On the outskirts of Beaufort West lies the 75 000 ha Karoo National Park. Here two of South Africa’s most highly endangered species, the riverine rabbit and the black rhinoceros, have been successfully resettled.
The quagga, which became extinct on August 12, 1883, when the last mare of the species died in Amsterdam Zoo, is again roaming free in the park. It was recreated from portions of its genetic code present in tissue samples taken from a mounted museum exhibit.
The park is also home to a wide variety of indigenous buck, mountain zebra, wild ostrich and five tortoise species, the most in any conservation area in the world.
Bird life is abundant. There are martial, booted and black eagles as well as the somewhat shy Cape Eagle owl.
The fascinating Ou Schuur Project at the Karoo National Park is seeking to trace the roots of all communities which lived within the confined of this park which is now 70000ha in extent.
The park has Cape Dutch style chalets, several have been adapted for people with mobility problems. All accommodation is serviced daily and equipped with bedding and towels.
There is a caravan and camping site.
The Park has
Things to do
For information about the Karoo National Park contact:
The receptionist at the Park
Tel: 023 4152 828
Fax: 023 4151 671
P O Box 316, Beaufort West, 6970
Conference FacilitiesFull conference equipment and a catering service are available. For reservations:
Tel 012 426 5025. Fax: 012 343 2005 / 6
Websites to visit
Karoo National Park lots more about the accommodation, activities, tariffs, things to see, animals, birds, flora, history and fossils.
Cape Birding Route information about the birds you'll see in the Karoo National Park
Ou Schuur Information Centre
The Karoo National Park is more than a prime tourist attraction in the Central Karoo. It also fulfils a vital ecological education role. This park, proclaimed in 1979 to preserve a representative portion of the Great Karoo as part of South Africa’s natural heritage, has recently expanded its educational policy with the development of the Ou Schuur Information Centre. This project has allowed the park to broaden its educational and conservation outreach programmes for school and adult education groups.
At the Ou Schuur visitors are introduced to the area’s cultural and ecological history. As much detail as possible from the old family farms, recently incorporated in the Karoo National Park, has been gathered. Information at this centre includes data on earliest inhabitants right up to the last farming families who lived here. Other information of cultural significance includes accounts of ghosts and other unusual phenomena as well as documentation of all graves.
The first farm to become part of the Karoo National Park was Stolshoek, once home of the Pienaar family. A short booklet on its history is available. From the verandas of the tiny original homestead the core of the park can be studied. The three different topographical levels can be clearly seen. These are:
Other farms acquired by the Karoo National Park include Sandrivier, Doornhoek, De Hoek, Rietfontein, Berg-en-Dal once called Blaaukrans, Paalhuis, Grantham, Kookfontein, Klipplaatsfontein, Moreceaux and Brandywynsgat. It was at the latter in the 1800s that a brandy wagon once lost a wheel crossing a stream and tipped its precious cargo into a pool. The incident caused consternation and led to this farm getting its unusual name, which literally refers to a hole filled with brandy. The mountains farms which were incorporated the Karoo National Park are Puttersvlei and Mountain View, now a veld school training centre.
Kookfontein has one of the most colourful histories. Way back in 1818 it was almost chosen as a site for the town of Beaufort West. But then, the magistrates sent north by Lord Charles Somerset saw Hooyvlakte the magnificent farm belonging to Abraham de Klerk. Their choice fell on Hooyvlakte, but the government later decided to establish a mission at Kookfontein. The saga of the mission is much more than a sincere attempt at spreading the word of God among the heathen. It’s a story peppered with happiness and heartbreak. Endeavours to teach the locals indigenous population to read, write, grow crops and acquire life-skills with which to support themselves failed miserably. Sadly, among the skills they were to learn were wine and brandy making. The demon booze added its force to the drama of the mission and the project collapsed. The mission was abandoned and eventually the ground was sold. Kookfontein eventually became a quiet family farm, nevertheless tumbled down gravestones, a series of fountains that burble to the surface nearby and ruins dating back to the mission, have left it with an air of intrigue.
The Kookfontein story spills over to Rietfontein and Doornhoek The irascible missionary Erasmus Smit lived at both from time to time. After he arrived in Beaufort West on June 28, 1819, he set up a base on Doornhoek. He was a cantankerous and difficult man, but he did have a childlike and sincere faith. He got off to a good start. He managed to entice a flock and arranged two major stock auctions at the mission. More than 200 Griekwas, Koranas and Briekwas, accompanied by their chiefs attended these stock sales. There are reports of their heavily laden wagons moving northwards again through Beaufort West. After a tumultuous time Smit was sacked from the mission. He went on to make a name for himself as a minister to the Voortrekkers.
