DE RUST – THE PASSPORT TO MANY DESTINATIONS
The quaint village of De Rust, situated on the N12 (known also as the R62)
might only be a dot on the map but it has one great advantage. It is just
the right place for an overnight stop en route to one of many destinations.
Nestled between the Swartberg and Kammanassie mountains, the village is the
gateway to the Great and Little Karoos -- the Eastern, Western, Northern
and Southern Cape, Free State, Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal.
For many years De Rust was just a small village on the way from Beaufort West
to the beautiful Garden Route. Apart from stopping for the essential bite
to eat, no one took much notice of their surroundings. But things have
changed. Recently De Rust became the home of “different visitors” – radio
and TV broadcasts, film producers, magazine and newspaper reporters writing
articles, a photographers’ conference and many more.
MEIRINGSPOORT - THE BIG ATTRACTION
In November 1996, after torrential rain in the Karoo, flooding in Meiringspoort
caused almost the entire road and every little drift to be washed away. On
reconstruction of the roads and drifts, beautiful picnic spots were added as
was the resting place at the waterfall, and the area has become one of the
most visited spots in the Little Karoo.
Meiringspoort is probably our biggest draw card.
This incredible passageway of towering sandstone cliffs that pierce the heart
of the Swartberg Mountain range will leave you breathless and the plant
diversity is unbelievable. Some plant species are known all over the world.
The world famous geranium (Pelargonium Zonale) originates from this area.
During 1689 Hendrik Oldenland collected wild geranium here. Seeds and
cuttings were later sent to Europe where it was cultivated by the Duchess
of Beaufort in England during 1710. This plant is still acknowledged as
one of the important parents of the massive geranium industry in Europe
and America. (Because of its origin, you can find a geranium in almost
every garden in De Rust).
A variety of birds and small animals can be seen – you might even spot
a black African eagle hunting dassies or find baboons guarding the road side.
Halfway through the gorge you can stop at the Information Kiosk where
the history of Meiringspoort is displayed as well as samples of some
of the different plant species growing in the Poort. Take a walk up to
the impressive waterfall well hidden in the deep ravine, and visited in
1925 by the then Prince of Wales. The water drops some 60 m into a deep
pool. Legend has it that a mermaid hides here – you may be lucky enough
to see her! Enjoy the quietness and beauty of this undisturbed spot.
“HERRIE SE KLIP”
Herrie se Klip which you will find in Meiringspoort, was declared a
National Monument on August 3, 1971.
This famous spot where the Herrie Stone can be seen was C J Langenhoven’s ,
(the well known writer and attorney) favourite place to relax and write
his ever popular books. The name Herrie was chisseled by him as a moment
to the imaginary elephant from his story called “Herrie op die Tremspoor”
(Harry on the Tram Line). Langenhoven wrote South Africa’s first National
Anthem (part of which is included in the present anthem). His famous comment
about Meiringspoort, is: “ In each bend you will find a drift and at each
drift a bend.”
THE HISTORY OF DE RUST AND MEIRINGSPOORT
Meiringspoort is named after Petrus Johannes Meiring (1799 – 1876) who
arrived from Worcester in the 1820’s with his two friends, Marincowitz
and Benecke. He, himself, was of German descent, the grandson of Pastor
Arnoldus Meiring who arrived in South Africa from Lingen in Germany in 1743.
The three friends were looking for work in the Olifants River Valley of
the Klein Karoo. Meiring got a job as a foreman on the farm De Rust, at
the southern entrance to the natural cleft/poort in the Swartberg Mountain
range. The farm belonged to Martinus Bekker who had worked the land
diligently and it was flourishing. When Bekker died, Meiring promptly
married the widow, thereby becoming the new owner. Meiring and his friends
never stopped exploring the area and this led to the discovery of the
course of the Groot River which was to become the famous Meiringspoort,
as we know it today. This massive natural cleft through the seemingly
impenetrable Swartberg Mountain range, forms a convenient link between
the Great and Little Karoo.
In the 1850’s farmers of the Great Karoo, north of the Swartberg, had great
difficulty transporting their wool on ox wagons to the Cape Town docks.
Although Mossel Bay was the nearest harbor, there was no route over or
through the Swartberg Mountain range to this port.
The people of George, Mossel Bay and Oudtshoorn wanted to trade in wood,
furniture and potatoes in exchange for livestock with the farmers to the
After many petitions for a road through the Poort, the matter was
investigated. The existing bridle path was to become a rough ‘boer road’
but was prone to frequent wash-aways. This poort road would run along
the river bed of the Groot River and pass through numerous drifts
(all with historic names), while crossing the river some 25 times.
