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Calitzdorp municipality had its own Coat-of-Arms which was registered to it in perpetuity. Calitzdorp Municipality no longer exists but legally no one else may use the Arms.
When electricity was installed in Calitzdorp in 1937, it was the smallest electricity supply setup in the country, the least costly installation and Calitzdorp’s supply price was the cheapest per unit in South Africa.
When built between 1943 -1954, the concrete road from Calitzdorp to Oudtshoorn - known locally as the \'sementpad\' - was the longest concrete road in South Africa. It was NOT the country\'s first concrete road, as is frequently claimed.
The last ever steam train on the Oudtshoorn-Calitzdorp line was a special Union Line day trip for steam train enthusiasts on 13 August 1997, four years after the official closing of the line. The loco was a class 19D No 2753
The Little Karoo was once an inland sea of approximately 14,500 square kilometers. It would have been a quarter the size of Lake Victoria, half the size of lake Malawi, 24 times the size of the Dead Sea and 87 times the size of the Sea of Galilee!
Huge Fossil bones found in the Calitzdorp district were thought by Hoffman in 1966 to possibly be those of the Giant Plesiosaur – the same as Scotland’s Loch Ness Monster, ‘Nessie’. However they were later identified as those of the sauropod Algoasaurus related to the Brontosaurus.
In the 1800s and early 1900s there was a thriving Jewish community in the Little Karoo. Many of their shops had no doors for customers - who climbed in through the windows!
Calitzdorp has South Africa’s largest Pale Chanting Goshawk bird population – the only polyandrous raptor in South Africa.
The Calitzdorp Nel’s river dam was the first mass-concrete agricultural irrigation dam wall built in the country.
The dam was built in 1913-1918, before modern equipment was available, and work was done with picks and shovels. Donkeys and mules did the hauling. There was one 36 BHP suction gas engine which ran all the major plant.
The Nel’s river which flows through Groenfontein valley and fills Calitzdorp dam was previously known as the Kango river and is shown as such on the original subdivision map of the Buffelsvlei farm, dated April 1834.
The word Kango comes from the Khoisan language – The Khoisan called the Swartberg mountains the Kango and the word means ‘place rich in water’.
A Surveyor General’s Map dated 25 Jan 1847 shows that Daniel Nel owned large sections of the Kango river / valley farmland, Probably why the river became known as ‘Nel’s river’.
Cape leopards still roam freely in the mountains around Calitzdorp. Extremely shy, and ranging over enormous territories, these rare, beautiful animals are seldom seen.
Calitzdorp sits on a geological fault line that runs for 300 kilometers along the southern edge of the Cape Fold mountains – proof being our local hot spring at the Calitzdorp Spa.
In the 1850s the town of George was a 50 hour trek by ox-wagon from Calitzdorp! This time did not include overnight stops and time for the oxen to rest and graze.
After their discovery, the Cango caves were known as \'die Druipkelder’. and only became known as Cango Caves many years later.
When Electricity was first provided in Bergsig, each of the smaller houses had one connection to a street light, and electricity was only available at night when the street lights were switched on.
Lucerne – a major fodder crop around Calitzdorp, came to South Africa from South America in 1861. Its introduction into the Little Karoo dramatically changed the ostrich industry
There are 34 internationally recognised biodiversity Hotspots in the entire world - and Calitzdorp is surrounded by four.
The plant biomes – areas of a certain type of plant growth - are identified as World Hot Spots because of the unique - and threatened vegetation, found nowhere else in the world.
Each of the four World Hot Spots around Calitzdorp –fynbos, thicket, remnant forest and succulent Karoo – has at least 1500 endemic plant species – each Hot Spot biome having more plant variety than the whole of Europe
Calitzdorp’s first cemetery is said to have been in the area of “The Queen of Calitzdorp” Lodge - but maybe this old cemetery was under the \'spookhuis\' - giving reason for its name? Long demolished, the police station now stands where the \'spookhuis\' once was.
During the world-wide ‘flu epidemic of 1918, Calitzdorp was not spared and the beautiful double-storey home at 1 Queen street was used as a make-shift hospital for the duration of the epidemic
More than eleven thousand hand-cut stones were used to build the Dutch Reformed Church. The raw stone was transported by ox-wagon from Swartkop at Vlei Rivier and dressed on the building site.
Because of its enormous size, the Dutch Reformed Church vestry table (5,2m) had to be made on site.
On 22 February 1991 the imposing sandstone Dutch Reformed Church and its surrounding fence was declared a National monument - now known as a Provincial Heritage Site.
The cast-iron fencing, erected around the perimeter of the Dutch Reformed Church grounds in 1899, is eleven years older than the church itself.
The five massive Dutch Reformed Church bells - three huge and two slightly smaller ones, cost £425 and were cast in Germany. They were donated by J J Grundling and his wife in memory of their grandson Jacobus Johannes Grundling Meyer