The many buildings on this farm were recently studied by students from the Department of Architecture at the Pretoria Technikon. They visited the park and surveyed all structures on the farms now within the confines of the park. These buildings span a century and a half from1790 to the 1940s. The oldest is a corbel house on Vlieëfontein. This tiny beehive-like structure, built entirely of stone was constructed by one of the earliest inhabitants. He used stone as there was no wood from which to construct a shelter. The structure has stood the test of time and is only now in need of structural repair. It is a provincial heritage site.
Its name like so many others here is intriguing. Questions are always asked whether it was built near a fountain infested by flies. No one knows. The life-giving fountains of the hinterland were mostly named for features, such as reeds (Rietfontein) or even vast rock sheets, "klipplate" which gave Klipplaatsfontein its name. There is a Dansterfontein within the park, but no one knows who "Danster" was. There is also Allemansfontein, obviously one which anyone could use.
The little koppies and mountains have their own stories. One is called Die Skoen (the shoe), presumably because of its shape). Another with a pointed peak is simply The Pointer, while a similar one deeper into the park is inevitably called Spitskop. Then there’s Gifberg, (poison mountain), perhaps so called because of poisonous plants in its vicinity. There’s Bruidegomsberg, (Bridegroom’s mountain) and Korannafonteinberg. An early tale tells of a Koranna who lived here, eking out a living near a fountain at his horse-shoe shaped koppie. However, after his wife died, he is said to have drunk himself to death. Two nearby graves would seem to confirm this. His ghost is said to wander the tiny valley enfolded in the arms of Korannasfonteinberg.
Other ghosts are the Waterspook, (water ghost). It said to cause mists on the mountain so that it can move from place to place. A moody ghost, it at times entices stock into a deep pool, where they drown. There are a few lonely, unmarked graves, in a woody glade, quite some distance from the old Kookfontein mission. Rising swirling mists at this spot have led to it being named "Spookbos". Few locals have the courage to pass it after dark. Nearby a tiny stream wanders through a haunted area called Vreesleegte.
Within the park there is also a place called Perdewaterkloof, perhaps named because it was a good place to water a horse and there is also Afrikanerskloof. A myriad of little rivers form a watery web in wet seasons. Most take their names from the farms they cross. Eventually they all drain the area, flowing one into another and in time becoming tributaries of the mighty Gamka River which conveys the water through the Swartberg Mountains.
Long forgotten people have given their names to some spots with in the park. Such areas are Alwyn’ gate and Hendrik’s kraal. No one knows who either of these gentlemen were. And then there is Morceaux, a tiny farm named by one of the De Villiers brothers because it was only a "morsel" of all the land his father owned. This farm was once the envy of the district. It had wonderful gardens, a huge pool, shady gazebo and beautiful little two-roomed brick dolls house. Even today this cute abode has the power to steal the heart of any little girl. Morceaux has a satellite property, named Bieswene, which offers uninterrupted, breathtaking views across the plains right to the Swartberg Mountains 200 km away.
Grantham was another handsome home. Built of dressed stone this awe-inspiring house is now used as a field guide training centre and as a social centre for the Honorary Rangers.
Blaauwkrans, later named Berg-en-dal, was on the wagon route. Its original name was chiselled into a blueish Karoo stone and it still stands alongside a long forgotten dusty road. To those who visit this spot the reasons for both names will instantly become clear. The homestead nestles below cliffs of blueish grey rock, obviously from these Blaauwkrans originated. A later owner changed the farm’s name because there were so many mountains and valleys on his land. Local legend has it that an early family of "trekboere", migrant farmers, were murdered near the original homestead by marauding Bushmen. Their tiny, shallow graves, in very rocky ground, have been tended through the years by all who live at this spot.
SHADOWS OF AN OLD MISSION
LURK ON THE PLAINS
By Rose Willis
The rich history of the Great Karoo conceals many mysteries to tantalise modern day researchers. Some such secrets have been revealed at Kookfontein, one of the farms recently included in the Karoo National Park. Its story, which spans well over two centuries, is spiced with ghosts at "Spookbos", skulls that washed up on the banks of the river after a heavy rain storm, graves of children who died on the trip into the interior and turbulent tales of an old mission station.
