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Colesberg — A frontier town with contemporary twists

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Colesberg — A historical frontier town with contemporary twists

Colesberg. Image: Chris Marais

A two-hour walking tour of Colesberg reveals a fascinating timeline of a lively Northern Cape Karoo settlement.

Travellers on the N1 between Johannesburg and Cape Town often stop over for the night in the historical Northern Cape town of Colesberg. Their sojourns are normally all too brief. Colesberg, set snugly in a ring of little hills, has a lot more than an overnight bed to offer. Take the newly-established Colesberg Walking Tour, for instance.

Pop in at the local Tourist Info offices in Murray Street and someone there will organise you a guide for a fascinating three-hour tour through Colesberg.

View of Colesburg.
View of Colesburg. Image: Chris Marais
Streets of Colesburg.
Streets of Colesburg. Image: Chris Marais

The area has seen waves of settlement over the past few millennia. First, the Stone Age folk roamed these hills, hunting the antelope that moved through the surrounding prairies. Then came the trekboers (nomadic farmer) who, with their livestock herds, were in constant search of new pastures. They were followed by the missionaries, who set up a number of stations and converted the local /Xam San to their congregation. Finally, the settlers arrived and established some kind of formal government — and a settlement called Colesberg in 1830.

The first few decades of Colesberg resembled the first few decades of Tombstone, Arizona, USA. They were both gunfighters’ towns, unruly places full of wandering hunters, adventurers, thieves and cutthroats mostly moving northwards in search of greener pastures. Gunpowder and liquor were the coin of the day until law and order were established. The slow rhythms of Colesberg were disturbed at the turn of the 19th Century by the South African (Anglo-Boer) War. Battles between Briton and Boer were fought all over the koppies surrounding the town.

Colesberg Methodist Church
Colesberg Methodist Church. Image: Chris Marais

Your historical walk around Colesberg will include visits to the Colesberg-Kemper Museum, various churches, the stone Magistrates courthouse, various Karoo-style houses, some old shops in the main street and, possibly, lunch at a former horse mill which currently does duty as a bar and restaurant. Visit the various cemeteries, ask your guide about a tour of the local township or, if you’re feeling particularly active, unstrap those mountain bikes from your vehicle and take on one of the listed Colesberg mountain bike trails.

Colesberg is most famous for its racehorse breeding farms. If you wish to extend your stay in the area, a night spent on a local guest farm would be just the ticket. 

A Karoo guest farm with a difference is Poplar Grove, just outside Colesberg. It’s a Zen Buddhist retreat, offering a number of guest cottages and a Zendo for meditation. Poplar Grove also offers various out-of-retreat options for overnight travellers or longer-stay visitors who just want to savour an escape into the wide-open spaces and daily routine of farm life.

Colesberg Students from the Hantam Community Education Trust farm school and their teachers.
Students from the Hantam Community Education Trust farm school and their teachers. Image: Chris Marais

About 30km east of Colesberg is the ground-breaking Hantam Community Education Trust farm school, with a capacity of 200 young learners who are mostly the children of Karoo farmworkers.

Started more than 30 years ago by a group of concerned farmer’s wives, the Hantam Trust also offers a social outreach programme, a weekly clinic, a Tourism School and a Handyman School (both in Colesberg town). More than 90% of graduates from the school are employed in stable jobs, in a country where the estimated youth unemployment rate is 64%.

Where to stay

Kuilfontein Stable Cottages; Tel: 051 753 1364 or 082 552 2488

Poplar Grove; Tel: 051 753 1356 or 082 816 5903; Email: Mar[email protected]

Coniston Guest House; Tel: 051 753 0242; Email: [email protected]

The Barracks; Tel: 051 753 2286 or 083 646 2680; Email: [email protected]

Toverberg Guesthouses; Tel: 051 753 0422 or 072 427 2934

Colesberg Tourism; Tel: 051 753 0678

Toverberg Guesthouses
Toverberg Guesthouses. Image: Chris Marais

Where to eat

  • The Horse & Mill; Tel: 051 753 0406
  • Die Plattelander; Tel: 051 753 0666
  • Inni Kraal; Tel: 064 651 1127
  • Bordeaux; Tel: 051 753 1582 or 082 959 4349; Email: [email protected]
  • Nineteen Eighty Nine; Tel: 051 011 4278; Email: [email protected]e.co.za
  • Allards Bistro & Pizzeria; Tel: 076 331 5993

DM/ ML

For an insider’s view on life in the Karoo, get the three-book special of Karoo Roads I, Karoo Roads II and Moving to the Platteland – Life in Small Town South Africa by Julienne du Toit and Chris Marais for only R720, including courier costs in South Africa. For more details, contact Julie at [email protected]; to read more stories on the Karoo, go here; for more information, go to Northern Cape Tourism Authority.

“Karoo Roads”, “Karoo Roads II” and “Moving to the Platteland” by By Chris Marais and Julienne du Toit book covers.
“Karoo Roads”, “Karoo Roads II” and “Moving to the Platteland” by Chris Marais and Julienne du Toit book covers.

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Calvinia — A special, all-year long destination

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