Hidden Gems, Rhodes Village

There are many different places in South Africa that are considered ‘hidden gems.’ This can be because of their remote location, time honored beauty, or that they are places that shouldn’t be passed up when visiting this beautiful country. Some are hidden away in rugged mountains, others on the coasts. One of these hidden gems, one that has stood the test of time is Rhodes Village. Declared in 1997 as a conservation area, this quaint town is nestled in the Eastern Cape Highlands. It is surrounded by magnificent mountains, including the highest mountain pass in South Africa, as well as clear pristine rivers.

The first peoples to live in and around this area were the Sans tribe, a migratory community that would follow the journey of the game out of the harsh mountainous regions in Winter into more mild climate. It wasn’t until the late 1800’s that white farmers also discovered the area, mostly Dutch, and settled into what is now Rhodes Village because of the mild temperatures, fertile lands, and relative seclusion.

The village was named after Cecil John Rhodes, who at that time was the Capes’ Prime minister. The Dutch Reform Church was erected on the farm belonging to Jim Vorster, who had agreed to establish this as a village, with the conditions that there were 100 different plots of land immediately available, and that it was to be named Rhodes Village. From there it was mostly settled by Dutch and Irish immigrants, homes were established, schools, and places of worship.

Because of its remote location, most of the old victorian architecture remains, adding to the charm of the town and the surrounding area. The village has gone through several different phases, from an agricultural gold mine in the beginning. As these settlers’ fortunes started to decline, the village almost died off until the late 1970’s. It was then discovered by a group of settlers seeking to live a more primitive, alternative lifestyle, living more ‘off the land.’ In time, the area was settled by ruralized yuppies, and the village became more of a off the beaten path tourist destination, and was established as a Conservation Area in the late 1990’s.

Now this hidden jewel has many different things to see and do. There are many different types of accommodations to choose from, the Rhodes Hotel and Walkerbouts Inn are just some of the finer places to stay. The Rhodes Hotel is one of the oldest, established just before the turn of the twentieth century. Built originally as a stop for travelers exploring the region, it was at first known as the De Wydeman Pub. Many adventurers, traders and farmers came here to gamble and have a great evening, with many fortunes won and lost. In order to continue offering visitors a glimpse into the past, this pub was painstakingly restored. This hotel still offers accommodations to travelers, acting as a temporary home to those who visit the area for the fly fishing, the Winter skiing, and many other attractions this area has to offer.

There are numerous activities in and around Rhodes Village. There are several fly fishing establishments, as well as adventure packages that can take you to some of the highest peaks in the areas. There are four wheel drive adventure packages that offer the ‘Eight Passes Challenge,’ as well as many self guided bicycle and 4X4 trails for the self adventurer. There are also two main yearly events and festivals that occur here and attract many visitors, the Rhodes Extreme, and the Rhodes Trail Run.

The Rhodes Extreme, also known as the Rhodes Challenge, is a an extreme team mountain bike race. This is a two day race, taking bikers over some of the roughest terrain in the area. It is run on a clover leaf patter, out of the village itself and around the Drakensberg Highlands. It is an event that happens each year in late September, on the Heritage Day weekend.

The Rhodes Trail run is a timed race that takes runners from the hamlet up a 1:3 gradient to the 2,670 meter Lesotho View, then runs through the Ben MacDhui snow area, and back to Rhodes. This is a limited entry race, with contestants racing on an invitation only basis.
These are just some of the attractions that bring tourists here year after year. You can find out more information about Rhodes Village online from a number of different websites.