The Laingsburg district includes
and the scenic splendour of
is considered a geological wonderland. Alongside the main road are layers of fossilised mudstone and a yellow
bank of volcanic ash blown across from South America 250 million years ago.
A distinctive white quartz band runs like a chalk line across the veld
and testifies to continental drift. A similar layer is found in South America.
Bushmen (San) used chips of this material for arrow heads.
Every September we host the Laingsburg Running Festival, offering Street Miles for Senior, Junior and School athletes and the Karoo Ultra-marathon, 80km through the heart of the Karoo. 27th September 2003 was the 33rd time it had been run. Entry forms are available from Katrien or Wilmien on 023-551-1019 who can also book accommodation for you.
In October Laingsburg invites visitors to come and enjoy all the fun of the fair at the Karoofees which includes a veld restaurant and beer tent, boeremusiek and langarmdans, a half marathon, pigeon races, veteran tractors, competitions for the youngsters, performances by musicians, a karate demonstration and lots of stalls selling crafts, produce and wonderful Karoo food. Don't miss this year's Karoofees! All enquiries to Katrien and Wilmien at 023-551-1019.
Budget hotel, 13 en-suite rooms, radios, TV, tea / coffee facilities,
air-conditioned. Family / back-packer rooms, swimming pool, safe parking. Owners: Jan and Lena Coetzee.
Eleven, air-conditioned, en-suite rooms with TV, telephones, tea and coffee facilities. Coffee Shop, Swimming pool, garden, Kennels.
Eight luxury en-suite rooms, telephones, TV-M-net, tea and coffee
facilities. Fully air-conditioned, swimming pool, safe parking. Owner: Joe Serfontein.
A home-from-home comfortable guest house, ideal for travelling families. Four rooms, two bathrooms - Maximum 8.
Six comfortably furnished budget rooms with separate shared bathrooms set
in lovely garden. Owner: Miss E van der Merwe.
Ideal family stop-over. Six en-suite rooms each with two double beds. TV, tea and coffee making facilities.
(10km north of town, next to Anglo-Boer War Blockhouse, national monument) Old farmhouse accommodates six Lunches for groups of up to 25. Caravan parking available. Geological hiking route 15 people max.
(30 km from
Laingsburg / 26 km from Matjiesfontein on the Sutherland Road)
Comfortable self-catering accommodation in historic farmhouse. 4x4, mountain bike and scrambler routes, walks. Game viewing, rock art.
furnished rooms, each room has double and single beds.
Two bathrooms, two showers, toilets, separate
dining area. Hosts: Adriaan en
Charlotte Botes .
Fully equipped self-catering accommodation. Hiking. Hosts: Sonny and Isa Basson. Gamkaskloof - The Hell from Rietvlei and Paddavlei farms.
Things to do
4 X 4 Routes
There is a delightful short drive quite close to Laingsburg which offers
some unbeatable mountain scenery. Follow the road past the railway bridge and
drive to the the small settlements of Vleiland and Rouxpos.
Turn left and drive through the tiny, seemingly forgotten little village
of Vleiland. It consists of little more than a post office and library which
seem trapped in time. The road curves through this scenic historic spot and rejoins
the main road. A little further along is
a turn off to the right which takes the tourist through the awe-inspiring
scenery of the Rouxpos settlement area of tiny historic thatched farms.
Again the road curves along and meets the main road back to Laingsburg.
This drive is truly a worhtwhile experience.
To best appreciate the Witteberge, Rooiberg Pass drive it is best to drive down the N1 until you find a road branching off to the left just north of Konstabel and marked "Witteberge". This is a lovely scenic gravel route which twists and winds along through some very interesting scenery and old farms until it climbs up the mountainside and drops sharply down to join the road back to Laingsburg which will take you back into town via the road past the Railway Bridge.
A well-laid out and fully
described geological hiking route on Geelbek farm, at the Anglo-Boer War
Blockhouse 12km north of town.
