In the Beginning … a Brief History of Sutherland
In the Beginning … a Brief History of Sutherland
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In the Beginning … a Brief History of Sutherland

In the Beginning … a Brief History of Sutherland

Sutherland is in the heart of the Roggeveld region – named in reference to the naturally occurring wild rye grass (Secale africanum). Early scouts considered it to be promising for sheep farming, which is why pioneer farmers ventured over awe-inspiring terrain, across immense distances and forbidding mountain ranges to settle in the area.

In the Beginning … a Brief History of Sutherland

Sutherland is in the heart of the Roggeveld region – named in reference to the naturally occurring wild rye grass (Secale africanum). Early scouts considered it to be promising for sheep farming, which is why pioneer farmers ventured over awe-inspiring terrain, across immense distances and forbidding mountain ranges to settle in the area.

After the arrival of the first white pioneer travellers and farmers in the 1700s and early 1800s, the Dutch East India Company advanced capital for the establishment of farms across vast tracts of land. These farms are today written into the region’s history with Dutch names like Uitkyk, De Guns Fonteyn, Klipfontein, De Knolle Fonteyn (Kanalfontein), De Jakkalsfontein, De List and Cylenberg.

Despite clashes with the resident KhoiSan populations, the settlers remained.

They were part of the Worcester district, whose religious well-being was overseen by one Dominee Henry Sutherland. In time, the Dutch Reformed Church bought De List farm as a church farm to serve the population of the Middle Roggeberg. They held their inaugural church advisory meeting in 1855 as the “Middel en Kleinroggeveldsche Gemeente” (Middle and Small Roggeveld Congregation).

1855 turned out to be a big year for this new community. Until then, they had fallen under the legal jurisdiction of Fraserburg, but that year they erected a large stone building as a local jail, planned extensions for a hospital, and with that took their first steps towards self-governance.

Two years later in 1857, the Worcester Municipal Council instructed that the farm De List be divided into 50 properties which could be sold to private individuals to form a church town. The town was to be named after Ds Henry Sutherland.

In 1858 the cornerstone of the first church was laid and in November of the same year the first properties were auctioned and the hamlet of Sutherland officially became a dot on the map of the world.


Sutherland’s moedertaal (mother tongue) is Afrikaans but most people speak English as a second or third language. What their English may lack in polish is amply compensated for in sincerity and warmth. And thanks to their convivial country hospitality and old-fashioned manners, they won’t hold it against you if you happen to mangle their language in return. 

Stick around long enough and you’ll get to know the locals by their nicknames. There’s a story – often hilarious – to each one. Unfortunately, these tales don’t translate as well in written language, so best you spend some time in Sutherland for that.

Generations of pioneering hardships in this remote place, far from outside assistance, taught Sutherlanders the value of a tight-knit community. They learned to pull together through the tough times and to celebrate the good ones. The annual dankfees, a thanksgiving service and town festival, involves the entire community in offering thanks for their many blessings.

They try not to be smug, but it boils down to their being really grateful that they live in such a unique and beautiful place.

Outdoors family activities

Horse riding and plenty of outdoor activities at Sutherland

At Blesfontein Guest Farm Guests can feed the farm animals, enjoy the living, working farm life and best scenic views of the Roggeveld /Tankwa area.

Guests can go on  game drives, enjoy mountain-bike rides, long walks and stargazing.
On warm days Blesfontein also has a reservoir to cool down in.

For the kids there are pony or horse rides (adults welcome too!)

And of course evenings you can enjoy the Karoo air and some sun downers at the escarpment at Blesfontein Guest Farm.
a Picture Perfect view.


The Succulent Karoo is one of two Southern African regions designated as biodiversity hotspots by Conservation International, making the Karoo an essential destination for birders. The Succulent Karoo biome known as the Tanqua Karoo, named after the river cutting through that region, is considered by experts to be among the finest for bird watching, especially in spring when the vegetation comes to life, with nest-building, raising chicks and displaying.

4x4 Routes , Hiking and Bike Trails

Blesfontein Guest Farm 4×4 , Hiking and Biking Trails   (28km – outside of town on the Bo Visriver road)
A number of 4×4 routes have been established in the district, often on farms which also offer other outdoor activities.  
Blesfontein Guestfarm has grade 1 – 2.  –  4×4 route (for the whole family)

Hikes and new mountain bike trails and sports a variety of fauna and flora.

