Places of Interest
Stuff to Do, Places to Go
Sutherland’s pioneers quarried the area’s distinctive grey stone for many of their buildings and architectural features, such as walls, gateposts and reservoirs. Building methods varied from dry packed stone to large dressed blocks, set in pointed mortar.
Together with the use of corrugated iron roofs, the stone walls give the town a textural, earthy appeal while the later addition of stoeps (verandas) in timber or steel adds a delicate touch to the otherwise sturdy houses.
Early photos of the town show that most buildings were gabled in the Cape Dutch fashion. As the Victorians swept in, gables and thatch or clay roofs went out of fashion, to be replaced by verandas and corrugated iron roofs. The remains of stone walls and other stone buildings are dotted around town, giving Sutherland its warm, rustic character.
A walking tour of the town will take you past most of the architecturally prominent buildings
Many of the more notable houses are now used as guesthouses serving the town’s thriving tourism industry. A stroll will take visitors past The White House, originally a boarding house named Dagbreek (Daybreak) and later a garage and a museum; Sutherland Inn, which was the first pastoral residence and later a doctor’s office; Primrose Cottage, built in 1905, one of the only houses with an intact gable; Cluster d’Hote, now a restaurant, was once an overnight station for farmers staying in town for Communion; and Sutherlandia. All these are examples of local architecture over 60 years old.
Here are a few highlights of the architecture:
What: The Dutch Reformed Church. This is probably the most important of Sutherland’s heritage buildings, representing the reason for the town’s existence.
When: Built in 1899.
Where: Piet Retief Street, the main road in town at both the physical and spiritual centre.
Architecture and design: Designed by Charles Freeman (who also designed Cape Town’s Standard Bank building and the Graaff Reinet Dutch Reformed Church). This is a cruciform straight gabled church built with pointed, rough stone. It has a square, two-tiered tower with a plastered spire topped by a bracketed cornice. The design is classical and restrained with round-headed openings.
More info: The church houses a German-designed organ in its original casing, although the interior has been converted into an electrical instrument. During the Anglo Boer War the church was occupied by troops and used as a fort. Some damage was caused to the interior and graffiti from the occupation is still visible in the clock tower, tangible evidence of the town’s cultural heritage.
Tours to the church can be arranged, phone 023 5711 258 or 071 136 7468 to book your tour with Jannie du Plessis.
What: Tuinplaas Buitekerk
Where: 55km from Sutherland on the farm Tuinplaas
When: The exact age of this structure is unknown, but records show it already needed “reparities” in 1843, which makes it one of the oldest buildings.
Architecture and design: A rectangular thatched-roof structure between straight gables. It was used by trekboere as a gathering place for church services and is still in use for baptism, weddings and special services.
Sutherland’s graveyards are valuable for the history they represent, as well as for their unique gravestones, etched with handmade sandstone tools.
War graves from the Anglo Boer conflict are in the English graveyard. One of the curiosities here is a soldier named on two gravestones. He received a communal burial after drowning in a flash flood during the war. Later, the British government awarded him a military cross which was placed in the graveyard in his name. A number of other war graves are scattered on farms around the district, including several unmarked graves dating from that time.
A Jewish graveyard, on its separate site, is the resting place for some of the town’s most historically important business owners, such as Barnett Perlman, a prominent merchant who died in the 1918 flu epidemic.
Forts and Blockhouses
The Anglo Boer War left a wake of forts and blockhouses. One such is Rebelskop, a hill topped by the ruins of a fort and named after a Boer division of 200 men that opposed the British forces. Under Commandant Abraham Louw, and reinforced by a further 50 men under the command of Albert Smith from Fraserburg, the rebels rained gunfire into the British-occupied town for 10 hours in a mini-siege.
Other ruins are still visible on the road to Salpeterkop and on the farm Gunsfontein. Here two blockhouses stand on opposite sides of a cliff, guarding a pass. Although most blockhouses are not open to the public they can be viewed from outside.
Museums, Memorials and Monuments
The main entrance to the town is marked by a memorial to the Voortrekkers, the colonists who opened up much of South Africa’s interior, in celebration of the 150th anniversary of the Groot Trek.
The town’s only museum, the Louw Huis or Louw House, houses artefacts belonging to the family Louw – a famous name in South African literature. The house was the birthplace of NP Van Wyk Louw and his brother WEG Louw.
Other important Sutherland figures represented in the museum include the Roggeveld’s first poet, Daniel Christiaan Esterhuyse (1815-1897), and the literary figures Datei Pieter Jordaan and Anna Jordaan.