All bookings Cape Nature Conservation, Ladismith Tel: 023-551-1077 or 044-279-1739.
Anysburg Nature Reserve
75km from Laingsburg en route to Ladismith. The Anysburg Nature Reserve offers day walks, mountain bike trails and horse trails. There is an entrance fee at the gate.
There are simple huts and a camping site (bring your own tents). 30 people max. R18 per person per night plus the entrance fee at the gate. Only 6 people permitted at the camp site.
Walks - Hikers may hike through the nature reserve but there is no formal hiking trail and the routes are not marked. The best time for walking is from May to September.
Cycling - there are several easy mountain bike trails, you need to bring your own bike and the trails are guided. There are huts and a camping site at the base and you sleep under the stars on the trail. 10 people max, R12 per person per day per day plus the entrance fee at the gate.
Horse trail - A 2 day guided horse trail. The riding is easy and horses/ponies and riding tack is provided. There are huts and a camping site at the base and you sleep under the stars on the trail. 10 people max and only people under 95kg with luggage of 5kg max can be accepted. R60 per person per day for the ride plus the entrance fee at the gate.
Tel: 023 551-1922 (after hours Tel: 023-551 1650)
There is a spectacular route through the Swartberg Mountains from Laingsburg which is well- worth taking if you have the time.
You head towards the mountains and before entering Seweweekspoort -if you have the time, take the Bosluiskloof road down towards the Gamkapoort Dam. Normally one cannot visit this dam as the gates are locked, but the route towards it and back is through breathtaking mountain scenery and like Seweweekspoort itself, filled with lovely natural picnic spots.
Once you are back on the Seweeekspoort road you embark upon a magnificent twisting winding route which emerges in the Klein Karoo near the little mission settlements of Zoar and Amalienstein. The mountain pass, built by Thomas Bain, is filled with lots of little nature walks and picnic spots.
For more details contact the Central Karoo District Municipality Tel: 023-449-1000, Fax: 023 4143 675
fondly known as The Grand Duchess of the Karoo, was established in 1884
by a colourful, entrepreneurial Scot, James D Logan.
What he saw was a great opportunity to sell water to the fledgling Cape
Colonial Railway but he went on to create one of the first health resorts in
A double-decker London Bus makes a daily tour of the Matjiesfontein Village. The bus driver, John, is a native of the Village and the witty narrator of the tour. The second generation of his family to work in Matjiesfontein, he has been there for the last 34 years
The Magic of Matjiesfontein - an outpost of the Empire
There’s a little piece of Scotland on the plains of the Great Karoo. Once
favoured by princes, dukes and a young sultan, it even had its own laird. Its
rich history includes murder, mayhem and magic - all woven into a tapestry of
gallantry, ghosts, fact and fiction. People vied with each other to visit this
arid place where Lord Randolph Churchill "picked bluebells in the
hills," and Olive Schreiner served dinner to Cecil John Rhodes in a tiny
cottage, which still stands. Edgar Wallace wrote a poignant piece on the death
of Queen Victoria while staying there, and General Haig gave parties in a small
mess, which had once been a laundry. Such is Matjiesfontein, once a lonely spot
where locals gathered reeds from the banks of the Baviaans River to weave into
rush mats. Perhaps it would have meandered quietly down the years in this
tranquil way had it not been for the Cape Colonial Railways and a shrewd Scot.
Fortune in a soup plate
The Scot, James Douglas Logan, catapulted Matjiesfontein with its dreamy,
rural serenity to a top tourist resort in the last century. Here, for the first
time in the history of the hinterland, he would provide for the needs of
travellers on the Cape-to-Cairo road, care for rail travellers and supply fodder
for horses. And much more. Logan’s aim was to sell them clean, fresh,
health-giving air. He was a dynamic and unorthodox man. Even his arrival in
South Africa was unusual. Shipwrecked near Simonstown and with only a few pounds
in his pocket, he walked to Cape Town and got a job on the railways. This
audacious and dapper young man, whose nagging cough was cured in the clean Karoo
air, became a legend in his own time as he rocketed from penniless porter to one
of South Africa’s wealthiest men, all, some say because of scalding soup.