The saga of the mission is much more than a sincere attempt at spreading the word of God among the heathen. It’s a story of happiness and heartbreak. An early endeavour at teaching the locals indigenous population to read, write and grow crops and acquire life-skills with which to support themselves. Among the skills was wine and brandy making, so the demon booze added its force to the drama. In the end it all fizzled out. The project collapsed. The mission was abandoned and eventually the ground was sold. Kookfontein became a quiet family farm and today, as part of the Karoo National Park, is home to the black rhinos. But tumbled down gravestones, a series of fountains that burble to the surface nearby and ruins dating back to the days of the mission, have left it with an air of intrigue.
While this farm has been part of Beaufort West’s history since the mid-1700s, few are aware of the important role it once played. Fewer still realise that it was almost the site of the town. Water was the main attraction. In 1818 when government officials were seeking a suitable site for a new town this farm with its fertile ground and natural fountains had a high appeal. Then they saw Jacob le Clercq’s magnificent farm Hooyvlakte and its more sheltered location circled by two rivers, won the vote.
Kookfontein was first granted to Johan Diderik Putter on November 25,1771. His lease was extended to 1775 after he paid his three years’ arrears. "Interestingly, Puttersvlei, one of the first farms acquired by the Karoo National Park, was named after him," says Ray de Villiers of Somerset West who, when he practised as an attorney in Beaufort West in the 1950s, indulged in considerable historic research while travelling between clients in this area. Jan Adam Ruis was the next owner of the farm described as "De Kook Fontein Gelegen aan de Klein Leeuwe Rivier onder de Nieuwveldsberg." He acquired it when the first quitrent leases were being granted. Then in 1814, Johannes Bezuidenhout, bought land which included Kookfontein, Rietfontein and Doornhoek, from his neighbour, John Cornelius. The government advised him that the transaction was illegal as the land had been issued to Cornelius as a loan farm and he had no authority to sell it. The sale was annulled without objection from Bezuidenhout.
A WILD FRONTIER
In those days the Karoo was a "wild frontier." Lawlessness abounded. Stock theft, liquor smuggling, and illegal arms trade were rife. Marauding bands of run-away slaves, outlaws, and other criminals caused general unrest. The road, little more than a rocky track made it easy to ambush travellers. Among these were explorers, adventurers, hunters, naturalists, botanists, artists, missionaries, ministers, government officials, commissioners, magistrates and policemen, who were often accosted by dangerous men seeking liquor, food and arms. Many early writers describe the hazards of the route.
Lord Charles Somerset, Governor of the Cape Colony, decided to lawlessness could be curbed and order enforced by the establishment of a town and mission where local people could be educated, taught proper religious practises and life-supporting skills, such as farming, gardening and building. Because of its proximity to town, the farm Kookfontein (also known as Klipfontein) was selected. Johannes Bezuidenhout, who was still farming nearby, offered assistance in setting up the mission. Kookfontein was easy to reach
FERTILE GROUND, SUFFICIENT WATER7
Kookfontein was centrally situated in the centre of the plains and so could be the ideal venue for stock auctions and a market where farmers and local tribesmen could sell stock and provisions, Somerset was convinced this would stamp out illegal trading and, at the same time, benefit the economy of the fledgling town. The idea was well accepted. Graaff Reinet’s magistrate, Andries Stockenström, under whom both town and mission would fall, proposed including Rietfontein and Doornhoek farms. So, on November 27, 1818, when Lord Charles Somerset proclaimed the 38 833 sq. km district of Beaufort he made provision for "a government mission institute at Klipfontein (Kookfontein) for the purpose of inviting the wandering Bosjemen and Bastaards to settle there and receive instruction in the principles of Christianity." Later a clause was added to include Hottentots. Lieutenant John Baird, Beaufort’s newly-appointed magistrate suggested the mission be called Somerset, but that did not happened. Klipfontein was, however, dropped and the mission was simply known as Kookfontein.
SEARCH FOR A MAN OF ZEAL
Dominee John Taylor, who arrived in Beaufort in December, 1818, as the Dutch Reformed minister, even though almost all townspeople were English speaking, was asked to serve the mission until a missionary could be found. He was the ideal man as he had begun his career with the London Missionary Society (LMS) and knew the hardships involved in hinterland preaching. From the outset he treated Kookfontein as part of his huge parish. Records show he baptised the first baby there during a service on April 11, 1819, even was before Erasmus Smit formally took up his appointment.
