With Wakkerstroom hosting its annual art ramble on 15–17 June, we take a look at what this hamlet on the Mpumalanga/KZN border has to offer – and why it’s well worth the drive.
If you’re a history buff or a keen birdwatcher, you’re probably already familiar with this part of the world. In 1859, Dirk Cornelius Uys (better known as Swart Dirk Uys, due to his dark complexion), accompanied by two chaps known only as Gunter and Joubert, were instructed to search for a suitable place in the remote part of the Transvaal to establish a new town and congregation.
They travelled inland from Potchefstroom, and after a week or two, came across an area with high-altitude grasslands and indigenous mistbelt forests much to their liking. This would become Wakkerstroom. For long a best-kept secret among the birdwatching community, word about Wakkerstroom’s prolific bird life got out in the 90s, and the town experienced a tourism boom.
Surrounded by high-altitude grassland to one side, and a protected wetland reserve on the other, the area comprises unique biomes and is home to a variety of threatened and endemic plant, bird and animal species, including the Oribi and South Africa’s three crane species (Wattled, Grey Crowned and Blue).
It is also rich in local history. The town’s cemetery houses graves of the first settlers as well as two memorials to the 18 British soldiers killed in action during the Transvaal War of Independence in 1880/1881, and British and Imperial soldiers killed in action during the Anglo-Boer War of 1899-1902. Ossewakop commemorates the centenary of the Great Trek. Paul Kruger Bridge on the outskirts of town, built in 1893, and the historical St Marks Church, are also worth a visit.
What to do
Wakkerstroom’s attraction lies in its slow pace and range of low-key activities. A typical weekend would include hiking, horse riding, cycling, fishing and (in winter) spending many hours staring into a log fire. There’s also much to shop and eat, as over the years, a significant number of artists and foodies have settled in town. From game pies and home-made cheese to freshly baked artisan bread, visitors are spoilt for culinary choice.
If you’re new to the world of birdwatching, book a birding tour with local guide Lucky Ngwenya (083-227-0128) or settle into one of the four bird hides near Paul Kruger Bridge, all within walking distance of town. If you need more information, visit the BirdLife South Africa Wakkerstroom Tourism and Education Centre just out of town
Alpacas are a rare sight in South Africa, so pop into Mistique Alpacas (017-730-0739) for a rundown on the whys and wherefores of these eccentric animals. Irises can be bought straight from the source at Runnymede Iris Farm (017-730-0482), founded almost two decades ago. Now is the best time to see up to 200 different varieties in bloom and to visit owner Sue Danridge’s exquisite garden. Horse riding is one of the best ways to explore the area and outrides can be booked at the information centre (083-277-8738) in town. Details regarding trails and walks can also be obtained from the centre.
Upcoming arts festival
From pottery to painting, food and music, the arts are alive and well in Wakkerstroom. Kicking off with a street party on the Friday night, 15-17 June promises to be a weekend to remember. Local artists will open their studios to the public to present hands-on courses, demos and talks. For more, see www.artramblewakkerstroom.co.za
For more information, get in touch on 083-277-8738 or 082-255-6778, send a mail to
email@example.com or see more at www.wakkerstroom.co.za