Doringbaai is a quaint fishing hamlet 8 km south of Strandfontein, and has a population of about 1 300. The fishing settlement was originally an anchorage from where camel trains were used to transport provisions to towns like Vanrhynsdorp. Richard Fryer was one of its earliest residents.
In 1925 the North Bay Canning Company built a crayfish packing factory in the town. The factory closed in the 1970s and has since been converted into a business hub which includes a restaurant, a winery with wine tasting facilities as well as a functions venue. Other interesting buildings include the Doringbaai lighthouse that was built in 1963, and the Roman Catholic Church.
Ebenhaezer and Papendorp are two fishing hamlets situated on the Olifants River.
Ebenhaezer is one of the oldest towns in the district and was founded by the Rhenish Missionary Society as a mission station in 1834. It was originally the site of a Khoi kraal. When James Backhouse visited Ebenhaezer in March 1840 he wrote that several people were living in huts built of reeds and mud, and that residents were building a windmill on a low hill outside the town. Today these old clay buildings and riethuise add to the town's unique charm. The town's residents and farmers benefit from the Olifants River Irrigation Scheme, and make a living farming cattle and sheep, and grow cash crops like lucerne, bean and coriander.
Papendorp is a small fishing hamlet at the mouth of the Olifants River, and was originally known as Viswater. Fishing boats, fishing nets and dried harders or bokkoms are all part of this hamlet's cultural landscape. Residents also make a living harvesting salt. The salt pans can be visited by appointment.
The Hardeveld lies north of the Knersvlakte and is an arid sparsely populated area with Bitterfontein as its commercial centre. The hamlets of Molsvlei, Stofkraal, Nuwerus, Rietpoort and Putsekloof also fall within the region.
Bitterfontein is situated on the N7 and lies about 80 km north of Vanrhynsdorp, and has a population about 1 200. The town's name is derived from a brackish fountain near the town. Today the town gets its water from a desalination plant that filters borehole water through a process of reverse osmosis. The plant can be visited by appointment.
In 1927 the railway line from Cape Town was extended as far as Bitterfontein to transport the green granite that is quarried in the area. A famous diamond heist took place in Bitterfontein in 1931 when Kleinzee's monthly production diamonds was stolen out of the Postmaster's office before it could be railed to Cape Town. The diamonds were valued at over £80 000 worth of diamonds. The case was never solved.
Rietpoort, Molsvlei, Putsekloof and Stofkraal are isolated settlements on a gravel road west of Bitterfontein. Rietpoort is the largest with a population of about 800, and Stofkraal the smalles with a population of less than 300.
Many residents still use donkey carts as a means of transport. Farming activity is mostly limited to raising goats and sheep. Rietpoort was founded as a Roman Catholic mission station. Father Van't Westeinde who established the mission in 1913, and according to legend, he lived in a nearby cave while church was under construction. Church's clock originally hung in a Dutch town called Roosendal in Holland, and was donated after the church was bombed in WWI.
Nuwerus lies about 20 km south of Bitterfontein and was once an important outspan called Erdvarkgat and before motorised transport, a halfway station between Vanrhynsdorp and Garies. The hamlet has a population of less than 600 people. Boreholes in the area are brackish and residents get their drinking water from a desalination plant.
Klawer lies 15 km north of Trawal and developed around the railway station servicing the Olifants River Valley. Most of the surrounding farms, vineyards, orchards and fields are irrigated with water supplied by the Olifants River Irrigation Scheme. The town has a population of about 6 000. The name "klawer" is Afrikaans for sorrel.
Trawal is the southern gateway into the Namaqua West Coast Tourism region, and lies on the Olifants River. The settlement's economy is largely based on wine farming and is also home to the largest organic winery in South Africa.
The area around Lutzville was originally known as Vlermuisklip, a reference to a rocky overhang near the town called Vleermuijsklip. The cave was often used by early travellers as a shelter, and was first named by Pieter Everaerts in 1661. Other visitors included Governor Simon van der Stel, and Pieter van Meerhof, who was the first European to reach the Troe-Troe River near Vanrhynsdorp. British soldiers also used the shelter during the SA War (1899-1902).
The town Lutzville was established in 1923 and named after Johan Lutz, an irrigation engineer who worked on the Clanwilliam Dam and also surveyed the Lutzville area for agricultural development. The town has a population of just over 5 000 and services a farming community that produces wine and cultivates beans and tomatoes for the canning industry.
Lutzville's popular tourist sites include two national monuments: Vleermuijsklip Rock and the Melkboomsdrift farmhouse, built in 1825.
The Sishen-Saldanha railway bridge over the Olifants River is also worth a visit. The 1 035 m high railway bridge was completed in 1976 and is supported by 22 pillars, each pillar extending 45 m into the river bed.
The village of Koekenaap has a population of less than 1 500 and lies 7 km north of Lutzville on the R362. It was first settled in 1928. According to legend two German missionaries of the Rhenish Missionary Society exclaimed "guck inab!" in wonder at their first sighting of the Olifants River after travelling through the harsh Knersvlakte. "Guck inab" eventually became "koekenaap".
Strandfontein lies on the R362 and is flanked by Papendorp in the north and Doringbaai in the south. It has a population of less than 200 permanent residents. Most of the houses are holiday homes, B&Bs and guesthouses. The town's name is a reference to a fresh water spring on the beach.
The sea currents in the area are very strong, and visitors are advised to use the tidal pool when life guards are not on duty. During late winter and early spring Strandfontein's sandy cliffs provide excellent lookout points for whale watchers. The Wandering Whale Labyrinth, just south of the town, is an exceptional labyrinth with paths made of blue mussel shells with a pink rose quartz centre.
Vanrhynsdorp is the gateway to the Namaqualand, the Hantam Karoo and the Cederberg with a population of just over 5 000. The town lies 300 km north of Cape Town on the N7 highway to Namibia.
Vanrhynsdorp is situated on the Troe-Troe River and was once an outspan for travellers. The settlement became known as Troe-Troe, and was renamed Vanrhynsdorp in 1881 after a local politician, clergyman and member of the Cape Parliament, Petrus Benjamin van Rhyn. The town has a population of about 6 000 and is a commercial hub servicing a large sheep farming district.
Places worth visiting include the first church called Het Gesticht, Trutro House built in 1751, the old gaol, horse mill, the Latsky Radio Museum and the Kokerboom Succulent Nursery.
The Victor Smith Memorial outside the town is an important marker in South Africa's aviation history. Victor Smith (1913-2001) played a pioneering role in developing African air routes. In 1932 when he was only 19 years old he tried to break the Cape to London flying record of 8 and half days. The following year he tried to break the London to Cape Town record and had to force land his plane on the farm Quaggakop 27 km outside Vanrhynsdorp. It was the first successful forced landing on South African soil.
Vredendal lies on the Olifants River about 370 km north of Cape Town on the R27, and is the region's largest town with a population of 20 000. The town's economy is based on mining and agriculture. The Olifants River Irrigation Scheme has made it possible for farmers to grow grapes, potatoes, tomatoes, onions, pumpkins, watermelons and sweet melons.
Vredendal has one of the country's largest cooperative wine cellars, a modern grape juice concentrate plant, and thriving dried fruit and a food canning industries.
The town was originally known as Bakkeley Plaats, apparently due to an altercation between the Dutch and the Khoi in 1668. Once peace had been declared, the name was changed to Vreedensdaal - valley of peace.
Places of interest: The old Roman Catholic Church.