After a few stop-starts the 'boer road’ was eventually completed by
Adam de Smidt (brother-in-law of Thomas Bain) and officially opened
on 3 March in 1858 with a toast to Queen Victoria. The procession of
the day consisted of 250 mounted men, and 100 distinguished guests in
‘spiders’, carriages and wagons. The procession was met by twelve long,
wool wagons from the north, this being the first freight of wool dispatched
from the interior to Mossel Bay.
Although the road was opened in 1858, only in 1899 did De Rust become a
town. During the same year the Dutch Reformed Church was established.
During 1920-30 the Meiringspoort road was reconstructed. In 1945 the
drifts were replaced by concrete causeways to reduce the maintenance
costs after every flooding, but as the N12 developed , the untarred
Meiringspoort became a bottle-neck. In 1966 it was decided to tar that
stretch of road. To preserve the natural beauty of the Poort, building
materials were brought in. Quarrying was done some distance from the
road and truck loads of dolomite were fetched from about 180 km away,
at very high cost.
Today, almost 150 years later, Meiringspoort remains an important transport
link between Gauteng over Beaufort West along the N1 and the Garden Route.
(Although the ox wagon is gone, road trucks make up for them). When the
Meiringspoort road gets flooded trucks have to travel via Graaff-Reinet
and Uniondale along the R62 or follow an alternative route along the N1
to Laingsburg where they branch off to Riversdale or Oudtshoorn – to arrive
in George - both are equally tedious detours.
During the Meiringspoort floods of 1996 the ‘legend of the mermaid’
was revived. So much damage was caused by water that not only houses
were flooded, but crocodiles, ostriches, cattle, trees and chunks of
tarmac were washed down river. As the story goes, during this turmoil,
the Mermaid was washed out to sea. She was caught in the net of fishermen
and taken to the C P Nel Museum in Oudtshoorn to recuperate. The local
radio station announced that she was being held in a ‘revival tank’ in
the stone tower at the Museum. People phoned and came in droves from as
far afield as Zimbabwe and Namibia to see this unusual creature. But
they were disappointed; they could all see that she was a shop window
mannequin dressed up as a mermaid.
The radio station insisted that there are mermaids in the area because
the Khoisan rock paintings (13 – 15000 years old) show creatures with
fishtails. A local clairvoyant made contact with her at the time and
found out that her name is Eporia. While the frenzy about Eporia
continued, water spirits were ‘seen’ elsewhere. Artists started painting
her, potters glorified her on their ceramics and television programmes
used the theme in their script. She even became famous sitting on the
label of a wine bottle. Eporia, the mermaid, has since been returned
to the river, but her ‘replica’ can still be seen in the clock tower
in the C P Nel Museum.
PLANT AND ANIMAL LIFE IN MEIRINGSPOORT
The vegetation of Meiringsport bears little resemblance to that of the
Great or Little Karoo, where the soil is alkaline. The Swarberg Range
is Table Mountain Sandstone and therefore the soil has a high acidity
level. Plants growing in the Poort resemble those of the Southern Cape
coastal area. These include the Cabbage Tree, Wild Fig, Olive and
Peach, the Aloe and many more.
A variety of animals, namely Cape Spiny mouse, rock dassies, water
mongoose, klipspringer, baboons and the rarely seen leopard can be
More than 76 different types of bird have been recorded with the
Black African eagle being the most popular.
Three different fish species occur in the river and some of the most
primitive beetle species in the world (Colophon spp) can still be
found on the high peaks of the Poort.
RED HILLS – A NATIONAL NATURE HERITAGE
The unique Red Hills (Mons Ruber) are found on the farm Rietvalley,
about 10 km from De Rust. These red colored hollow caves of
Enon-conglomerate (pudding stone) appeared above the earth base
millions of years ago. The differently shaped hollow caves remind
one of giant skeletons They were declared a National Nature
Heritage during 1989. For geologists this is a very interesting
site to visit and can be reached by making use of the walking trail
on the farm.
During 1925 the Prince of Wales visited the Red Hills and was so
impressed that he urged the Royal Family to do the same. Queen
Elizabeth and her parents visited Mons Ruber during 1947. The
queen mother had the opportunity to clip the plumes of an ostrich.