A search began for "an enthusiastic person, full of religious zeal, with a keenness for education, an excellent knowledge of Christianity and the Dutch language, a competent farmer and gardener, tolerant, patient and even tempered. A man who could work on his own initiative." Magistrate Stockenström suggested Erasmus Smit, of the London Missionary Society (LMS).
A LIFE FRAUGHT WITH MISFORTUNE
Smit, had spent his early years in the Aalmoezeniers orphanage in Amsterdam. The Nederlandsche Zendelingen Genootschap trained him as a missionary. After experiencing many misfortunes on a journey which lasted about three years, he arrived in South Africa on October 16, 1804. It took two more years before he was given a job with the London Missionary Society to work among the Hottentots at Bethelsdorp. In 1814 he moved to Torenberg Mission near Colesberg to serve among the Bushmen, but this post too was to end in disaster. This mission found no favour with the government, nor with Magistrate Stockenström and it displeased the farmers near Van Plettenberg’s Beacon. In fact, in January, 1818, Colonial Secretary, J Bird, instructed Stockenström "to direct Mr Smit peremptorily to withdraw from that spot (Torenberg or Toverkop) and enforce his compliance with the order."
So by the time Kookfontein was proposed Smit and his young wife, Susanna, were in Graaff Reinet were he was working at a temporary post for no pay. Susanna was the sister of Gerrit Maritz, who was to lead one of the trek parties out of the Cape in 1836. She was barely 14 when she married Smit and he was twenty years her senior. P S de Jongh, who researched Smit’s early life for a doctoral thesis, said: "After leaving Colesberg Smit, of his own volition set up a ministry to teach slaves and illiterates in Graaff Reinet without any hope of being paid for his services. The Graaff Reinetsche Zendinglings Genootschap, which was not yet properly constituted, promised to pay him ‘what they could, when they could!’ But they never managed to reimburse him."
So, when Stockenström mentioned the Kookfontein post, he delighted despite the fact that once again no salary was set. Smit arrived in Beaufort West on June 28, 1819.
OFF TO A GOOD START
Before leaving Graaff Reinet Smit was asked to find some Hottentot families who would establish themselves at the mission to create a firm base and encourage the roving people to settle. Stockenström, stressed the importance of the youth as "the leaders of the future." He also told Smit to keep careful records and a careful eye on expenses. This he very well. In fact years later his orderly registers greatly contributed towards imparting a firm ecclesiastical tradition during the Great Trek.
At first Erasmus Smit lived on Doornhoek. The Government did not object. Smit was a difficult man and unattractive man. He did not have a likeable personality. He was prickly and suspicious. Most of his problems can be traced to these traits. But he did have a childlike and sincere faith and within short he got the mission off to an enthusiastic start. People began to move to the mission. According to law each had to have a letter of permission from his former employer, as well as a permit from the magistrate. Smit, strictly observed this. He very often sent would-be residents to Beaufort to obtain the correct documentation from Magistrate Bird. Most times they walked to town and back.
PLANS FOR THE FIRST AUCTION
Smit began planning the first stock auction and produce market for August 4, soon after his arrival. Locals were invited to bring stock and produce for sale or barter. From the outset it was made quite clear that no trade would be tolerated in arms or ammunition. The response was a good. Reverend William Anderson of Griekwastad, a young missionary, who had settled at "Aat Kaap," or Klaar Water (later known as Griqua Town) in 1801, was most was enthusiastic. He encouraged his flock to attend and wrote stating he would send a prepared lion skin, a piece of asbestos stone, and a wagon of elephant tusks to the market. He instructed Magistrate Baird to give the money from the sale of his goods to the bearer of the letter who had a list of articles to purchase.
The market was a great success. It lasted five days and total income was 15 000 riksdaalers. At least 120 Griekwas arrived from Griekwastad. These "well mannered, well-behaved people held their own church services each morning and evening with people from their ranks leading the hymns and prayers." At the end of the auctions 25 heavily laden Griekwa wagons passed through Beaufort and on their way home. Reverend Anderson reported that this market did much to eliminate Griekwa mistrust of the British Government and people of the Cape Colony in general. Much of this, he said was based on the good treatment they received from Magistrate Baird and his men, as well as on the atmosphere of general good will and well being at the mission station. Sadly this was not to last.
