From Riviersonderend the N2 continues to Stormsvlei, where the R317 turns off to cross the Riviersonderend to Bonnievale. Stormsvlei, now a small hamlet with a restaurant and dried-flower business, was for many years an important stopover for travellers on the Cape Wagon Route to Swellendam, with an inn, smithy, wagonmaker, shop and bar.
When the original farm, Avontuur, was first granted in 1732, there is already a reference to a Compagniesdrift (low-level crossing). In the nineteenth century a pont or ferry was installed just upstream of the present bridge. Before the bridge was built in about 1910, travellers to the Breede River Valley and Little Karoo often had to wait at Stormsvlei if the river was in flood, accommodation became necessary and gradually a rambling inn developed. This was replaced by a modern hotel in c.1920, which also attracted custom from nearby “dry” Riviersonderend!
The hamlet took its name from the third farmer on Avontuur, Christiaan Andreas Storm, whose name appeared on a map completed in 1785. Stormsvlei has a colourful history, including the death by stabbing of one owner, William Twentyman, in 1871.
At Stormsvlei the Sonderend Mountains turn into hills, with Bromberg further on marking the end of the range. Here another of the signal cannon was stationed, and just past the mountain, which is covered in aloes in winter, one crosses the Hessequas River. To one’s left lies Hessequas Kloof (now on private land), where a freshwater spring is situated. The wagon route followed this kloof, and it was also the site of the homestead of the Uys family of Voortrekker fame.
Swellendam, the third oldest European settlement in South Africa, nestles at the foot of the towering Langeberg. The old wagon route ran along what is today Voortrek Street (the main road), and the early administrative buildings were all erected near where the road crossed the Koornlands River. Bakkelijsplaats, at the entrance to the town off the N2, was originally the site of a Hessequa kraal and in the 18th century the scene of a major battle between warring clans.
Swellendam, which was named after Governor Swellengrebel and his wife, Helene ten Damme, became a sub-drostdy for the outlying districts of the Cape Colony in 1743. The Drostdy (seat of the magistrate) was erected in 1747 and soon after a gaol, secretary’s house and mill followed.
The Drostdy Museum today consists of a complex of buildings, including the Drostdy itself, Mayville House, the Old Gaol complex and an Artisans’ Yard, where a water mill, threshing floor and the workshops of various trades from centuries ago have been recreated.
Other buildings of historical significance in the town include the Dutch Reformed Church, built in an eclectic style; and the Oefeningshuis, built in 1838 as a place of worship and a school for freed slaves that now houses the Tourism Bureau. Various historical homesteads of note have been preserved, such as Klippe Rivier and The Glen.
The town is flanked by the Marloth Nature Reserve to the north and the Bontebok National Park to the south.
Only 8 km further on the N2, one reaches Buffeljagsrivier (“Buffalo Hunt River”), a farming community where, amongst more traditional crops, persimmons are grown. The name of the settlement, as is the case with many others in South Africa, gives an indication of the big game that were once common here. The Buffelsjags Dam at the foot of the Langeberg is a popular destination for cruises, watersports and angling.
At the filling station in Buffeljags a road (mostly gravel) turns off south to Malgas, and a few kilometres further one reaches the turn-off on the left to Suurbraak.
Suurbraak was originally known by the Hottentot name X’airu, meaning “a piece of paradise”. The current name is from the Dutch, Zuurbraak, derived from the “sour brake” (thicket bracken ferns) that still grow along streams in the area.
In 1808 the Cape Governor, the Earl of Caledon, fell in love with the beautiful place and its people, a remnant of the Attaqua tribe, and granted the land to their chief, Captain Hans Moos (also called Moses Klaaste). Governor Caledon granted the London Mission Society permission to start with work amongst the people of Zuurbraak and in 1811 the first missionary, Seidenfaden, was invited by Captain Moos to settle amongst his people. Seidenfaden, however, caused the Society great trouble, and was eventually dismissed. He refused to leave Zuurbraak and for seven years the work stood still. In 1827 Governor Bourke granted more rights to the LMS and a proper mission station was established a year later, headed by Rev Heinrich (Henry) Carl Jacob Helm, Danish by descent but born in Schlesswig-Holstein, Germany. After his death in 1873 his son, Rev Daniel Helm, continued with the work. The church was later transferred to the Dutch Reformed Church, and today properties in the village are in private ownership. It retains a bucolic atmosphere, with chickens, sheep, cattle, donkeys and horses amongst the houses (if not wandering down the road).
Beyond Suurbraak the road to Barrydale through the Tradouw Pass (“women’s path”) turns off to the left, while the other continues on to Grootvadersbosch Nature Reserve and Heidelberg. Grootvadersbosch, an important source of timber for the early Dutch administration, is now administered by CapeNature and offers camping and self-catering facilities. It is essentially a retreat for nature-lovers, offering solitude and the chance to see a number of rare bird species.
Heidelberg, Cape had its origins when, on 14 September 1855, Louis J Fourie sold part of his farm Doornboom to the Riversdale church council for £5 000. Soon afterwards the first erven were sold, and in 1862, under the chairmanship of Joseph Barry, founder of the Barry & Nephews commercial empire, the town achieved municipal status.
The town has a number of historic buildings, its oldest by far being the Fourie House. This is the homestead of Doornboom and dates back to 1728, making it one of South Africa’s oldest surviving clay houses. Once dilapidated and in danger of falling apart, the T-shaped building recently underwent extensive restoration, and was officially opened to the public on 24 September 2008.
Heidelberg’s Info Office is located in the “Boer-en-Brit” building, so named by its one-time owners, a Welshman and his Afrikaans wife, who opened a general dealer store there (sources say either in 1906 or 1926). The name probably also refers to the fact that, during the Anglo-Boer War, the building was the scene of a firefight. On 13 September 1901 a Boer commando attacked Heidelberg after they had two days previously been involved in a skirmish at Soetmakersrivier south of Riversdale (this was the southernmost skirmish of the war).
From Heidelberg the N2 continues to Riversdale, Albertinia and Mossel Bay to the Garden Route.