Julius Gordon Africana Centre
The internationally recognised Julius Gordon Africana Centre (Versfeld House), built in 1880, houses the largest collection of Thomas Bowler paintings in South Africa.
Included in the permanent exhibition are works by Jan Volschenk and Johannes Meintjes (both natives of Riversdale), Irma Stern, Pierneef, Maggie Loubser, Gregoire Boonzaaier, Erich Mayer, Terence McCaw, Ruth Prowse and Pieter Wenning.
The Julius Gordon Africana Centre, located in Long Street (Langstraat) only 300 metres from De Doornkraal Historic Coutry House, features Khoisan rock paintings and stone implements, Africana furniture of the region, and the history of Riversdale. Modern man (Homo sapiens) lived in and around the Riversdale area from as far back as 130 000 years and more ago (see below Blombos Cave: The Cradle of Modern Humans). Some of their ancient stone artefacts can be seen at the Julius Gordon Africana Centre (Versfeld House). This is an experience not to be missed.
Blombos Cave: The Cradle of Modern Humans
The famous Blombos Cave is a short distance (30 minutes) from Riversdale. The important findings of the archaeological excavations at Blombos, lead by professor Christopher Henshilwood, provide unquestionable proof of the origin of modern inteligent human beings in this area around 77 000 to 133 000 years ago. The Blombos Cave was the home of the first inteligent human beings on earth, the Homo sapiens. They were people who had crossed the divide between animals and humans and had cognitive and conative talents like today's human beings. Since the discovery of the Lascaux caves in France archaeologists believed that the modern Homo sapiens evolved between 100 000 to 150 000 years ago, but did not develop modern thought processes and behaviours until 40,000 years ago. The findings at Blombos Cave proved this hypothesis wrong.
The archaeological excavations at Blombos Cave, overlooking the sea in the Riversdale district near the fishing town of Stilbaai clearly indicate that our Blombos ancestors had already begun thinking in a modern way 133 000 years ago. Delicately crafted stone and bone implements discovered there precede the comparable European artefacts by more than 80 000 years. More than 8000 pieces of ochre, commonly used as colour pigment in artwork, were found in the Midle Stone Age layers of the Blombos cave. The cave was inhabited by successive colonies of these people who were hunting, fishing and gathering seafood in the vicinity. Moreover, these prehistoric occupants painted their bodies red for rituals and carved abstract symbols. The interaction of a unique climate, rivers, sea, fauna and flora of the area created an ecosystem favourable to the evolution of humans as thinking and sensitive beings. The Patron of the Blombos Cave Project is Nelson Mandela. More scientific information can be found at www.svf.uib.no/sfu/blombos.
De Doornkraal Historic Country House can arrange for you to visit the Blombos Cave archaeological exhibition, or book a tour accompanied by an archaeological guide.
The Sleeping Beauty Mountain Peak and Cape Fynbos
Riversdale is nestled at the foot of the Sleeping Beauty mountain peak. This well loved landmark never fails to capture the imagination. To discover the secret of the Sleeping Beauty run your mouse over the image shown here and the features are explained. When viewed from Riversdale one can see her lying on her back, with her eyes closed and her hands folded at her breasts.
Riversdale has earned its name of the floral paradise of the Garden Route because of the abundance of indigenous flora which covers the mountains and surrounding areas. Witness the richest floral kingdom in the world, Cape Fynbos, which includes Erica Blenna, a species unique to Riversdale. For this reason it is often referred to as the "Riversdale Orange Heath". The Erica Blenna is found on the lower southern slopes of the Sleeping Beauty peak and further along the Langeberg mountain range between Heidelberg and Riversdale. It prefers the relatively moist mountain areas, and is closely associated with other medium-sized Fynbos species such as brunias. The fynbos is home to an abundace of indigenous birds of the area; a birdwatcher's dream.
It derives its name from the Greek word "blennos" which means mucous and refers to its sticky flowers. The Erica Blenna is found on moderate to steep slopes between 400 and 800 m above sea level. There are two variations: the grandiflora bearing strikingly beautiful large flowers, and the smaller flowered and more common variation known as just blenna. Only a few large inflated lantern shaped flowers are borne at the tips of the branches. Both species of flowers are bright orange with green tips and are unusually sticky when touched. The plants flower annually from April to November and are uniquely different from ericas found in other parts of the world.