Guests at his station restaurants normally ordered and paid for a full meal. But
the soup was served so hot that the train’s whistle sounded long before it was
sufficiently cool to finish. The rest of the menu went begging, if it were ever
Some storm, some teacup
Logan owned hotels in Touws River, a wine and liquor store in Cape Town and
at one stage he held all the railway catering contracts from Cape Town to
Bulawayo. In fact, the award of these railway catering contracts to Logan by Sir
James Sivewright, the then Minister of Railways, caused the collapse of Prime
Minister Cecil John Rhodes’s government. Sivewright had made the wrong move.
He waived calling for tenders, and Logan was known to be a personal friend.
Smaller vendors, all hoping for a share of the action, screamed for justice.
Rhodes, Sivewright and Merriman, who were in Europe, considered it " a
storm in a tea cup." They asked Jan Hofmeyer to "sort it out". He
calmed things down, the contracts were cancelled and the Prime Minister
resigned. Asked to withdraw his resignation, Rhodes reshuffled his cabinet,
leaving Sivewright out. Logan instantly applied to the courts for redress and
was awarded £5 000 damages, with costs.
Breakfast for Nobs and Plebs
In the long run no one held the contracts episode against Logan. Years later,
when John X Merriman became Prime Minister (1908 - 1910) he said : "I wish
there were ten thousand Logans in South Africa. He has courage to take decisions
and stand by them!" And, despite the furore, it was not long before Logan
was again granted all the railway contracts. He then proudly pointed out that at
Matjiesfontein he served two breakfasts. "Where else in the world," he
asked, "would one get that. One is for ‘high society’ and costs 3/6d a
serving, the second is for ‘other customers’ at only half-a-crown a
Love at first sight, times two
For James Logan it was love at first sight twice in a row. First, when in
Cape Town he met Miss Emma Haylett, a beautiful girl of French descent, and
then, when he saw the Karoo. Emma completely stole his heart, and a year after
they had met, they were married. He had just turned 21 and she was 19. Soon
afterwards the railways ordered Logan north, and he said to her : "The
Karoo is beautiful Emma, I could live there quite happily for ever."
Watery way to wealth
When James Logan arrived at Matjiesfontein, it was a bleak and desolate
place. A solitary wood and iron shed stood alongside rails that vanished
northwards over the plains. But Logan looked past the barren landscape. He saw a
way of making a fortune from the Karoo’s scarcest commodity - water. As an
experienced railway man Logan knew that every locomotive needed 250 000 litres
of water to cross the Karoo, and that there was no reliable source between Touws
River and De Aar, so he was strategically placed. Logan spent over £1 000
finding a source capable of delivering 50 000 litres an hour and piping it to
Matjiesfontein. With more water than he needed, he developed an elaborate
"water world" which was opened in November , 1889, with the grandest
While the band played
Hundreds of guests were invited to the "water world" opening. Logan
had arranged cricket, clay pigeon shooting, billiards, tennis and croquet for
the entertainment of his guests. Lady Sprigg, wife of the then Cape Premier, Sir
Gordon Sprigg, officially opened the water system by turning on the courtyard
fountains to the music of the Worcester band. According to one newspaper,
"the luncheon served in a decorated railway shed would have done justice to
a first-rate London hotel."
A village pulled out of a hat
Matjiesfontein appeared on the plains of the Karoo as if by a conjurer’s
dexterity. Not only did James Logan import the materials to build his little
hotel and cottages, he also imported the builders. They were skilled Scottish
and Irish stonemasons. Most stayed on when their contracts expired and went on
to build in other Karoo villages or to contracts on the Reef. Under Logan’s
guiding hand Matjiesfontein leaped to fame, yet it eventually almost followed
him to the grave. Fortunately its path crossed that of entrepreneur David
Rawdon, who managed to save it from total disintegration and restored it to its
rightful place in the South African tourism market. His efforts resulted in the
village being declared a National Monument in 1979.