The magnificent Dutch Reformed Church organ - considered the best in the country at the time and said to have then had 942 pipes, was imported from Hamburg, Germany.
The Huisrivier Pass underwent major upgrading in 2012 and 2013. To the astonishment of workers at a stop/go point on the construction site, a leopard crossed the road right in front of them - in broad daylight!
The very rare, unusual, yellow Protea - Mimetes chrysanthus – was discovered in the Gamkaberg Nature Reserve by game guard Mr Willie Julies in September 1987.
Calitzdorp is on Route 62 – the longest wine route in the world.
Voortrekker road – or Route 62 – was firstly known as Bloekomlaan (Bluegum avenue) due to the number of gum trees which lined the road.
A number of original little houses were demolished on Voortrekker Road and the bluegum street-trees were removed to widen the road when Route 62 was built.
The house which reputedly stood on the land where the police station and magistrates\' court now stand, was known as ‘die Spookhuis’. Could the reason be - that just maybe - this might have been the site of Calitzdorp\'s first unmarked, unidentified cemetery?
Axe Hill winery was named after stone-age hand tools, from some 250 thousand years ago, found on the property when the farm was being established by the late Tony Mossop and his wife Lyn.
It is rumoured that Cecil John Rhodes gave a speech to Calitzdorp residents from the steps of the beautiful residence at 1 Queen Street, but so far we have found no proof of him visiting the town.
Old timers have suggested that the beautiful home at 1 Queen street was ransacked or torched by Boer Commandant Gideon Scheepers and his men during the second Anglo-Boer War. We have found no proof - but we do know that Scheepers was active in the Calitzdorp area at the time.
In 1922 when Howard Carter opened Tutankhamen’s tomb in Egypt, one of the first things he found was a perfect, 3,000 year old, ivory-handled ostrich feather fan.
In 1918 there were outlying schools in Groenfontein, Buffelskloof, Buffelsjagsfontein, Gamka-Oos, Gamka-Wes, Huisrivier, Janfourieskraal, Kruisrivier-Wes, Uitvlug, Warmbad en Warmwater, along with the Juta and Reenen school.
Spekboom - Portulacaria afra - takes in and uses huge volumes of atmospheric carbon – part of the global warming problem – and converts it into oxygen. How great is that? Plant some and help save the world!
\'Kougoed\' - the Kanna plant, Sceletium tortuosum of the Mesembryanthemoideae family - is a local ancient herb with mood enhancing properties said to rival Prozac! – but it is non addictive and has no side effects.
In 1869 Arthur Douglass invented an ostrich incubator , causing a stir in the Little Karoo where farmers now started fencing their lands to farm ostriches more intensively
In 1872 Mr Burdett opened Calitzdorp’s first shop
On the 3rd of July 2015, UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation), at a meeting held in Bonn in Germany, approved the elevation of the existing Rooiberg, Gamkaberg and Groenefontein Protected Areas, to the status of World Heritage Sites
Each return journey of the steam train between Oudtshoorn and Calitzdorp, burned up four tons of coal!
The first regular train from Oudtshoorn ran into Calitzdorp on Friday 14th November 1924 and the official opening took place a few days later on the 20th November.
Seweweekspoort peak at 2,352m is not only the highest peak in the Klein Swartberg range, it is also the highest in the Western Cape. Classified as an ultra prominent peak it is also the 8th highest peak in South Africa.
Endemic to Seweweekspoort, the first specimens of an unknown, rare Protea were collected by botanists T P Stoekoe and R Primos in 1928. Later thought to be extinct – this Protea Aristata was ‘re-discovered’ in 1953.
The survey for the new Huisrivier Pass was started in 1951. It took almost ten years to find a suitable route over the difficult, treacherous mountains to Ladismith, before construction of the Pass could start.
Seweweekspoort’s rare endemic red Aristata protea was proudly displayed on the 10 cent postage stamp of the South African 1977 Protea Series.
Calitzdorp became the Port capital of South Africa by accident. Years ago, Shiraz vines ordered and planted by the Nel family of de Krans, later turned out to be Touriga Nacional – the main port grape! What a happy mistake!
On 25 December, 2015 there was a full moon. Younger than 38 years old at the time? Then this would have been your first Christmas full moon. The last one was in 1977 and the next one will only be on 25 December 2034!
Everyone knows South Africa’s symbols – the flower symbol is the King Protea, the animal is the springbok, the tree is the Real Yellowwood and the bird is the Blue Crane. But did you know that we have a national fish? Believe it or not, we do! the Galjoen
Western Cape’s provincial symbols : The provincial flower is the Red Disa, the provincial tree is the Silver Tree. Our animal is the Bontebok and our provincial bird is the Cape Sugarbird
The ostrich is the world\'s largest flightless bird, followed in size by Australia\'s Emu and Cassowary.
The Cape Leopard is a small animal - probably the size of a large dog – and is half the size and weight of its Kruger Park cousins. The average weight of a male Cape Leopard is about 35 kilograms.
No longer viable, the Oudtshoorn - Calitzdorp train service was officially stopped and the line closed to regular traffic on 31 May 1993.

