling.

 
Trout dam and second cabin in the distance providing a private and tranquil weekend getaway

Trout dam and second cabin in the distance providing a private and tranquil weekend getaway

The cabin is off the grid. It has no electricity and runs on solar power. The fridge, stove and geyser runs off gas. Winters in the Drakensberg are freezing, and we kept the wood fire burning to heat up the chalet. Oil lamps and candles were provided for lighting and created a lovely ambience.

 

View towards Kerkenberg

View towards Kerkenberg

 

That weekend we soared in a helicopter over the Drakensberg, an unforgettable experience. I’d also received a phone call just after our helicopter flip to say that I’d won a four-wheel drive training course for ladies, where I would learn how to master 4x4 obstacles.

 

In 2012 we decided to revisit this spot for a quiet weekend break and decided to explore more of the area.

 

View from Seletwane overlooking the edge of the escarpment

View from Seletwane overlooking the edge of the escarpment

Looking towards the Drakensberg

Looking towards the Drakensberg

The valley below the escarpment

The valley below the escarpment

Northern Drakensberg

Northern Drakensberg

Beautiful vistas and views from Seletwane

Beautiful vistas and views from Seletwane

Sightseeing heritage sites of the Voortrekkers

There were two heritage sites we visited. Both are tucked away on the other side of the Oliviershoek pass road and to get to them you have to drive on a gravel road. Eventually the road has a dead end, so there is no thoroughfare, making it remote and easily missed.

Kerkenberg - a monument hidden between the rocks - where Piet Retief’s and his followers camped in 1837

Kerkenberg - a monument hidden between the rocks - where Piet Retief’s and his followers camped in 1837

Kerkenberg

We drove to Kerkenberg where Piet Retief set up a laager in 1837. The Voortrekkers camped there, while Retief sent trailblazers to find a route for the ox wagons to go down the escarpment to Natal. Once they found a route, they traversed their way down into the valley. It would have been a huge undertaking, filled with danger to get down the steep slopes on horseback but especially in an ox wagon. They removed the rear wheels of the ox wagons to control their descent and it must have been a long and arduous process.

 
The rocks provided a secure place for Piet Retief to set up his laager

The rocks provided a secure place for Piet Retief to set up his laager

Retief then negotiated with King Dingaan to obtain land for the Voortrekkers so they could settle and begin farming. Unfortunately the agreement didn’t last long and Retief along with his son and about 100 other members of his party came to an untimely death about a year later.  

The formation of the rocks where the laager was is interesting and provided a relatively safe shelter for them.  

An hidden heritage site for the Voortrekkers, easy to miss

An hidden heritage site for the Voortrekkers, easy to miss

 

Kaalvoet Vroue Monument – Barefoot Women’s monument

Just a short distance from Kerkenberg we found the Kaalvoet Vroue Monument. This monument displays the determination that Susanna Catharina Smit had. The Voortrekkers didn’t like the British. The Great Trek was a result of this, so the Voortrekkers could escape the commands and rule of the British. However in 1843 the area was annexed by the British and the Voortrekkers found themselves back in their clutches.

Susanna hated the English so much that she was prepared to walk barefoot back over the mountains from Natal to what was known as the Transvaal then. Bare foot up and down mountains and valleys? Far too crazy for me! That just shows the hatred the Voortrekkers had for the British.

 

Kaalvoet vrou monument - a woman determined not to be ruled by the British - a thought provoking heritage site

Kaalvoet vrou monument - a woman determined not to be ruled by the British - a thought provoking heritage site

Not sure who wrapped a blanket around her, but it was windy and cold. A humorous gesture.

Not sure who wrapped a blanket around her, but it was windy and cold. A humorous gesture.

Read more about the Voortrekkers and the Barefoot Women’s monument here

 

Royal Natal National Park

We turned around and went down the Oliviershoek Pass to the valley below.

The drive to the Royal Natal national park was unpleasant, because of the conditions of the road at that time, filled with potholes and litter. We had to stay alert while negotiating between buses and other vehicles. Driving through South Africa and indeed Africa, is definitely adventurous and challenging and one has to stay alert.

 
Drakensberg Amphitheatre - a phenomenal geographical feature

Drakensberg Amphitheatre - a phenomenal geographical feature

 

At the park the renowned amphitheatre towered above us. It is part of the uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park World Heritage Site, a provincial Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife park. We enjoyed the scenic views while driving around.

 

Sandstone cliff of Golden Gate Highlands National Park

Sandstone cliff of Golden Gate Highlands National Park

Golden Gate Highlands, Free State

At the end of the weekend we took a different route and drove via Golden Gate National Park. Whilst driving, we reminisced about our weekend spent there many years ago.

I cannot remember what year it was, but at that stage we stayed in our caravan in the heart of winter. Our sons were still young and we all looked forward to the weekend apart from one small component. We knew it would be cold and our caravan wasn’t built and equipped for such icy weather. Furthermore, they had predicted snow at the time but we didn’t or couldn’t change our booking. My husband and I were not keen to have snow, being fully aware of the difficulties that goes with it when we’re not used to snow. Our sons however were really wishing for snow. They had only seen snow once before and all they could think of was the fun they’d have.

 
Near Golden Gate Highlands

Near Golden Gate Highlands

Sedimentary sandstone at the foothills of the Maluti Mountains

Sedimentary sandstone at the foothills of the Maluti Mountains

We prepared as best we could to be warm in the caravan. The days were freezing and the nights especially, were bitterly cold. We still think it was the coldest weekend we had ever spent in our caravan. The top section of our caravan, about 30 cm, was made of canvas and was known as a pop top. We dropped that part down to keep the heat from escaping through the thin canvas. That made the ceiling of the caravan lower, so we had to crouch around inside.

 

Beautiful scenery at Golden Gate

Beautiful scenery at Golden Gate

Foothills of the Maluti mountains

The name Golden Gate originates because of the golden rays at sunset on the rocks. The sedimentary sandstone at the foothills of the Maluti mountains weathers at the base and forms caves and overhangs. Even in daylight, it is magnificent to look at and provides a beautiful backdrop. During summer if you catch the light at the right time when a thunderstorm is brewing, dark clouds bubble in the sky above the sandstone, while the sunlight peeps through and illuminates the massive rocks.

 
Golden Gate’s sedimentary sandstone cliffs

Golden Gate’s sedimentary sandstone cliffs

Clarens.

Clarens is situated just a few kilometres away, where we had a light lunch before we headed home. This little picturesque town with its sandstone buildings is worth exploring. Known as the ‘Jewel of the Free State’, it is an artist’s haven where you can relax and browse or if you feel more adventurous, choose an outdoor activity such as white-water rafting, abseiling, or quad biking. It can however be quite touristy.

Our journey continued past Reitz, a small farming community town that we didn’t know. We didn’t stop there but little did I know I would be returning a couple of years later. One day I’ll tell you about my story of the Bush Babes and the Wolves.