Bloody massacre, gallant rescue
Even before Logan, Matjiesfontein was on the stage of events. Early in the
last century a farmer called Coetzee, his family and several relatives were
slain by a marauding band of run-away slaves, natives and Bushmen. Shortly after
the massacre it was discovered that Coetzee’s wife was alive, but was being
held prisoner in a mountain stronghold. So Field Cornet Nel called up a search
party and rode into the mountains. Eventually they located the stronghold and
stormed it just in time to prevent her captors from killing her.
Murder of a dream
On their travels in the interior, Lichtenstein and De Mist spent a night with
a Johan Strauss near Matjiesfontein. Strauss told them his father, a German
soldier, had moved to the area to farm, but that he had been murdered during a
slave rebellion. Strauss had hoped to fulfil his father’s dream, but found the
area harsh and uncompromising. "No one will ever make a living here,"
he prophesied. But Logan was yet to arrive on the Karoo scene.
First with technology
Matjiesfontien, South Africa’s first health resort, has a proud record of
"firsts" to its credit. Always ready to try something new, Logan built
a large wind-powered mill to crush wheat and to generate electricity for
Tweedside Lodge. This was the first private dwelling in South African to have
electric lighting. He also pioneered water-borne sewage, and SA’s first
flushing toilets were in his home. He opened the first artesian well in South
Africa on Tweedside, and sank several drill-holes. Each time he found a good
supply of water he planted fruit trees. No one had ever dared such a project in
the Karoo before, but the cherry, pear, and peach orchards flourished. The fruit
was sold as far away as the Kimberley diamond diggings and Cape Town. He laid a
20 km telephone line, then the longest in South Africa, from his house on
Tweedside farm to his residence at Matjiesfontein.
Nothing but the best
Nothing was too good for Matjiesfontein. Logan imported London Street
lampposts, which are still part of the village. He also built a mineral water
factory and bottled soda water, lemonade and ginger ale for sale to thirsty
travellers. The original building still stands in the garden at Tweedside Lodge,
and some old plant and machinery are among relics in the Marie Rawdon Museum. He
also arranged for African Banking Corp (later Standard Bank) to set up an office
and administer his business empire from Matjiesfontein. He had a private station
opposite the main entrance to his farm. This much-photographed wood and iron
building alongside today’s N1 eased his travelling and that of his guests.
Early partners in Tourism
The Castle Steamship Company became Logan’s "partner in tourism,"
to use a modern term. They issued a poster in England offering a round trip to
Matjiesfontein. This scheme was highly successful, and by the outbreak of the
Anglo-Boer War, Matjiesfontein had become a popular health and holiday resort.
Aristocrats from Britain and the Continent flocked to the village to convalesce
from a variety of real or imagined ailments. The village greatly interested
doctors who had been sending patients to Beaufort West, but found that town was
too dusty. Patients who had been sent to the higher plains of the Nuweveld
Mountains were inhaling too much grass dust and pollen. But Matjiesfontein
Matters military and political
At the outbreak of the Anglo-Boer War Logan equipped and outfitted a corps of
100 men at his own expense. He was twice wounded and had a horse shot out from
under him. He was mentioned in despatches and the British awarded him two medals
and clasps for bravery in action. The sensation caused by the railway catering
contracts and the collapse of the Cabinet decided Logan to enter politics. He
served in both the Upper and the Lower Houses for many years as a progressive
member of the Legislative Assembly for Worcester, and on the Legislative Council
for the North West Cape. Logan was considered a "stormy petrel." On
one occasion, in the Upper House, his casting vote on a contentious issue
resulted in die downfall of the Jameson Ministry.
