Tourist Attractions in Sutherland


Time is in the stars and the /Xam (Cape Bushman or San) who lived in the Karoo highlands for more than 25 000 years, knew just that. They had a remarkably extensive knowledge of the stars and used it extensively to organise their way of life.

Today we still look at the stars, planets and distant galaxies. This is done from the all-important South African Astronomical Observatory near Sutherland where huge telescopes are used like giant eyes to probe the Milky Way.

A very informative guided tour is offered at the observatory.

South Africa and its international partners have joined forces to build the largest single optical telescope in the southern hemisphere, with a hexagonal array 11 meters across, sensitive enough to detect the light of a single candle on the moon. With its giant mirror, the SALT will be able to record the scale and age of the universe, distant stars, galaxies and quasars a billion times too faint to seen with the unaided eye. The total telescope cost will be approximately US$30 million, of which South Africa contributed a third and the balance was provided by international partners.

The design was based on a modified version of the Hobby-Eberley Telescope in Texas, USA.

The primary mirror consists of 91 interchangeable hexagonal mirror segments, each mirror segment is 1 metre wide and weights approximately 100 kilograms.

The Karoo highlands is an ideal venue for stargazing because there is no light pollution and most nights are cloudless. The high elevation above sea level allow gazers, aided by their equipment, to see the entire Southern Hemisphere and even to peer deep into the Northern Hemisphere. It is from here that we record the birth of distant galaxies and finding new planets. The Southern African Large Telescope (SALT), with a mirror of 11 m in diameter, is currently being constructed at the observatory. SALT is the largest telescope in the Southern Hemisphere and this is why we claim to be the gateway to the universe!



Ouberg Pass

At the height of 1404 metres above sea level, forty five kilometres from Sutherland, is one of the most spectacular routes across the Roggeveld mountains.It was one of the first routes used by the pioneer farmers from Ceres Karoo to the Roggeveld and later on to the village of Sutherland. Ox wagons were the only mode of transport.

For more than eighty years this pass was also used by the farmers for their seasonal trek with the sheep. The Fish River Farmers Union and the community of Sutherland, who helped to finance the project, requested a proper road. In 1968 the Public Works Department of Sutherland started to build the road and it was finished in 1969.

Louw House

The Louwhouse is the birthplace of the poet/writer brothers N.P. van Wyk Louw and W.E.G. Louw. The house with tender memories of all mercies received, wonderful words and great thoughts, was built in 1861 but was not restored in it’s original form. The well known concave veranda is one of those additions.

Behind the house was a large yard where a water tank and a stable for the two cart horses and stallion belonging to their father Molkie Louw were kept. At present the house is used as a literary museum, and also to honour Sutherlanders who have left their mark in society. Also see Louw Museum.

NP van Wyk Louw

Nicolaas Petrus van Wyk Louw was born at Sutherland on June 11th 1906. He was second in line of four brothers, of which the youngest was W E G Louw the poet. Their parents Von Moltke and Poppie Louw with their family moved to Cape Town in 1920.

The young Van Wyk studied at Cape Town University and received a MA degree in German, later he became lecturer at this university. In 1948 he received an honours degree from Utrecht University for his critique and creative works. In 1949 he became a Professor of Afrikaans at the University of Amsterdam, he held this post until 1958. After that he became Head of Department Afrikaans-Dutch at the University of Witwatersrand.

He received various literary prizes: Hertzog prize for prose, drama and poetry. The S.A.B.C. prize for radio plays and the C.N.A.-literary prize. Some of his most well known works are the thesis in Afrikaans, Raka, Gestaltes en Diere, and Germanicus.

N P Van Wyk Louw died one week after his sixty fourth birthday on 18th June 1979.

Tuinplaats Church

At the beginning of the century the Roggeveld was divided into three parts. The Northern part,which is now Calvinia district,was called the Underveld. Between Aapenberg and Komsberg was known as Mid-Roggeveld,today it is known as “Sutherland Roggeveld” or ” South Roggeveld”.

The Small-Roggeveld which kept its name, is bordered by the mountains at Komsberg,where the ridge of the Central highland meets the border.

