Early trekboers found life on the high plateau over the Bokkeveld Mountains so tough and the local tribes so hostile they came up with the Afrikaans expression, ‘Hy’s Bokkeveld toe,’ meaning the person was dead. So the stock farmers who founded Nieuwoudtville, a sleepy Northern Cape dorp a few kilometres beyond the top of the modern Vanrhyns Pass, carefully chose a spot where there’s more rainfall than on the rest of the plateau.
Today the village is famous as a centre of biodiversity, most evident in spring when carpets of flowers transform the dusty veld into a kaleidoscope of bright colours. Astute farmers open their gates to visitors and set up rustic restaurants which breathe character, from the egte boerekos served to the Voortrekker prints on the walls.
But throughout the year, it’s a refuge for those weary of racing along in the fast lane. It’s a place where you can live the simple life with the added benefit of modern comforts and let the silence of the Bokkeveld’s starry nights grow on you while the embers of your braai fire die down.
During the day, you can visit the local sights or test your endurance hiking in Oorlogskloof Nature Reserve – it’s country that’s as tough and rugged as any the early trekboers encountered. Just make sure you do return from this extreme Bokkeveld experience.
Smidswinkel Restaurant in the heart of Nieuwoudtville has a cosy fireplace where visitors can swap stories of their day’s discoveries before tucking into good farm-style meals. It also functions as an informal information centre and host Hendrik van Zijl often gives short talks in the restaurant and takes guests for a walk in the veld to show them some of his favourite flowers. Note: There is now a special bathroom at Smidswinkel for the mobility challenged and visitors are welcome to use it. Tel 027-218-1535.
Die Nedersetting restaurant is housed in what was once the town’s bank. The most popular dishes are lamb chops and bobotie with yellow peaches and rice; vegetarians are catered for by arrangement. Booking essential. Tel 027-218-1897 or 082-496-7875.
Matjiesfontein Farm, 13 kilometres south of town, has a characterful eatery, which serves hearty boerekos lunches during flower season only in what was once the area’s first school. Expect dishes such as curried afval, lamb bredie and venison pies served on enamel plates to the rhythm of a waltz or vastrap spinning on an old turntable. Tel 027-218-1217.
Papkuilsfontein Guest Farm’s restaurant offers decadent cakes and local dishes served with flair. Outside of flower season, bookings are taken only for groups of six or more. Tel 027-218-1246.
The nearest supermarket is in Vanrhynsdorp on the N7, but a couple of village shops sell traditional specialties of the area that will add flavour to any visit.
Nieuwoudtville Butchery is famous for its lamb, boerewors and ready-to-cook tripe. Tel 027-218-1007.
Skuinskoek Paleis specialises in traditional breads and cakes of the area, such as roosterbrood and mosbeskuit. Dishes such as skilpadjies (lamb’s liver wrapped in fat) and pofaddertjies (stuffed intestines) can be pre-ordered either ready to eat or ready to cook. Tel 078-265-3815.
Hilandi se Veldhuis at Matjiesfontein Farm is a trip back in time. The old stone building has walls as thick as your arm and the kitchen boasts a large open hearth. Three single beds and two doubles in a barn-like room can accommodate an entire family. Modern amenities include an en suite bathroom with flushing loo. Costs from R180 a person a night sharing. Tel 027-218-1217, email email@example.com.
Van Zijl’s Guesthouses is a collection of five lovingly restored, traditional sandstone cottages scattered around Nieuwoudtville. Piet se Huis is the smallest with one bedroom, while Bokveld is the biggest (sleeps eight). Môreson is the last thatched pioneer house in the village. Self-catering costs from R240 a person a night sharing and B&B from R290. There’s also a comfortable site for caravan and camping with six stands and a communal stone-walled lapa. R170 a stand includes power point, lights and water (max four people a stand). Tel 027-218-1535, email firstname.lastname@example.org, www.nieuwoudtville.co.za.
Papkuilsfontein Guest Farm offers six cottages, each sleeping between two and six people, with plenty of privacy. Self-catering rates are from R330 a person sharing and meals are available at the on-site restaurant. Tel 027-218-1246, email email@example.com, www.papkuilsfontein.com.
Hantam National Botanical Garden’s huge variety of bulbs peak in September. Entrance is R14 an adult, kids R6, and guided tours cost R50 each. Tel 027-218-1200, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
At Matjiesfontein Farm, south of the town, drive a circular route through fields of flowers. R10 a person. Tel 083-643-3188. Papkuilsfontein Guest Farm’s guided 2,5-hour tour includes rock art, a breathtaking waterfall and canyon, as well as wild flowers in season. R80 a person. A short drive on its flower route costs R10 a person. Tel 027-218-1246.
Walk among the blooms at Nieuwoudtville Wild Flower Reserve, beside the road to Calvinia.
Nieuwoudtville is a biodiversity hotspot straddling both the northernmost extent of the Cape Floral Kingdom and the Succulent Karoo biomes. It has one of the highest concentrations of bulbs and cormous plants (geophytes) in the world – of the 1 350 flower species on the Bokkeveld Plateau, more than 300 are geophytes found in the vicinity of Nieuwoudtville.
Most bloom in spring amid carpets of wild perennials, creating swathes of colour on fallow farm fields and local nature reserves. Peak flowering is in August and September, but autumn provides a little-known spectacle when the veld is covered in brunsvigia, a bulb with large, pink, blooms that burst out of bare ground. This happens only if there’s good rain in February or March.
When Nieuwoudtville’s Dutch Reformed Church was completed in 1907, it was discovered that most of the money raised for its construction and upkeep had disappeared. Suspicion fell on the church secretary, who died suddenly, and the congregation was left staring bankruptcy in the face, unable to pay the dominee or the builder. By the time a new minister was recruited three years later, bits of the church had been sold or pawned. Dominee WP Steenkamp rode as far as Springbok raising funds and, within three years, the debt was repaid. This monument beside the church lists those who helped the church out of its debt crisis.
Local records state the church secretary was later spotted living a new life in Namibia and, when his grave was exhumed, the remains of a pig was found.
From Cape Town, take the N7 north and turn off at the R27 through Vanrhynsdorp. Drive up the edge of the Bokkeveld Mountains over Vanrhyns Pass and, 8 km later, turn right into Nieuwoudtville.
Tags: Die Nedersetting, Die Nedersetting restaurant, Groenrivier, Hantam National Botanical Garden, Hilandi se Veldhuis, kokerboom forest, Matjiesfontein Farm, Nieuwoudtville, Nieuwoudtville Butchery, Nieuwoudtville Waterfall Reserve, Nieuwoudtville Wild Flower Reserve, Nieuwoudtville’s Dutch Reformed Church, Northern Cape, Oorlogskloof Glacial Pavement, Papkuilsfontein Guest Farm’s restaurant, Skuinskoek Paleis, Smidswinkel Restaurant, Van Zijl’s Guesthouses, Vanrhyns Pass, Vanrhynsdorp