Skurweberg Guestfarm have accommodation and a camping terrain.  

Various very good 4×4 routes available.

Not for the faint hearted.  (40 km outside of town on the Bo – Visriver road.)

Stofkraal also have 4×4 routes, hihking and biking trails. 

Camping and various guest houses available. (35 km out of town.)


The Silhouette Hiking Trail on the farm Ezeljaght

Silhouette Hiking Trail is a must for all the hiker enthusiasts , The Silhouette Trail is a two-day circular trail on the farm Ezeljaght, 22 km from Sutherland. It is family-friendly, with the first day 13km and the second 9km. It was laid out in 1996 by Prof. Leon Hugo, the developer of the Green Flag accreditation system for hiking trails, and winds between outcrops of dolomite rocks which give the trail its unique flavour.

Fossil experience in and around Sutherland

Jaco will amaze you with his fossil exhibition and lecture at Sterland.

On offer is a small geological and palaeontological exhibition of the Beaufort Group of the Sutherland area. 

Fossils from this group and geological samples on display explain the ancient floodplain setting of the Permian era in the Karoo some 260 mya.

It also illustrates how the mammal-like reptile animals that inhabited this area first, evolved. Then,  Jaco, our guide, take you through the history of our local veld with various tours  – 1 ,2 or 3 hour fossil hunt walking tours just outside Sutherland.

There you go on a fossil hunt and expand your knowledge on the palaeontology of the magical Karoo.

Another Fossil experience is available – from Sutherland to Fraserburg. Marthinus, our other guide, will meet you , after a circular driving route, about 110 km to Fraserburg, and he will show you the dinosaur footprints. You will truly enjoy. 

Bookings are essential! Contact Discover Sutherland.

Roggecloof is a private bio nature reserve, 25 km outside of town, towards Matjiesfontein.

Various hiking and biking and game drives available, only for in-house guests. Requests can be made at :



Wholesome Country Grub

As you’ve realised by now, there’s much more to Sutherland and the Karoo than sheep. But when dinner time rolls around, it’s those sheep you’ll be thinking of.

Enter the noble Merino sheep breed, which has long been the backbone of Karoo agriculture, producing wool and all manner of crafty by-products … and of course the truly, utterly, famously delectable, toothsome Karoo mutton and lamb.

Interestingly, people in this area don’t traditionally have the same culture of baked goods as do many other rural South African communities. This stems directly from the fact that wheat does not grow well here and in the early days importing enough wheat to mill flour was expensive and difficult. Over time, tastes adapted until rice and potatoes became the staples in meals. Nevertheless, the women of the area bake delicious rusks, biscuits and sweet treats like skuinskoek and koeksusters. Despite the history of bread as a luxury, most of the older generation bake their own bread almost every day, often using sheep fat instead of butter.

Rich traditional food culture is alive and thriving in Sutherland. Local cuisine is rooted in traditional boerekos, that is, big portions of hearty country food built around mutton and game, with the use of quince providing an unusual touch.  The food you will enjoy here is closely linked to the town’s agricultural setting. Due to Sutherland’s remoteness, fresh fruit and vegetables are limited. Main meals revolve around ‘rys, vleis en aartappels’ (rice, meat and potatoes). Many vegetables are preserved in some way, like curried green beans, or beetroot preserved in vinegar and sugar. But if you ask a local about vegetables, chances are they’ll say they mainly eat meat but occassionally have vegetables – by which they mean chicken and pork! But don’t panic. Local restaurants prepare a variety of foods, from chops to lamb shanks, to bobotie, curry, schnitzels, good old steak and chips and a variety of home-baked meat pies. An interesting local treat is preserved quince pieces (quinces are common in Sutherland) served with lamb or game.

But getting back to the sheep, Karoo lamb is a delicacy much sought after by meat-loving South Africans as well as foreign visitors. The singular flavour of all Karoo meat comes from the unique vegetation grazed by animals ranging freely across endless tracts of wild veld, drinking pristine water and breathing pure air. The experience of warming your hands at an open fire while the sun sets over a spectacular Karoo landscape and the aroma of sizzling lamb chops rises into the clear air does something profoundly good to the soul.