While this was happening an ostrich spotted a diamond earring on
one of the ladies-in-waiting. With his beak he made a deft plunge
at the shiny object. Fortunately it fell to the ground and was
hastily retrieved, much to everybody’s relief. At that stage the
ostrich and the earring became more important than the historical
significance of the clipping ceremony. Pictures of the visit can
be seen in the small museum-area at the Wine tasting Center on the farm.
DE RUST – HOME OF WELL KNOWN PERSONALITIES
In 1915 the sculptor Moses Kottler came to live on the farm
Middelplaas. Some of his sculptures can be seen in the Johannesburg
Art Gallery. A sculpture of his uncle, with whom he stayed, is on
display in the C P Nel Museum in Oudtshoorn.
Landscape artist Gawie Beukes, Tinus de Jongh and James Yates, are
among the artists who will be remembered for their paintings of
Meiringspoort and surrounds.
Famous writer Ettienne Le Roux grew up in the Middelplaas area, as
did Bun Booyens.
A painting by Herman Niebuhr was given to Charlize Thereon as a gift
when she visited South Africa.
Famous film maker Jans Rautenbach stays in the De Rust area where he
is the proud owner of a country lodge. His guests are fascinated by
stories from his filmmaking career.
The area is a very popular filming location. At least three full
length South African films have been shot here as well as numerous
TV features – the latest being a Survivor series for Swedish TV.
Christina Martin, founder of the internationally known Christina
Martin School of Food and Wine located in Durban, now resides in
De Rust. She has opened an up market restaurant on the main street
which is already well known throughout the area.
DE RUST – GATEWAY TO:
• PINCE ALBERT AND SWARTBERG PASS -The very popular circular route through
the Meiringspoort gorge takes you to Klaarstroom (Clear Stream) - a neat
village with a shop where you can still buy groceries directly over the
counter and candy in a paper cone. The century old police station is a
well-maintained historic building. In the Anglican Church yard a number
of Anglo Boer War graves can be seen. Continue your journey to Prince
Albert, famous for their olive products. Spend some time roaming the
streets and shops, then begin your trip over the Swartberg Pass.
This 52 km pass is one of the most beautiful creations on earth and
with its spectacular cliffs and majestic views is really something
to experience. On top of the pass is the turn off to Die Hel
(Gamkas Kloof – Valley of the Lion). It will take about 2 hours
to drive down the road, as it is quite steep, but with all the
small buck, veld animals, plants and flowers and its natural beauty,
you won’t even notice the time. On the Oudtshoorn side of the pass,
are the Cango caves with its columns, staligtites and fairy like
crystal pools. If you haven’t been there, do visit.
Returning on the winding Oude Muragie farm road, you will pass
the Rust and Vrede waterfall. Take a walk on the pathway which
leads to the crystal clear pool at the bottom of the waterfall.
Magnificent! Savour the beautiful mountains and farmlands
as you meander back to De Rust.
UP AND DOWN THE MOUNTAIN PASSES
• SWARTBERG PASS (gravel road)– built by Thomas Bain more than 100
years ago, links Prince Albert in the Great Karoo with Oudtshoorn
in the Little Karoo, and reaches an altitude of 1585 m above sea
level. Its breathtaking scenery demands that you get out of your
car and experience the real beauty of mother nature – about 1 hours
drive from De Rust.
• MEIRINGSPOORT (tarred road)– The fantastic 21 km gorge of
towering sandstone cliffs links the Great and Little Karoo and
starts 2 km outside De Rust.
Thirteen km from De Rust on the way to Oudtshoorn, you will find the
turn off to Dysselsdorp and then 1 km further, the turn off for the
Liquorice Extracting plant. The roots of the liquorice plant
(glycrrhiza glabra) occur wild along the banks of the Olifants River and
in other alluvial areas in the Little Karoo. The plant was introduced over
150 years ago by colonial powers and extract from it is used extensively
in the confectionery, pharmaceutical and tobacco industries. The company
manufactures and sells various liquorice products such as dried root material,
cut or ground to various specifications, concentrated aqueous extracts and
spray-dried powders locally and overseas.
The Little Church on the Hill:
On a hill next to the road in Dysselsdorp is “Die Kruisberg”.
A small Catholic church, built by Father Rankel and his parishioners,
can be reached by means of a winding footpath known as the Via Dolorosa.
The path commemorates Christ’s sad journey up Calvary.
FOOD AND WINE
DRY WINE, SWEET WINE AND PORT WINE
In not less than four wine shops a variety of Western Cape wines are available.
