Bethulie was established as a mission station in 1835. During the Anglo-Boer War, the British army established the largest concentration camp for Boer prisoners of war and their families in South Africa. In excess of 1700 prisoners of war, of whom 1263 were children, who died whilst in incarceration.
Surrounded by koppies and flanked by the towering Coleskop, Colesberg is one of the Northern Cape’s most beautiful towns. When the sun slips to the horizon, brushing the skies with brilliant hues, Coleskop’s former name, Toverberg (Magic Mountain) seems more appropriate. The dark bulk of the mountain merges with the black of the night but remains a silhouette, lit by the countless stars shining from the vast dome of crystalline sky.
This was home to the Koisan who witnessed the arrival of the first explorers and frontier farmers. In 1814 Erasmus Smit built a mission station at the foot of the mountain. A second mission station, Hephzibah, was built a few kilometres away by William Forgler Corner (born in Demerara – later Georgetown, Guyana, South America) and Jan Goeyman. The two stations soon attracted about 1700 Khoisan.
In 1828, the farmers petitioned for a town to be established. Permission was given by Cape Governor Lord Charles Somerset and 18,138 morgen, (unit of area equal to about .6309 acres, or about 2 acres. It was used in German, Holland and South Africa); was given to the community by the government for administration by the local church. The first "erven" were sold in November 1830 and the town was named after Sir Lowry Cole, then Cape Governor. The Transvaal Republic’s President, Paul Kruger, born in Cradock in 1825, is believed to have spent his formative years on the farm Vaalbank, falling in what was, by 1830, the district of Colesberg.
In a sheep-farming area spread over half-a-million hectares, greater Colesberg breeds many of the country’s top merinos. It is also renowned for producing high-quality racehorses and many stud farms, including one owned by legendary golfer, Gary Player, are nearby.
During the Anglo-Boer War, from November 1899 to February 1900, Colesberg was the southern front of the war and tragic battles occurred.
From its earliest days Colesberg has been a bustling resting and meeting place – a gateway to the north for explorers and hunters – later also for those seeking their fortune on the Diamond and Goldfields. The town still is a traveler's’s oasis on the main routes to the interior and the coast. Here the N1 and the N9 meet and the town is the southern gateway to the Lake Gariep Tourist Route (R58) which covers Gariepdam, Norvalspont, Venterstad, Oviston and Bethulie. There are excellent restaurants, a nine-hole golf course, tennis courts, cycling and walking routes, bird–watching and unique sunrises and sunsets.
Tourist Information Office
Colesberg Kemper Museum
Murray St, Colesberg 9795
Tel/Fax: (051) 753 0678.
Lake Gariep is located within the Karoo heartland, close to the historical towns of Bethulie, Venterstad, Colesberg, Gariep Dam town, Oviston and Aliwal North; crossing the boundaries of the Free State, Eastern Cape and Northern Cape Provinces. The Karoo is an austere land of flat-topped ironstone koppies, stunted vegetation and whirlwinds. It is a vast land, a land of thorn, succulents, aloes and saltbush. The Hottentots called it "The Place of Great Dryness".
The name Gariep is derived from the San explanation of ‘Red Waters’. Fossil collections in the greater Karoo basin indicate to palaeo-anthropologists that the area had a rich prehistoric hominid era. (Modern humans are classified as hominids of the primate order, and the hominid cultures of the prehistoric era were the predecessors of modern human). Artifacts belonging to the this era have been carbon-dated to a period in excess of 100,000 years BC.
Lake Gariep is the largest fresh water expanse in South Africa situated on the Orange River with a shoreline of 435 km. Construction was completed in 1971 and during this period, the town of Oviston was established to accommodate people working on the Orange Fish River tunnel. Gariep Dam town was also established during this time and has since become a centre for adventure tourism. There are numerous resorts and sporting facilities in its vicinity including the Free State Yacht Club and the Aventura Resort. A tourism information centre has recently been established in the town, funded and operated by the Gariep municipality.