Before you leave you’ll have many opportunities to taste, enjoy and buy an abundance of local produce. Feel free to chat to the people who make and sell these items – they know the best recipes and traditional cooking secrets and are delighted to share them with visitors. To get you started, here’s Ouma Mieta van der Merwe’s recipe for preserved quince: Peel the quince and boil it in 1 cup of water and 1 cup of sugar until a fork can pierce right through. Cut the quince in half and then cut each half into three pieces. Wait for the fruit to cool and preserve in an airtight glass jar. Delicious with roast lamb or venison or as a sweet treat after a meal. For more receipes you’ll have to come to Sutherland!

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


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.

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.


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. 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. 

At Sutherland Planetarium you can also enjoy evening stargazing with a professional guide and at Blesfontein Guestfarm with Nicol. An Amateur astronomer for 20 plus years.

In addition to astronomy you can come and relax and enjoy a 3D full dome space and astronomy show at Sutherland planetarium.

At the SAAO, only at the visitors centre, evening stargazing are also available, with a professional guide.


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.



Inspirational Sutherland

Maybe it’s the serenity. Or the remoteness. Or the stark beauty of the place. Whatever it is, the Karoo inspires writers and artists.

Two Sutherland families, the Von Moltke Louws and the Esterhuyses, produced three of South Africa’s best-known Afrikaans poets, DC Esterhuyse, NP van Wyk Louw and his brother WEG Louw.

Possibly Sutherland’s most recognised literary son is Nicolaas Petrus van Wyk Louw. He was born at Sutherland on 11 June 1906, the second of four boys, of whom the youngest, William Ewart Gladstone Louw, also became a poet.

After what he described as an idyllic childhood in Sutherland, NP later found himself separated from it and was moved to verse, stark with haiku-like words of longing for his beloved Karoo. This excerpt was written in Amsterdam, where he was studying at the time:

Ek staan weer by ’n wit poel
Waar die wintermiddag sneeu
En ek is klein en hoor verskrik 
’n jakkals uit die rante skreeu

In 1920, the family moved to Cape Town, where the young NP van Wyk Louw later earned an MA in German at the University of Cape Town before going on become a lecturer there. In 1948 he received an honours degree from Utrecht University for his critiques and creative works. In 1949 he took up a post as professor of Afrikaans at the University of Amsterdam, where he remained until 1958. He returned to South Africa to become Head of Department of Afrikaans-Dutch at the University of the Witwatersrand. Some of his best-known works are Raka, Gestaltes en Diere, and Germanicus. He died a week after his 64th birthday on 18 June 1979.

WEG Louw became a poet and renowned academic. Awarded the Murray’s Gift and Queen Victoria Memorial Scholarship, he studied in Holland and returned to South Africa to be appointed professor of Dutch and Afrikaans at Rhodes University College in 1944. He later became the editor of Die Burger, a large Afrikaans daily newspaper, and was a professor of Dutch literature at Stellenbosch University.
DC Esterhuyse was the oldest of the Sutherland trio and his work is invested with a strong fellow-feeling for Sutherland and its people. Another important literary figure was Pieter Cornelius Johannes Jordaan, who wrote under the pseudonym of Datei. His stories and sketches featured in various Afrikaans magazines and are described as ‘human’ stories that readers could relate to. He also wrote books and examples are on display at the Louw House Museum.

Fauna & Flora


Sutherland is the site of some fascinating and rare plant life. Not much rain falls in the district. When it does, the dry earth responds by erupting almost overnight into a multi-coloured carpet of wild flowers that stretches for kilometres in the nearby Hantam-Roggeveld.

The star tree, or Cliffortia arborea, is indigenous to Sutherland and is found only in the wonderfully named Unwieldy Mountains. Its needle-like leaves grow in a distinctive spiral shape around the stem, giving it its name.

The Romulea eburnea flowering plant was recently discovered in the area, adding to the 27 known species of Southern African Romulea.

Other rare finds have been the purple-flowered Moraea and the Daubenya aurea, a bulbous plant with yellow flowers.

The endangered Dioscorea elephantipes or olifantspoot (elephant’s foot), a succulent plant that lives without roots in the ground and grows extremely slowly, can be found in the area.

Plant enthusiasts can explore the Sutherland Tanqua Route, which forms part of the Succulent Karoo Ecosystem Plan (SKEP), and visit the 260ha Sterboom Natural Heritage site.

