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High up on the list of most attractive towns in the Cape Province, Swellendam lies in the shadows of the resplendent Langeberg Mountains and alongside the Cape’s largest water source, the Breede River.
The town is the third oldest in South Africa and at one brief stage in its history was an independent republic until the British colonised the country and dismantled the feeble structure.
Swellendam was established in 1740 and named in honour of the Dutch East India Governor Hendrik Swellengrebel and his wife, Helena ten Damme. The town was the administrative centre and magisterial district for the entire region, a thriving settlement until a fire and devastating drought led to its demise. However, Swellendam remains an important wool producing area and an enjoyable stopover for travellers on their way to the Garden Route.
There are over 50 buildings with national heritage classification, many of which are designed in Cape Dutch style. And the monolithic Dutch Reformed church dominates the skyline.
Top 6 reasons to visit Swellendam
1. Your first stop should be the Drostdy Museum, a series of buildings showcasing a typical 18th century farm scene with old craftsmen tools on display and an old gaol, now used as a restaurant.
2. Hikers will enjoy the hiking trails laid out in the Marloth Game Reserve. The routes pass rock pools, a waterfall and an ancient forest. The two peaks called 10 o’clock and 12 o’clock are both over 1km in height, enough to see the ocean 80km away!
3. Youngberries are grown in Swellendam. Visit the tasting room at Wildebraam Berry Estate to try the various berry liqueurs and pick up a bag of fresh berries. Youngberry picking takes place at the end of the year and the public are invited to pick their own and pay by the kilogram.
4. The Breede River is a fishing hotspot, expect to catch carp, bass and catfish. This vast river runs for 322km, plenty of space to find a quiet, shady tree.
5. The Continent of Sulina, billed a fairy (faerie?) sanctuary, is filled with all sorts of magical characters, from trolls to gnomes, and spread throughout their gardens. The facility has a meditation centre. Closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.
6. Swellendam boasts a number of fabulous eateries located in lovely settings; some alongside a stream, and others in historic homes. Most offer breakfasts and light lunches to cater for the passing traveller.
Swellendam is precisely equidistant from two airports, Cape Town International and the domestic George Airport, both located 105km away. Several car rental agencies are based in Swellendam and at the airports to hire a vehicle, or you could order a rental online. There are a number of metered taxi companies in the town. Shuttle service operators transport visitors between the airports and Garden Route towns.
Did you know?
Swellendam residents will tell you that they can tell the time based on where the shadows fall from the Langeberg mountain peaks high above the town.
The nearby Bontebok National Park was established in 1931 to conserve the Bontebok antelope after it was found that only 17 existed throughout the Cape. The buck has since recovered and there are now over 200 in the park.
For those who are a little adventurous and enjoy the company of other travellers, you can decide to stay at a Backpackers. Often having to share a room with others as well as costs, it is incredibly inexpensive. Often the best choice for those who may be just passing through or will be occupied for the majority of their day. It comes with the most basic amenities and is often formed as part of a bar or similar establishment. Not recommended for those who want privacy, this is best suited for those who wouldn’t mind meeting various other interesting travellers.