Our own local wines are for tasting at:
MONS RUBER WINE TASTING CENTRE offers a variety of Port, Buchu Brandy,
Witblits and their famous copper kettle stilled brandy. Delicate feather
articles are displayed in the small museum in the Centre.
DOMEIN DOORNKRAAL WINES offers a large variety of wine as well as a
unique 12-year old vinegar. Blended from various Doornkraal dessert
wines, it is completely natural, unfiltered and contains no sulphur.
Blended with a little Port or other dessert wines, it becomes a wonderful
flavour enhancer and is without equal amongst locally available vinegars.
“Tickled Pink” sparkling wine is one of their most popular products.
EXCELSIOR/VLAKTEPLAAS WINES are well known for their sweet white muscadel.
There is no reason to leave De Rust hungry because there are several
restaurants, coffee shops or cafés where you can enjoy the local taste
of Little Karoo cuisine.
You can choose to eat in a more formal restaurant or relax in a garden
or on the verandah of one of the coffee shops or even buy take aways.
Spoil the wife with a special Sunday afternoon buffet lunch in De Rust.
Some of the most popular gifts shops on the R62 are in De Rust. Art
and craft from local artists are displayed. Paintings, glass slumping,
hand craft, home industry products, antique furniture, to name but a
few, is what you will get offered in our shops.
You can even have a picture taken dressed in your “grandmother’s clothes”
by our local photographer Alta Fourie from Springett Studios.
ANGLING AND WATER SPORT
The Stompdrift dam, the largest dam in the Little Karoo with a coastline
of 26 km is situated 8 km from De Rust. It offers a relaxing and peaceful
breakaway in beautiful surroundings for outdoor lovers. Cruise on the
Safari Ship which explores the dam’s surroundings. A wide variety of
birds including African eagle and spoonbills can be seen.
DE RUST – A FLOWER GARDEN
In early Spring the veld becomes a pallet of colours when the different
veld flowers start to blossom. The entire area becomes a garden with
marigold, Chinese lantern, aloe, protea, fynbos mesems, wild pomegranate,
sorrel, milk bush, tortoise bush, gazanias, milkweed, wild cotton, ericas,
in wild profusion as far as the eye can see! You don’t need to go any
further, De Rust offers veld flowers with unparalled beauty.
DE RUST - A HISTORICAL VILLAGE
Except for the national monuments like the Dutch Reformed Church and
old church hall building, Mons Ruber wine tasting centre, Die Gat Guest
House and Vredelust farm house there are several other interesting
historic buildings - The Old Mill, Aunt Dora’s Bakery, The Boarding House,
Robinson House, The Twin Houses, to mention just a few. More about this
is to be seen in our Historical Trail pamphlet available at the Tourism Office.
DE RUST DONKEY AWARENESS PROGRAMME
Our donkey awareness programme is trying to ease the plight of the De Rust
donkeys. This is financed by sponsorships.
The carts are all being rebuilt and new harnesses made. The renovated
carts are now being used as a tourist attraction for trips in the village
and to a special picnic spot on a farm and the cart owners become part of
the tourism industry generating an income. All cart owners must be a
member of the De Rust Donkey club.
People all over South Africa were made aware of the De Rust donkeys due
to a competition launched by the SABC radio as part of their birthday
celebration. De Rust was one of the chosen villages to be broadcasted
from and a lot of publicity was given to the project which brought about
positive reaction and sponsorships. De Rust has now become world known
for its donkeys and the organizers haven been invited to visit African
countries to train the locals in rebuilding their carts. Our newly
renovated carts are now invited to participate at festivals in our
FARM AND VELD EXPERIENCES
Farming activities including ostrich, seed and tobacco, wine, cattle,
boerbok, sheep, lucerne, cattle and milk farming make the De Rust area
one of the most diverse farming areas in South Africa.
Come and enjoy our unspoilt nature exploring our 4 x 4 routes, walking
trails, mountain biking and cycling on safe farm roads.
A bird lovers’ paradise, stargazing and fresh air in abundance create the
perfect, safe relaxing experience in De Rust. The beauty of the area
makes De Rust a photographer’s paradise.
Local Tour Guide - A variety of fascinating excursions: De Rust, Swartberg
Pass. Gamkas Kloof (Die Hel); De Rust - Knysna Forets via Prince Alfred
pass, Day trip to Oudtshoorn to visit Cango Caves, Cheetah Farm, ostrich
farm etc. (Tours include lunch and refreshments on route)