De Doornkraal Historic Country House can arrange for you to experience the scenic Sleeping Beauty hiking trail described below.
The Scenic Sleeping Beauty Mountain Hiking Trail and Birdwatching
This trail covers a distance of 13km from the old Toll House to the crest of Sleeping Beauty and back. It is an easy walk and numerous streams are crossed. An abundance of birdlife can be seen while wandering leisurely through the fynbos. Birdlife in the are includes the Blue Crane, the national bird of South Africa. Water bottles are re-filled where the trail meets the Yellowwood forest at the top of the ravine. From the forest the trail winds its way to the top behind the Sleeping Beauty mountain peak. The last stretch is 1.5 km to the crest, from where the most magnificent panorama that the Langeberg offers can be seen.
At this point hikers can return to the Toll House and De Doornkraal Historic Country House. Alternatively, hikers can continue their journey along the contour road descending gradually in the direction of the Klein Karoo, passing through a Stinkwood forest 6.5 km from the crest. Overnight huts are available at Rooiwaterspruit approximately 4 km away.
Protea species encountered on the Sleeping Beauty mountain trail are speciosa, grandiceps and coronata. The large variety of Erica makes this route a paradise for the Erica enthusiast. The Erica blenna grandiflora, unique to the Riversdale area and also known as the Riversdale Orange Heath, as also, the Erica inclas and Erica papyraracea, are three of the rarest heath species found.
Riversdale Golf Course
Riversdale golf course boasts a 9-hole, 18-tee golf course, which is situated on the banks of the Vette River. This exceptionally well manicured and maintained course has the reputation of being one of the most scenic in the Southern Cape. Golfers can also enjoy meeting the friendly locals in the clubhouse after a round. Riversdale Golf Club is one of several golf courses in the Hessequa Municipal district, birthplace and home of 2010 British Open champion Louis Oosthuizen.
Grootvadersbosch Nature Reserve
Grootvadersbosch Nature Reserve lies at the edge of the Garden Route at the foot of the Langeberg Mountains just 35 minutes drive from Riversdale. Grootvadersbosch is characterised by indigenous forest and hosts several breathtakingly beautiful and family friendly hiking trails. The picturesque valleys support a variety of fauna and flora, and birdwatchers in particular will enjoy this natural home of the Red-chested Cuckoo (Cuculus Solitarius, also Piet-my-vrou). The ultimate wilderness experience can be enjoyed by using Grootvadersbosch Nature Reserve to access the Boosmansbos Wilderness area, a UNESCO World Heritage Site which, with 70 km of unmarked trails, epitomises nature in all its glory. It represents a 15,000 ha wilderness area that is unblemished by human presence. Only 12 hikers at a time are allowed into this dramatic mountain terrain. De Doornkraal will arrange your visit.
Heritage Architecture of Langstraat (Long Street), Riversdale
The farm Doornkraal was proclaimed a loan farm in 1746, the same year as the historic farm Zeekoegat, now a National Monument. The original owner of the farm Doornkraal on which Riversdale was established, was Hermanus Egbertus Steyn, born at Grootvadersbosch near Swellendam in 1773, and great-great grandfather of the current owner of the De Doornkraal Estate. The Steyn family sold a portion of the farm Doornkraal to the “Godsdienstige Gesticht” in 1838 to establish Riversdale. Many historic buildings were erected along Langstraat.
The thatched homestead located at Langstraat 8 and built between 1746 and 1770, is the original homestead of the farm Doornkraal, and now the main dwelling of the De Doornkraal Historic Country House. The “Lodge Frere”, now an integral part of the De Doornkraal Historic Country House complex, was home to the 13th freemason lodge established in South Africa. It was inaugurated on 10 December 1888. The logo of the freemasons is diplayed in three positions. Two on the main hall and one on the smaller. Lodge Frere was established in 1879 by frenchman Dr William Charles Hansell who became the first worshipfull master. The old Cape Dutch home located at Langstraat 6 and built circa 1845 also forms part of the De Doornkraal Historic Country House.