calitzdorp dam

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Calitzdorp dam was built as an agricultural irrigation dam on the Nel’s river on the outskirts of town. Its construction made history as the first mass concrete dam wall for irrigation purposes in the country. The dam supplies water for both agriculture and the town’s domestic use.

2017 has been one of the driest years in a long time and the dam level had dropped to a very low level. On 14 and 15 November, gentle soaking rains fell in the district, and water flowed into the dam for a short spell. However, the drought has persisted and the dam level has continued to drop.
Dam level square3

Current water level


January 2018 photo: Yvonne Bayly

January 2018
photo: Yvonne Bayly

Calitzdorp dam
Calitzdorp dam August 2015


Being a semi-arid area, prone to bouts of severe drought, water has always been of great concern for the Calitzdorp fruit producers.  Right from the earliest days of farming in the area, fruit of exceptional quality has been produced.

Calitzdorp’s main irrigation river is the Nel’s river – known previously and shown on old maps as the Kango river – whose catchment area is in the Swartberg mountains.

The river flows from Groenfontein valley and on through the town.

reflections at wall + wmDSCF1797

By the 1890s farming activities were increasing and water was becoming more thinly distributed. A group of far sighted farmers investigated the possibility of building a dam on the river 5 kilometers north of Calitzdorp to secure the water supply for their farms for the future. In 1893 planning for the dam began, although irrigation from the Nel’s river had already been practiced for some one hundred years.

The farmers founded the Water Board with Mr B L Saayman as their first Chairman.

Two dams planned

A little known fact is that when the Irrigation scheme was first planned, provision was made for two dams, one below the other on the Nel’s river.  This is shown on the historic map of the scheme housed in the University of Cape Town’s Special Collections map archives, in the Report of the Chief Inspector of Public Works for the year 1895 – see below.  How useful this additional dam would have been with the extreme drought experienced today (2017-2018)

UCT Special Collections map detail of 2 dams 1895

UCT Special Collections map detail of 2 dams 1895


UCT Special Collections-Map of Calitzdorp Irrigation Scheme 1895

UCT Special Collections-Map of Calitzdorp Irrigation Scheme 1895

Progress was halted by the South African war of 1899-1902 and the acute depression that followed.

Calizdorp dam – construction begins

In 1913 work started on Dam number 2. The designs had been drawn up by the Union Irrigation Department and would make history as the first mass concrete dam wall for irrigation purposes in the country. Dam number 1 was never built.

wall undr construction image006The Resident Engineer was Mr R J Garratt, his assistants Messrs P A Taylor and L Levinkind, student engineers seconded to the project to gain experience.