Sir Henry Olivier, a famous civil engineer who specialised in hydroelectric power projects, is among the famous sons of Sutherland. He was born in the town and lived there until the age of 15. During his career he worked on a number of large international dam projects including the Gariep Dam in South Africa. He was chief engineer of the Kariba Dam on the Zambezi River, contributed to the building of Mulberry Harbours during World War Two, and worked on the construction of a dam on the Ugandan Nile, one of the largest dams in the world. He was knighted for his work.
Louw House bears witness to the cultural history of the area with farm implements, clothing and furniture donated by Sutherland’s residents and farming community. You can only visit the museum by appointment, but it is definitely worth it! Call one of the following numbers for an appointment: 023 5711 131
Jurg and Rita Wagener developed an 8 ha smallholding called Sterland (Starland) where they now have regular stargazing sessions almost every night in an open muisbos enclosure.
They also do a monthly Stargazing cession called “Stars to Midnight”, the first weekend after New Moon with lectures about Astronomy. At this event they provide light meals, like home-made Karoo Curry and rice, braaivleis etc. This event is on a Friday and Saturday. Booking is essential in both cases as we can only allow a limited number of visitors. A special lecture room called “Die Dam” is there for the stargazing lectures with lots of info about stargazing.
For stargazing tours, contact Jurg on 082 556 9589
Mile of Stars
With the development of the SALT project, an artistic installation depicting the connection between Sutherland and the South African Observatory was created down Piet Retief Street, the town’s main road.
Community Projects worth supporting
Mamma se Werkswinkel (Mama’s Workshop)
In 1996, Sutherland’s Assistance Society and the ACVV (Afrikaans Christian Women’s Association) decided to set up a workshop for single mothers. With funds provided by ‘Equal Opportunities’, the workshop bought a stove, an egg beater, kettle and table with six chairs. The ACVV also donated additional essentials and the workshop officially started operating on 1 November 1996. Thwelve people started and their first cake was baked.
With the help of borrowed sewing machines (at first), sale of foodstuffs, training in art and needlework, funds and donations from Absa and IDT; and a lot of endurance, the workshop grew and projects like sewing tracksuits and school dresses for two local schools kept the workshop going. No salaries could be paid at first, but the ‘mama’s worked as opportunities arose. With the help of a grant from the Social Council in 1998, the workshop could start paying salaries.
Currently the workshop has six workers and a manager. The expansion of the workshop is limited by the size of the market and the seasonality of work. During summer months the workshop depends on the sale of cakes and biscuits. They have also tried their hand at baking pies, making curtains, catering and so on - and they are prepared to do any work that they are capable of doing!
Pop in at the Mama’s Workshop to see the Mama’s at work and to support their cause and meet Elsa van der Merwe, who has been instrumental in driving this initiative. Some of their needlework products are also sold at Oudag se Winkel. You can contact Discover Sutherland for more information.
’Ologies, ’Ographies and an ’Olcano
Sutherland has fascinating natural assets, unique scenery and palaeontological history aplenty, including the youngest active volcano south of the Equator. Don’t worry, there’s no immediate danger as it was last active 66 million years ago.
Salpeterkop stands 1 767 metres high, about 25km from town, and is reached via a kilometre-wide lava ash field. Geologists have long been intrigued by its striking circular strata and caves where walls are stained orange, yellow, red and black from volcanic sulphur elements.
Throughout the Karoo, the fossilised remains of plants and animals are embedded in the thick succession of sedimentary rocks. The caves around Salpeterkop are the sites of significant fossil finds such as the remains of lions, eland and the extinct brown hyena. Reptile-like fossils were discovered at sites near Portugalsriver and Palmietfontein and petrified wood has been found just outside Sutherland.
The area’s geographical landscapes are particularly distinctive and visually compelling. The best vantage points include the plateau of the Roggeveld Mountains and the Ouberg Pass, where the view rolls away down a spectacular, rugged escarpment to the thin blue haze of the horizon.
The Karoo lies on rocks known as the Karoo Supergroup. This enormously thick succession of rocks is exposed in places, giving glimpses into the worlds that existed when the rocks were laid down between 280 million and 180 million years ago.
Along the southern border of the geographical Karoo, the Cape Fold Mountains are spectacular examples of the massive folding and thrusting forces that resulted in the Karoo basin.
Further north, igneous intrusions bear testimony to the break-up of the Gondwana supercontinent. The landscape is dotted with the typical flat-topped koppies and giant tumbles of black rocks where the San people made superb rock engravings.