Fauna – The Tortoise and The Hare (ag okay, The Rabbit)

Not only is Sutherland the only place in the world where you can spot five different species of tortoise, but it is also home to South Africa’s most endangered mammal, the humble doekvotjie or riverine rabbit, Bunolagus monticularis. There are fewer than 1 500 of these little guys remaining and they can only be found in the Karoo.

Despite its arid environment, Sutherland enjoys abundant birdlife. The more glamorous members include Ludwig’s bustard (Neotis ludwiggi), Sclater’s lark (Spizocorys sclateri), the black-chested snake-eagle (Circaetus pectoralis) and the martial eagle (Polemaetus bellicosus) as well as spurwing geese and flamboyant flamingos.

Many butterfly species flit in and around the area, some of them unique to this part of the world, the McGregor’s blue butterfly (Lepidochrysops macgregori) being one of particular interest.

What is this Karoo? Where is it? Is Sutherland in the Karoo? What’s Going on Here? Someone Help!

The first thing to fathom is where and what exactly the Karoo is. After that we’ll try to explain why people fall in love with it, as they always seem to do.

Just to be clear, you’ll probably fall for its magic too.

Right, Here Goes, Definition of the Karoo

The Karoo is a huge semi-desert in the middle of South Africa. It’s made up of five regions: the Little Karoo, Tanqua Karoo, Moordenaars Karoo, Upper Karoo and Great Karoo. The boundaries are marked by subtle changes in vegetation.

In the south, the Southern Cape Fold Mountain Belt divides the Karoo from the wetter Cape region. To the west, the frontier is the Cederberg mountain range. To the east and north-east, the lines are drawn by the rolling grasslands of the Free State. And in the north, which is where you find Sutherland, the Karoo eventually gives way to kokerboom (quiver tree) country.

Right, Here Goes, Definition of the Karoo

The word Karoo derives from the language of an aboriginal people called the Khoi and broadly translates as “hard, dry, thirstland”. What this blunt rendition fails to convey is the special place the Karoo holds in the hearts of those who perceive beauty in its endless, sun-drenched spaces and flat-topped koppies (hills). They sense it in the evocative clunk of windmills urging sweet, untainted water from underground boreholes, and in isolated farmsteads where hospitality to travellers is a deeply rooted way of life.

Vast, remote, open spaces, silence, serenity and dramatic landforms combine with an extreme climate and unique vegetation to make up the alchemy called Karoo magic. That’s what visitors fall in love with.



By South African standards, Sutherland is bitterly cold in winter.

It lays claim to the coldest winters in the country. The mercury plunges well below zero at night, sometimes as low as -16 degrees Celsius, and the area gets heavy snow several times each winter.

In their characteristically enterprising way, Sutherland locals have turned their town’s extreme winters into an attraction.

Tourists are drawn back time and again to their warm-hearted Karoo hospitality in guesthouses with roaring log fires.

They experience jaunts in the snow and see the normally harsh Karoo landscape transformed and softened by snowfall.


Star Gazing

Look Up

Over 25 000 years ago, the KhoiSan or Bushmen people who inhabited this region knew that time is in the stars. They had a remarkably extensive knowledge of the stars and wove this wisdom into the rhythm of their lives. The 19th-century scholar Dr Wilhelm Bleek, who studied their languages and analysed their legends, found evidence that the Bushmen had observed the movements of the planet Jupiter and its four main moons with the naked eye. These Bushman legends date back to before Galileo made his observations with his first telescope.

Like the earliest people, we are still awed by the mystery of the stars, planets and distant galaxies. Today, the extraordinary clarity of Sutherland’s cloudless, pollution-free night skies and its high elevation above sea level makes it a prime star-gazing destination and the perfect site for the South African Astronomical Observatory.

The observatory houses the largest single optical telescope in the Southern Hemisphere.
Based on the design of the Hobby-Eberly Telescope in Texas, it consists of a primary, hexagonal mirror 11 metres wide made up of 91 individual hexagonal mirrors, each one meter wide and weighing about 100kg.

This great eye probing the universe is sensitive enough to pick up the light of a single candle on the moon – but its main job is to scan deep space, witnessing the birth and death of planets, gazing into distant galaxies and recording the scale and age of the universe, stars, galaxies and quasars billions of light years away.

The telescope cost about US$30 million, of which South Africa contributed a third and international partners the balance.

Please call Juliana at: 023 5712 436 for bookings
Daytimes are as follow:  10:30 and 14:30

At the “Day visit” tour, you will be able to see the big telescope. to see the instrument, but NO STARGAZING.