The De Villiers home at Langstraat 1 was built in 1859. In the latter years famous author and politician C J Langenhoven was a boarder in this house during his school days in Riversdale. Across the road is Langstraat 2, the parish of Ds P B Borchards (1843-1880) which later became a school. This building is today known as “Huis Langenhoven”, where C J Langenhoven attended school and matriculated in 1892. On the opposite side of the street known as Langstraat 3 is the parish of Professor PGJ de Vos built in 1880. Photographs of what used to be a graceful double storey Victorian home can be seen in the Julius Gordon Africana Centre. Unfortunately the façade of this house was destroyed by insensitive owners. A similar double storey Victorian house was built at Langstraat 13 and suffered the same fate over the years.
The Edwardian home located at Langstraat 11, was designed and built by architect William Richard van As in 1903 for Helgard M van Rensburg, mayor of Riversdale for 35 years. The Edwardian home is the homestead of the De Doornkraal Estate where the Steyn family, current owners of the De Doornkraal Historic Country House, reside. William Van As also designed the NG Church Hall, with its gracious Cape Dutch gable, built across the road from the De Doornkraal Estate in 1906.
The Cape Dutch homes at Langstraat 5, 7 and 9 were built during the second half of the 1800’s. The house at Langstraat 9 known as Avondrust, is part of the original Lot 4 proclaimed in 1838. Lot 4 originally included the farm Doornkraal's homestead built between 1746 and 1770 (until 1880) and remained the property of the Doornkraal Steyns from 1838, when Riversdale was established, until 1950. During the 1920’s and 1930’s Annie Steyn (nee Cronje), grandmother of the current owner of De Doornkraal Historic Country House and the Estate, operated a boarding house on the premises. One of her boarders was the reverend Ben Marais (later professor) who together with Dr Beyers Naude opposed the NG church’s support of apartheid. It is ironic that Annie Steyn’s cousin Professor Geoffrey Cronje became Dr H F Verwoerd’s mentor, two decades later.
The house at Langstraat 15 was built at the turn of the nineteenth century. This Victorian styled home later became the parish of Ds Koornhof, father of Piet Koornhof who became a member of P W Botha’s cabinet. Gladly this historic homestead, at one stage badly neglected, was extensively renovated. Another Victorian/Edwardian styled dwelling is located opposite the Royal Hotel at Langstraat 19. Built in 1903 it has retained much of its former splendour. Unfortunately the thatched Nainkin home at Langstraat 20, which dated from the 1800s, was destroyed by fire during the 1960’s.
The Royal Hotel built in 1881 is another historic building of Langstraat dating from the latter part of the nineteenth century. Stables were located at the back of the Royal Hotel for 60 horses. Over the years the hotel's Victorian façade was replaced with a concrete structure. Fortunately the Victorian arches of the old hotel's dining room are still unscathed.
Next to the Royal Hotel on the corner of Langstraat and Main Street is another Victorian building dating back to 1881. The corner was the site of the famous Barry and Nephew shop. The Victorian structure was erected after a fire destroyed its predecessor. Fortunately this building has maintained most of its heritage character.
The Julius Gordon Africana Centre, often mistakenly refered to as the Julius Gordon Museum, is housed in the historic Versfeld homestead dating back to the mid-1800. The Versfeld homestead is located at Langstraat 27, approximately 300 metres walking distance from De Doornkraal Historic Country House. This Victorian building was the home of Dirk Versfeld, who established the law firm Reitz and Versfeld (now Deneys Reitz), and later became the home of his son Theodore (popularly known as Dorrick). Diagonally across the road from the Versfeld homestead is the Lutheran parish of the reverend Daniel Heese (1859) and later (1879) reverend J G Grosskopf, ancestor of political activist and former member of the ANC's Umkhonto we Sizwe, Hein Grosskopf.
More homes were built further down Langstraat in the direction of the golf course at the turn of the nineteenth century. The double storey Hertz homestead was built in 1888. The old stables dating from the early 1800 are also located in close proximity. Close to the Riverville rugby stadium is the former Roman Catholic Convent which is currently used as a dwelling. All these buildings are of significant heritage value to Riversdale.