The Gariep Dam is one of South Africa’s greatest civil engineering projects. Two underground tunnels deposit water into the Fish and Sundays rivers, thus enabling substantial irrigation farming in the remote areas of the Eastern Cape province. The hydro-electric power generated supplies areas as far away as Cape Town and Gauteng.
Lake Gariep is surrounded by three provincial game reserves which include Oviston Nature Reserve, Tussen-Die-Riviere Nature Reserve and the Gariep Nature Reserve. A Memorandum of Understanding has been drafted by the MEC's of the three provinces which, when implemented, will effectively join the three reserves surrounding Lake Gariep jointly forming a game reserve in excess of 90,000 hectares. This will protect species such as black rhino, hartebeest , springbok, mountain zebra and other indigenous Karoo species.
The inclusion of Tussen-Die-Riviere Reserve within this new conservation initiative is particularly significant as the reserve is bounded by two major river systems – the Caledon and Orange.
The protected areas and game reserves that surround Lake Gariep give sanctuary to a wide diversity of wild life species which are endemic to the semi-desert areas of the central Karoo. Species include vast herds of blesbok and springbok as well as black wildebeest, eland, onyx, red hartebeest, kudu and zebra. A restocking programme of formerly indigenous species has been initiated in all three reserves, and buffalo, black rhino and mountain zebra now roam the wooded valleys and open plains of greater Lake Gariep landscapes. The bird life of Lake Gariep, the Orange River and the associated floodplains is unique and exceptional, with in excess of 220 species recorded. The Blue Crane, the national bird of South Africa, occurs in substantial numbers during the warm summer months. Other unique species to the area include bald ibis, fish eagle, goliath heron and black eagle.
Eco tourism activities within the protected areas of Lake Gariep include game viewing by private vehicle, walking trails under the supervision of professional guides, angling, ornithology and the simplistic and intrinsic value of exploring wild and unspoilt landscapes.
Lake Gariep offers a tremendous diversity of adventure tourism activities, the majority of which are water related. The 360km² lake surface offers superb opportunities for yachting, sunset cruises, power boating and skiing. A unique house-boat operation, similar to those based on Lake Kariba, was initiated during 2004 and based at the small town of Oviston. The shoreline provides the fisherman with a diversity of angling activities, including fly-fishing and bait fishing for yellowfish, tilapia and mudfish.
Downstream of Lake Gariep, the perennial Orange River offers a variety of adventure tourism activities including river rafting, kayaking, absailing, horse trails, hiking and fly fishing. The activities are managed and operated by experienced adventure tourism companies and individuals. Upstream, there are well advanced plans to link Lake Gariep along the Orange river to the town of Aliwal North, thus creating a new tourism route which has been branded as the ‘Red River Route’.
The Red River Route is a new concept created to brand the Lake Gariep region as a high profile tourism destination for the South African domestic leisure and international FIT (free independent traveler) markets. The Red River Route flows north-west from Lake Gariep along the Orange river to the Vanderkloof Dam and also due east to the historical town of Aliwal North, a total route distance of approximately 200 km. The route has been established to fully expose the immense diversity of tourism attractions within the Karoo heartland and which include the vastness of Lake Gariep, its wildlife and unspoilt landscapes. Adventure tourism activities include kayaking, river rafting and canoeing on the Orange river, ethnic, cultural and historical attractions and significantly the diversity of wildlife and natural attractions.
The greater Lake Gariep region is rich in culture and recent history, primarily relating to the Great Trek and Anglo-Boer War.
Voortrekker pioneers crossed the Orange river at Norval’s Pont, on the way to the north during the Great Trek of the 1830s. A railway bridge was built across the river in 1890, but this fell into Boer hands in 1899 and was subsequently blown up prior to the British troops marching into Colesberg. Approximately 366 people died in the Norval’s Pont concentration camp between 1900-1902, mainly from measles. A perfectly preserved Blockhouse to the west of the crossing is a silent reminder of the ravages of the Anglo-Boer War.