Hottentots Holland

The first Dutch colonists in the Cape called the range of mountains they could see in the east the ‘Mountains of Africa’, as if, once conquered, all of Africa would simply open up before them.  When it was found that Khoisan people were already living there, they changed the name to Hottentots Holland.  The route into the Cape interior across the Hottentots Holland Mountains initially followed a game trail known to the Khoikhoi as the Gantouw, a name meaning ‘elands’ path’.  An entry in Jan van Riebeeck’s diary for 6 June 1657 states that the name was given to the area by the Khoikhoi, who called it their Holland, or fatherland.

The route, about 2 km northeast of the summit of Sir Lowry’s Pass, followed a steep and very narrow kloof.  It was a two-day wagon trip just to get from the settlement on the foreshore to the mountains.  Then it was an arduous climb up and down the mountains, the deep ruts carved by the thousands of wagons that crossed the mountain can still be seen in the rocks today.  ‘Over t gebergte’ the Dutch called it when they passed over the Hottentots-Holland mountains. One traveller described the region as follows: “Wij gingen over hooge ruggen en holle clooven.”   At nearby Kanonkop, the Dutch East India Company sited two cannons to signal the arrival of ships in Table Bay and to warn of impending Khoikhoi attack.  The Gantouw was replaced in 1828 by a new route named in honor of Sir Lowry Cole, the Cape Governor at the time.

The Khoikhoi (“people people” or “real people”) are a historical division of the Khoisan ethnic group, the native people of south-western Africa, closely related to the Bushmen (or San, as the Khoikhoi called them).  They had lived in southern Africa since the 5th century AD.  When European immigrants started colonizing the area in 1652, the Khoikhoi were already practising extensive pastoral agriculture in the Cape region, with large herds of Nguni cattle.  The European immigrants labelled them Hottentots, in imitation of the sound of the Khoisan languages, but this term is today considered derogatory.  

Today, the Hottentots Holland Mountains are easily accessible and the nature reserve of the same name is a wonderful starting point for expeditions.  The reserve office at Nuweberg (near the town of Grabouw) serves as base camp to hikers and kloofers, and to visitors generally.  The Hottentots Holland Nature Reserve lies in the Hottentots Holland mountains, some 90km south-east of Cape Town.  The 70 000ha reserve stretches from Elgin in the south to beyond Villiersdorp in the north, and from the Stellenbosch mountains in the west, eastwards to the Groenland mountains. The entrance to the reserve is at Nuweberg, high in Viljoen’s Pass between Grabouw and Villiersdorp.

The terrain is rugged and very mountainous, with altitudes ranging from 500m to 1590m.  The annual rainfall may be as high as 3300mm on the Dwarsberg plateau and the winds are frequent and strong.  Summers are generally mild and dry.  Weather conditions in the mountains can be unpredictable and dangerous.  The reserve is important for the conservation of mountain fynbos with approximately 1300 species occurring here, including several rare and endemic plants. Small populations of grey rhebuck, klipspringer, common duiker and grysbok occur.  Leopard also frequent these mountains but are seldom seen. Approximately 110 bird species have been recorded on the reserve, amongst them several species of raptor.  Contact Road Travel to find out more about this awesome area.