Small-town charm at its best in Vanrhynsdorp
Snug between the folds of the towering Matzikamma and Gifberg Mountains lies a town asunder with a rich history of heroic missionaries who braved the arid Nama Karoo to bring the faith to the local people. Vanrhynsdorp, 300 km north of Cape Town, is fascinating in all respects. Home to a host of intriguing places, it’s worth the while to spend a day exploring.
First-up is the Kokerboom Nursery set up by Buys Wiese and managed by his son Danie – the largest succulent nursery in the world with some 500 indigenous species of which about 50 are endemic to the area. Dating back to 1895, the Old Gaol today houses a coffee and craft shop where each cell has a different theme. Even though the last prisoners left in 1930, rumours of ghosts still abound.
The Trutro 1751 Politstatie is the oldest remaining building in this part of the world, having served as an inn, a public school, church, court house and Jan Smuts’s headquarters. Many techies will delight in the Latsky Radio Museum and then there’s Traut’s tie collection at the Namaqualand Country Lodge in Voortrekker Road. Spending his last 60 years behind a bar pulling pints, Cecil Traut collected more than 2 400 ties from all corners of the world, each one given to him, not one of them was bought.
Near the Varsch River, birders can tick off the Namaqua Sandgrouse, different Lark species (Clapper-, Karoo- and Spike-heeled) the European Bee-Eater, the Cape Penduline Tit, the Ant-eating Chat and the Rufous-eared Warbler.
Once again it was Pieter van Meerhoff who founded the town in 1661 as Trutro (Troe-Troe), said to be a San war cry. The Troe-Troe Zending was established in 1751 and 120 years later was changed to Het Gesticht. In 1881 the name was changed to the current one to honour the legendary Van Rhijns for invaluable contributions as community and church leaders.
Although at its spectacular best with a flower parade in all shades of orange and purple, Vanrhynsdorp, with its population of 6 272 and old Victorian houses, nevertheless is an absorbing town with a cocktail of local gems.