  • The dam wall contained about 110,000 tons of concrete,
  • 700 feet (213.36m) in length at the coping,
  • 100 feet (30.48m)  in height from the original river bed level to the top
  • 112 feet (34.14m) in height from the lowest foundation level to the top.
  • 74 feet (22.5m) Maximum thickness at the bottom
  • 8 feet (2.44m).top thickness
  • The capacity of the dam when full would be 205 million cubic feet (5 804 954 cubic meters) with the spillway capable of discharging 11,900 cusecs.

Routine construction difficulties occurred – amongst other things for example – the works being held up by erratic, infrequent cement deliveries. and work hours having to be altered due to periods of extreme summer heat when all workers remained under shelter for the three hottest hours of the day. There were few accidents.

nels river dam - during buildingMajor plant included a cable way of 1,100 feet (335 meter) span, capable of delivering 3 tons of material, stone or concrete, to any part of the works every six minutes; a stone crushing and concrete mixing unit capable of turning out a cubic yard (.765 cubic meters) of concrete every six minutes – and all driven by one 36 BHP suction gas engine; two subsidiary portable concrete mixing plants, and an extra stone crusher, hand cranes, light rail track, cocopans and trollies, wagons, Scotch carts, mules and donkeys and water supply plant. The concrete was mixed all through in the ratio of 6 crushed stone to 2.5 parts sand to 1 part cement.  It was placed, tamped and spaded against timber shuttering and worked out at 36/- per cubic yard inclusive.

All carting of cement and stores from Oudtshoorn, 40 miles distant (64.37 kilometers), was done by contract.

dam catchment map

Dam catchment map

The cement cost 8/- per 188 lb bag delivered. Sand was carted 5 miles (8 kilometers) both in the Board’s own wagons using donkeys and mules in the transport, as well as by many small contractors.

The canal system consisted of one canal cut in rock on the left bank for nearly two miles (3.21 kilometers)  below the dam and designed to carry 21 cusecs. At the end of this section the canal bifurcated, the left bank continuation of 13 miles (20.92 kilometers) taking 12 cusecs and the right bank canal continuation of 9 miles (14.5 kilometers) taking 8 cusecs.

Construction of both canals included 3 road crossings by deep cut pipes, 12 pipe kloof crossings, 7 siphons and flood escapes.


It was also during 1917/18 that the great Spanish  ‘flu epidemic struck, and it is believed – but not verified – that during the last stages of the dam’s construction, there were workers on the site who fell to this deadly disease. It is said that they were treated in a hastily erected field hospital on the koppie above the field of white quartz pebbles near the dam wall.

Mr Garrett, site engineer and staff, sit eoffice 1917

Mr Garrett, Chief ngineer and staff, site office 1917

Fearing the spread of the disease, those who died were buried right there. If true, this historical episode seems to be completely forgotten and the graves – thought to be under that white quatz field,  are no longer visible.  It has been believed for centuries that white quartz promotes healing and repels illness. What better substance to cover graves of those who died from such a dangerous disease and to act as a sterilizer of sorts!  If true, it would be nice to mark this cemetery as a place of remembrance.


The dam overflowed for the first time on 19 March 1922.

Dam safety legislation was implemented in South Africa in 1987. Under the National Water Act 36 of 1998, compulsory evaluations of DWA (Department of Water Affairs) dams were done. It was found that Calitzdorp dam did not meet with the requirements in that the concrete structure’s drainage system was not functional and the capacity of the spillway was insufficient.  Remedial action was undertaken in the early 1990’s improving spillway capacity and the internal drainage system to decrease the influence of uplift.

Site office August 2015

Site office August 2015 


The dam was completed in 1918 and remains Calitzdorp’s main water supply. The inclusive cost of the concrete work was thirty-six shillings per cubic yard and the all inclusive, total cost of the dam was £168,053.18.07.


Construction on the Kammanassie dam near Oudtshoorn started shortly after completion of the Nel’s river dam. Mindful of expenses and difficulty in obtaining necessary equipment from Europe or America, the Kamanassie irrigation board purchased second hand equipment from the Calitzdorp Water Board. These included the reliable, hard working three-ton capacity, 335 m-span cableway together with the 36 HP suction gas engine, a few small crushers and other odd plant.


Site office interior August 2015

Site office interior showing construction,  August 2015

Dam wall 2