Northern Cape: Strolling Calvinia

An index of the Northern Cape series appears at the first post.

July 3, 2016

A brisk morning dawned, with powerful gusts pushing frigid air through every chink. My toes curled when they hit the chilly tile floor. Just the same, it was time for today’s walkabout: we would see the streets of Calvinia!

The town is not very large, so we simply walked from our guest house. Although I had remembered our drive across town as taking a while, we saw that it was actually very compact. Our route reminded me that our street name was a jaw-breaker; Jaagvlakte Weg (“yahhflockteh vehh”) translates as “Chasing Flats Way.”


Say it with me!

We walked past a very pink house, and then we had arrived at the downtown! We hiked to the far side of the downtown to reach the tourist information bureau. It was firmly closed at 10 AM on this Sunday morning.

Nearby, some beautiful homes caught our eye. A lovely yellow building from 1896 was apparently a private home, but the lovely gray building next door had become a bed and breakfast; frankly the town center is ringed by hotels and lodging houses. We imagined the joy of time spent on the deeply recessed porches that were commonplace among these older homes.


These two homes, built in 1896 and 1904, had lots of frontier-time charm!

Our walk took us to a sign that directed us (in Comic Sans font) to the “Street of Art.” The road took us past an apparent pottery studio (closed) and then several homes that had been given over to art constructed from classic vehicles. Had any of it been open, we might have enjoyed a closer look (even at R50 a person!). When we arrived at a puddle on the pavement, we were surprised to see a thin skin of ice; the temperature had apparently reached a low of -2 C last night. I was glad for my winter coat.


Automotive art is interesting.

I enjoyed a series of painted tiles on the post office from 1934, depicting frontier life in the area. This region, far from Cape Town, was populated by settlers pushing north and east, with much the same spirit as the “Westward Ho!” of the American frontier.


Calvinia’s church is lovely, but it was lonely this Sunday morning.

Nearby, a 1938 sculpture celebrated the century anniversary of the Great Trek. Celebrations of this time were held throughout the Union of South Africa (not yet a Republic), leading to a unifying of Afrikaner Nationalism. Statues of this sort present today’s South Africans with a bit of a conundrum; they are part of the heritage of the country, and yet the rise of Afrikaner Nationalism is inextricably linked to the policy of Apartheid. Student movements have led to the storage of many monuments rather than leaving them on display. In a sign of more recent South African politics, a flapping poster featured a hammer and sickle! The South African Communist Party continues to throw its support to their governing partners in the African National Congress.



At last we came to the church near the town’s center. We had assumed that services were taking place there, but instead we saw padlocks on the gates. The church struck us as Anglican architecture, but we learned that it was a Dutch Reformed Church, instead.

A giant postal box at the center of town (made from an old water tower) provided a perfect tourist photo opportunity.  The garden surrounding the box had many lovely species. I had enjoyed the company of Edgar, a jade plant from my time in an undergraduate botany course at the University of Arkansas (1993) to the time I left the United States (2015), but his “trunk” after twenty years of life could not compare to that of a massive specimen in the gardens.  Some of the plants we saw have medicinal value. The bulbine, for example, produces leaves that can be squeezed onto cuts.  The Afrikaans word for “OW!” is “EINA!” It comes from a Khoi term to describe this type of tree, covered in impressive thorns.


This plant says “ow!” to me, too.

In the afternoon, we decided to drive north of town to the Akkerendam Nature Reserve. A smiling guard waved us into the reserve. The roads were gravel and dirt, and I was strongly reminded by the veldt surrounding us of the entrance to the Karoo National Park. Unlike Karoo, though, there were no antelope grazing to stare at us as we bounced down the road.

After a few minutes, we came across a car parked at a fenced area. The road leading onward seemed to have even higher and lower extremes, so we pulled aside the other stopped car. The closed gate, we learned, led over to the nearby reservoir. Once we climbed a little ridge, we were able to look at the water trapped behind the dam, and we were reminded that South Africa’s drought has been extreme, despite the recent rains in Cape Town.


South Africa is dry as a bone.

As we walked through the scrub, Natasha was delighted to discover some miniature flowers growing in the space shaded by some boulders. I loved the rocks, themselves; lichens of many colors had colonized the surfaces. We walked up a dry wash, pausing by a koppie to watch a curious bird bobbing its head up and down to follow our movement.


The stillness was a delight after weeks in the city.

I lingered as we drove away from the Nature Reserve around 4:45PM. The sun began passing behind the butte, the features of the butte felt into sharp relief of light and shadow. At one pause, we saw a kestrel float a dozen feet from the ground along a hill, entirely occupied by its hunt. It was a lovely close to a restful day


2 thoughts on “Northern Cape: Strolling Calvinia

  1. Pingback: Northern Cape: Climbing the Highveld | Picking Up The Tabb

  2. Pingback: Dr. D.F. Malan, a parson-publisher-politician of perilous principles | Picking Up The Tabb

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