Matjiesfontein is a small karoo town situated between Touws River and Laingsburg in the Klein Karoo. It is a favoured weekend retreat from Cape Town and a unique stopover for travellers along the Cape to Johannesburg route.
As the N1 highway doesn’t actually pass through this quaint Victorian town, you would need to actually make a point of turning off to visit. Matjiesfontein is more of a street than a town, but when you spend a weekend there basically everything you can see and do is a must. Take time to walk about and visit all the old historic buildings, after all the entire village was declared a national heritage site in 1975!
The Lord Milner is a luxury historic hotel and a night spent here is well worth the detour, particularly as the hotel is said to be haunted. Be sure to experience the short, only about ten minutes, bus tour on the old red double decker bus for a great and amusing overview of the towns history. The Coffee House is always a good spot to stop off at for a yummy breakfast or light lunch, the apple tart with cream come highly recommended with a mug of hot coffee or tea.
Spend a night or two at the classically furnished historic hotel, the experience will take you back in time to the Karoo of old.
Things to do and see
- Transport Museum
- Marie Rawdon Museum
- Old London Bus Tour
- Old Post Office Gift Shoppe
- The Pink Church
- Travellers Chapel
- Historic Court House & Jail
- Swartberg Pass
- Monument Cemetery
- Klein Karoo Wine Estates
Matjiesfontein has a desert climate and only receives approximately 185 mm of rain annually.
Summer months, November to March will have average temperatures of between 15˚C and 30˚C.
Winter months, May to August will have average temperatures of between 1˚C and 16˚C.
In the 1890’s an official on the Cape Government Railways, James Logan, found health and fortune in the Karoo. He bought a farm, named it Tweedside, planted trees and wheat, and built a fine house, sank boreholes and steadily acquired a vast land holding.
Among Logan’s properties was the area around the railway station of Matjiesfontein ('bulrush fountain'). It was a most improbable site for any development, but Logan saw virtues to Matjiesfontein not apparent to others. Locomotives hauling trains across the Karoo were thirsty and so were the passengers! Loan piped water to Matjiesfontein from his farm boreholes and sold it to the railways.
He opened a restaurant on the station and while locomotives replenished water, served meals and drinks to the passengers. Quenching thirsts in the arid Karoo proved to be big business. Logan, a Scot who had arrived in South Africa penniless in 1877, could now build a grand Victorian-style hotel at Matjiesfontein. He named it after Lord Milner and from its opening it became highly fashionable.
The Anglo-Boer War changed Matjiesfontein. It became a military headquarters and a marshalling ground for troops. Famous regiments were quartered there, and the hotel became a hospital. At the end of the war, Matjiesfontein was restored to its owner.
Today Matjiesfontein remains perfectly preserved and is owned by descendants of the founder.
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