This is the area settled by the British in the early 19th century, also known as 'Frontier Country'. The first boatloads of settlers arrived in the 1820s, mainly from Scotland and the north of England, looking for good farming land.  They didn’t really find it - the land was largely unsuitable for crops and they had to clear a lot of land to make a living out of cattle - so many of them headed to Grahamstown, a small British military outpost, and set themselves up as frontier traders.


Today Grahamstown is a lively university and cathedral city with a thriving cultural life, which is embodied in its famous annual arts festival in July. The colonial town centre, its streets lined with Georgian and Victorian buildings, has a wealth of museums and the town is an excellent base for visiting picturesque villages like Balfour and Bathurst. You can follow the trail of the 1820 Settler families, ?nd the remote forts and martello towers erected during the Xhosa Wars, and visit tiny village museums that display Victorian artefacts and Xhosa beadwork and seem to be part of history themselves.

One of many sights worth seeing is the working Victorian camera obscura in the Observatory Museum.  This projects images of the town onto a table below.

Grahamstown is a good place in which to take a township tour. Unlike most other towns, the township and the town are adjacent and, consequently, there has always been more crossover between the old black and white areas. There are several interesting projects to visit in the township. The tourist information centre will put you in touch with a guide.


A diversion inland brings you to Graaff-Reinet, ‘the gem of the Karoo’. This lovely town – the fourth oldest in South Africa – retains much of its 19th century, rural character. This is an Afrikaaner town, settled by Afrikaaner wool farmers at the end of the 18th century. Many fine buildings date from the period of the wool boom in the mid 19th century. You can visit the awesome Valley of Desolation, the eccentric Owl House sculptures in Nieu-Bethesda, and Olive Schreiner’s home in charming, historic Cradock from the very comfortable base of the prize-winning Andries Stockenstrom Guest House.

Graaff-Reinet was also the birthplace of resistance leader Robert Sobukwe, founder of the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC), which spearheaded the pass law protests.

Fort Hare

Sobukwe, like other resistance leaders including Nelson Mandela, Oliver Tambo, Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe and Tanzania’s Julius Nyrere, was educated at Fort Hare University, which was then one of the very few places where black students could enrol in further education. Fort Hare is at Alice, not far from Grahamstown, and is worth a visit just to see the wonderful De Beers Art Gallery, which houses what is probably the finest collection of southern African art.

The Hogsback & Amatola Mountains

Beyond Fort Hare, you can take the road north, up into the Amatola Mountains, a beautiful region of waterfalls, streams, silent forests and abundant wildlife. The ancient indigenous forests of the Hogsback area are said to have been the inspiration for Middle-earth in Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Alternatively, drive east to quaint old King Williams Town, which has some interesting museums of Xhosa artefacts and setter life, and which is famous as the home of black consciousness leader Steve Biko, who was brutally beaten to death in a prison cell in Port Elizabeth.

Shelley Phillips

Travel Specialist

I'm here to tailor-make your perfect holiday. Give me a call and I'll use my expertise to create your personalised experience.
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