When the Anglo-Boer War broke out in 1899, Matjiesfontein was used as a
command headquarters. On its outskirts, a huge remount camp for over 20 000
troops and 10 000 horses was established. Among those based there were some
crack British Regiments of the day, such as the Coldstream Guards, the
Seventeenth Lancers, the Middlesex Regiment and the ill-fated Highland Brigade
under the command of Major General Andy Wauchope, who was killed at
Magersfontein. His burial at Matjiesfontein sparked a controversy that at times
still rumbles through the Karoo.
A Scottish hero
Andy Wauchope was promoted to Major-General and given command of the Highland
Brigade at the outbreak of the Anglo-Boer War. On arrival in South Africa he
travelled north with his men to Matjiesfontein where he stayed as a guest of
James Logan. He was killed at the head of his men at Magersfontein, near
Kimberley, in one of the first major battles of the war during what was to
become as Black Week. The Highland Brigade lost over 700 men. Wauchope was shot
as battle commenced. Most accounts mention two bullets. Major Ewart of the
Highland Brigade said: "..... his body was found slightly in advance of the
spot where the brigade was caught. He had been struck by a bullet over the left
eye and killed instantly. When his body was recovered it was seen that he also
had a bullet through the thigh, but this wound had probably been received after
death as its direction, suggested that he was lying prone at the time." The
body was recovered by his ADC, Captain Rennie.
A confusion of funerals
Wauchope’s body was lashed to the outside of a wagon carrying wounded and
conveyed to the British camp at Modder River. He was buried there in a cemetery,
known as Doorns A, on December 12, 1899, with full military honours. But history
records Logan arriving soon after armed with a letter from Wauchope’s widow, a
coffin and permission to exhume the body and rebury it at Matjiesfontein. The
similarity of the place names confused her, and she seems to have had no idea
they were so far apart. The army was upset, but nothing could be done. Captain
Rennie and Mr Robertson, chaplain to the Highland Brigade, took the body to
Matjiesfontein. They were present when the General was given a second military
funeral. It was a grand affair. A firing party from the Duke of Edinburgh’s
Own Volunteer Rifles (the Dukes), commanded by Major Woodhead, fired the salute.
They were stationed at Matjiesfontein.
Olive loved Matjiesfontein
South African writer Olive Schreiner loved Matjiesfontein and lived there
from 1890 to 1892. She was one of the first people to see Logan’s plans for
the place. She wrote of these to a friend : "I have seen what James hopes
to do with his Matjiesfontein and asked him to keep a house there for me."
He did, and it was here that she wrote "Thoughts on South Africa," her
many letters to Havelock Ellis and her missives to Cecil John Rhodes. She
regularly dined at Logan’s railway refreshment room, walked in the veld with a
feeling of "wild exhilaration" as the sun rose and sat on a koppie
near a bush now known as "Olive’s tree". She gave Logan’s young
son, Jimmy, a book for boys, inscribed : "From his very loving
friend." After hearing tales of Logan’s adventures, she advised him to
write his autobiography and even offered to edit it for him. Sadly, he did not
Logan was an expert photographer, an amateur magician and member of the Magic
Circle, a dentist, horse-breeder, boxer, and a keen sportsman. The development
of cricket in South Africa owes much to this man. He invited Edward Alfred
Lohmann, considered by many to be one of the world’s greatest ever
all-rounders, to Matjiesfontein. Lohmann spent six happy years there before he
died. He is buried near Andy Wauchope. The Lairds Arms pub has a true cricketing
flavour with photographs and furnishings from Marleybone Cricket Club at Lords.
These were installed there by David Rawdon.
The modest Logan
Colonel Frederick Xavier Schermbrucker, Minister of Public Works, once
praised Logan for creating a "paradise in the desert." Logan modestly
replied that it was not that he had done so much, rather that others had done so
Visit Matjiesfontein's own, elegant website at www.matjiesfontein.com