CHURCH AND SCHOOL AND ANOTHER MARKET
After the market, on August 28, 1819, Smit requested permission to fetch his family from Graaff Reinet. He was told he could do so at his own expense and that Piet Viviers, of Rietfontein, would look after the mission in his absence. Smit returned on October 3, 1819, and set up home on Kookfontein. He converted existing buildings into a house, church and school. Using yellow wood he had purchased from Bezuidenhout he made cupboards, tables and benches. Then, based on the success of the first market, he planned a follow-up from April 25 to May 2, 1920.
More than 200 Griekwas, Koranas and Briekwas arrived at Kookfontein for this auction accompanied by their chiefs. Stockenström arrived to oversee this market. He dealt kindly with all the visitors, but his example was not followed. Many colonists and local farmers treated the visitors badly and tried to cheat them. The euphoria of the previous market vanished. The visitors were bitterly disappointed. They had undertaken long journeys. The trip from Lattakoo, Robert Moffats Mission station near Kuruman had taken two months. They decided never to return, so the stock market died a sad death.
The market’s death knell delivered a critical blow to the mission. From then on its saga becomes wrapt in dissension and strife. Inhabitants became disobedient. They demanded to be paid and would not work. Accusations of laziness, sloth, pig-headedness and insubordination were legion. There were several incidences of petty theft and more major complaints of liquor abuse. Magistrate Baird demanded an explanation. Smit tried to defend himself stating that he was at all times tolerant and patient. Others had a bad attitude towards him, he said, and cited countless instances of disobedience.
It was apparent that Smit was losing his grip on the mission. Material and physical demands took up so much of his time that he was struggling to meet the community’s spiritual needs. He held daily catechism classes, preached each Sunday and tried to serve the needs of neighbouring farmers, he said, but because he was not ordained and could not deliver the sacrament, farmers found his ministry pointless. Smit also clashed with his neighbours, Piet Viviers and Johan Bezuidenhout. He also maintained that the government was interfering in his teaching programme. The Governor had made it compulsory for children to attend school, insisting they be taught in English and learn about European lifestyles. Neatness was a pre-requisite. Smit was also told to ensure the self-sufficiency of the institute, eliminate poverty and hunger and start benevolent and philanthropic funds for the church. He was unable to do this and by May, 1820, had collected only 20 riksdaalers. He appealed to the Government for assistance. They turned a deaf ear and nothing was forthcoming. Yet, Smit constantly was told to work the land and develop agricultural projects which would be of benefit to the mission.
NEW CROPS PLANTED
Smit made another valiant effort. He again took charge of the vineyards, orchards and general lands. He planted new crops such as mealies, wheat, pumpkins, potatoes and a variety of vegetables. He once again made wine and brandy for his own use and the institute’s use, as well as for sale. The brandy was made in a kettle which he hired from Johannes Bezuidenhout. But it seems the labour problems never ceased and lack of funding constantly threatened his efforts. He began to loose interest. His efforts waned. The mission began a down hill slide. Fights broke out among the residents and at times Smit too was involved. At one stage this became so serious that he reported to the magistrate that he feared for his life.
It was obvious that he was losing his grip and unable to keep the families under his charge living peaceably together. In early 1820, the first threatened to leave. They told Field Cornet M J Van Stade that they were not getting enough food. They accused Smit of drinking and said he no longer made an effort to work. These statements were made by people known to be enemies of Erasmus Smit, so Magistrate Baird made little effort to investigate. Only when reports of liquor being stolen reached his ears did he personally ride out to review the situation. He found no trace the stolen wine. But soon after he left Smit discovered eight of his 21 oxen were missing.
THE END OF THE ROAD
The mission deteriorated
rapidly. Most residents left. Farming ground to a halt. Magistrate Baird put the
affairs of the mission into the hands of Field Cornet Van Stade, offering him
several incentives to get it on its feet again, but this did not help.
Eventually Smit was asked to resign. He did so on February 14, 1820 and taking
the trek oxen he had acquired, left for Cape Town. It was decided that
Kookfontein be divided into sections and hired out. The money was to have been
used to build a church in Beaufort West. While the idea was approved by Sir
Rufane Donkin, then governor of the Cape, by 1821 nothing had been done and the
farm was sold. In 1836 Erasmus Smit accompanied his brother-in-law Gerrit
Maritz’s when he trekked out of the Cape. He used an ox wagon loaned to him by
Maritz. Eventually, at the insistence of Piet Retief he was appointed as the
permanent minister to the trekkers. He died in poverty in Pietermaritzburg in
1863, a week after his beloved Susanna was buried.