Amateur star-gazers can set up their own telescopes at the nearby VISITOR CENTRE. 


The facility is open to the public with four evening tours a week (Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday evenings) at the visitors centre. 


FOR MORE INFO Please feel free to contact Alta at:  076 909 8635 – Discover Sutherland. OR 023 5712 436 SAAO, for bookings.

A tour guide will lead the evening tour of the galaxies with a 14” and 16” telescopes(90 minutes tours) tours available. Booking are essential to avoid disappointment.

Contact the Observatory on +27 (0) 23 5712 436 or email
Rates are R80.00 per person/daytour – Evening tour : R100.00 per person from 1 April 2019

The emergency number is 076 9000 308 (in case lines are down). Visit for updated information.



Alternatively contact Jurg Wagener (082 556 9589)  at ‘Sterland’, a privately owned and managed establishment.
For a stargazing experience just 1.3 km outside of town. Jurg will treat you to a utmost experience at Sterland . A private Stargazing experience. 
Bookings for this activity are still essential to avoid disappointment.

The show at Sterland starts @ (20:00 – 22:00 January – April), (19:00 – 21:00 May) ,(18:00 – 20:00 June – July),( 19:00 – 21:00 August) and (20:00 – 22:00 September – December.)  The show last for about two hours. The stargazer is first treated with an indoor presentation on a three meter big screen explaining all the constellations and sizes in the universe.

Inside the dam are numerous posters of Astronomy and books to be read. After that the stargazers are taken outside to the Muisbos Amphi theatre and first treated with an explanation of how to find South, with the aid of the Magellan Clouds, Southern Cross and other stars. They make use of a very powerful laser so that each stargazer can see what they are talking about.

All the relevant constellations, stars, planets and objects to be observed are then explained before looking through the eye piece of the telescope.

At present they make use of 6 x 11 inch (280mm) Celestron Go-To telescopes, each with its own GPS. Each telescope is operated by a knowledgeable person. Every stargazer gets enough time to enjoy the object to be seen.
The show normally lasts two hours at the cost of R150-00/R200.00 per person.

Alternatively contact Sutherland Planetarium for their night stargazing with their 11 inch and 14 inch telescopes. 

Largest privately owned Telescope in Sutherland. 14 inch Celestron.
At daytime during the Planetarium digital shows, they will show you the constellations in the full dome presentation, as if you are at night under the stars, with the technology you will understand the constellations a bit better, with pictures, at their night stargazing. Most welcome.

The professional guide at Sutherland Planetarium will also do a lazer show and theory outside about the constellations etc. And the telescope stargazing with you at night.

They will treat you with all the pleasures and experiences of our beautiful night sky at Sutherland Planetarium.

Bookings are essential please to avoid disappointment. They can only fit in 30 persons at a time and that everyone can have enough true stargazing time and enjoy the most of their experience all the time.

From 7 pm (19:00) winter times and 8pm (20:00) in the summer months
The tour is more or less 1 and half hours. 

Warm drinks are available at the coffee shop during the stargazing and warm blankets and a cushion are provided to each person doing the stargazing to stay warm and enjoy the tour.
Please contact the planetarium booking line at: 078 603 0058  (calls or whatsapp or text please )for bookings to avoid disappointment.

Stargazing at Blesfontein Guest Farm
An alternative stargazing opportunity is available at Blesfontein Guest Farm.
Blesfontein has it’s own observatory with its own telescope,(12” Dobsonian) telescope where Nicol take guests stargazing at night. It is his passion for more than 20 years and you will truely enjoy and the skies are more clear outside on the farm.

Do enquire when you book with Blesfontein.

The cost is R100 per person. Please book to avoid disappointment. *Guests who stay on the farm will not be charged for stargazing as this is included in the experience.

But everybody else are also very welcome to join in every evening! (Weather permitting.) Do note there is only one guide and therefore it is important to book in advance.
Contact Blesfontein:
Contact Nicol and Marina van der Merwe
Tel:  +27(0)23 5712 631
Cell:  +27 (0)83 444 5810

At Sutherland planetarium you will enjoy an hour show of an audio visual extraordinary extravaganza experience that you will remember.
Bookings are essential to avoid disappointment.
Please call the planetarium at: 078 603 0058 or text or whatsapp please.