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Calvinia was named after the great religious reformer John Calvin. It is situated in the Hantam Karoo, at the foot of the Hantam Mountains. Hantam is a Khoi (Bushman) word meaning "where the red bulbs grow". It is the regions key growth point and one of South Africa'ns largest wool-producing areas.
Calvinia and the Hantam Karoo is best known for its wild flowers. In the flowering season, the whole area is covered with flowers. As far as the eye can see, millions of different coloured flowers forms a carpet in the veldt. Every year in spring, nature performs a miracle when the richest floral kingdom in the world explodes into a kaleidoscope of massed flowers.
Various examples of corbelled houses can still be seen. These date back to the founding years (1851). As there are no trees in this area, there was an acute shortage of wood for roof trusses. The inhabitants build domed roofed houses with flat stones. The cement was a mixture of chaff and soil mixed with water and kneaded to the correct texture. Anthills were used for their lime, an excellent binding agent. Floors were of smeared earth coloured in rich red by a mixture of fat and oxblood polished to a smooth stone.
Some 250 million years ago the Hantam Karoo was an inland sea, a great lake fringed by cycads and roamed by mammalian reptiles. Today it is one of the semi arid areas of South Africa with a rainfall of only 200 mm per year. Many mammal like reptile fossils were found in the area.
Countless skirmishes took place in this are during the Anglo-Boer War of 1899 - 1902. The Calvinia district contributed a significant number of fighters to the Republican cause. Fought both conventionally and as a guerrilla struggle over the Hantam Karoo'ns vast expanses, it was a bloody war of attrition wherein both sides used developing technologies to their advantage.
What to Do:
Go on the Kliphuiskloof 4x4 trail. This trail of 50 km will take you between 6 and 7 hours and can be visited all year round but keep in mind that January and February are the hottest months in the area.
When visiting Calvinia, you can stay in any of the following establishments:
This page was last updated on
07 June 2009