The earliest information about the winter trek was documented by i.e. Thunberg 1774 and Buchell 1811. The trek of the farmers and their animals from the Roggeveld mountains to the warmer Karoo below are still taking place annually. The farmers always go to the same place every year and it is called their lair.

The time spent in the Karoo is dependant on various circumstances and can change from year to year. The trek usually starts after the first rainfall or after crop sowing, mostly between 15 May and 15 June.

Because of the high altitude of the Roggeveld, temperatures drop drastically. It is told that a farmer lost eighty goats due to a snowstorm on New Years day and that is summertime, imagine the cold in winter. The area gets winter rains and a combination of cold and wet causes many problems for the farmers in the mountains. The nutritional value of the veld also varies from one season to the next. The best nutrition for the sheep is in the spring. As from January it deteriorates gradually until winter when it is at its worst. Because of the cold and rain there is no growth. It is generally accepted by the farmers that the veld must rest during the winter months.

Due to the cold temperatures, winter lambing is a big problem. Farmers often have to get up during night time to look after new born lambs and prevent them dying of hypothermia. Ewes need good nutrition during lambing in order to produce milk and the lambs need soft young growth once they feed by themselves.

The karoo where the farmers stay during the winter months is the area at the edge of the Roggeveld mountains and the Koue Bokkeveld mountains, and in the North West where it gradually runs into the South Bokkeveld and the Hantam. The area is ideal for winter lambing. Being much lower than the surrounding mountains, with a mild climate and low rainfall the Karoo nutrition for sheep is at its best during winter months. Whenever it rains in this area plants re-appear like magic. Within weeks this inhospitable semi desert is transformed into a colourful carpet of flowers.

Burchell mentioned in his writings (1811) that it was common for the entire family with their furniture to make the trek. This in itself was quite an undertaking in those days. Preparations started with early baking, meat preserving and roasting of coffee beans that had to be undertaken, and by the time the oxen were hitched to the wagons, the family was already used to their temporary dwelling. (Occasionally they built huts from matting during the stay).

Farmers came together for the trek, as many as twenty wagons. It was more sociable and they could help one another. Young farmers rode throughout the Roggeveld on horseback to announce the date for the start of the trek which started at Vloksberg. There were ups and downs for these migrating farmers. Often the wagons got stuck in the mountains, harnesses broke and wagons could get swept away in swollen rivers. Today they trek with cattle trucks. Should the farmers winter and summer farms border one another, the sheep merely are driven down the mountain on foot.

Old Mission Church

Due to lack of official documentation it is not clear when the first mission congregation was founded in Sutherland for so-called “Coloured People”. It is thought that it was in 1905 when the first missionary couple arrived. In 1864 the Dutch Reformed parish council decided a place of worship should be built for the “Kleurlingen”.

In 1882 the “Mission church” had a warden who received two shillings per month from the Dutch Reformed church. In 1892 a little church for mission work was got under way and it was consecrated on 8th of March 1913.The building cost was £800. This little church is still standing on the corner of Van der Merwe- and Prinsloo Street.

The new United Reformed Church was built at a cost of R 28,OOO and was consecrated in 1973.

Dutch Reformed Church

The church was designed by Charles Freeman who also designed the Dutch Reformed church of Graaff-Reinet and the Standard Bank in Cape Town. During the Anglo-Boer War, the church was invaded for 8 months by the British troops. Filled to capacity, it can seat 1200 people.

The Rye of Roggeveld

The Roggeveld derived its name from the wild Rye which once was plentiful in this area. In 1774 a Mr KP Thunberg, a Swedish travelling botanist, mentioned the wild Rye “Secale Africanum Staph”, which grew amongst the rest of the shrubs. When conditions were favourable, it overtook the bracken fields and took on the appearance of rye fields. Due to over grazing most of this rye grass disappeared. A project is planned to restore this vegetation in controlled circumstances.

Planetary Highway

In 2002 the Karoo-Hoogland Municipality decided to show the connection between Sutherland and the South African Observatory with a visual display. A creative project was started in Piet Retief, the main street (previously Voor street). From local building stone pedestals were chiseled and put along the street. On each pedestal the size of the sun is represented by a black disc and the size of the planet is represented by a small disc in the middle. This project is generally known as the “sterremyl” (Mile of stars).

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