A Church kicks off the town
This fertile valley was once a lake, with mainly alluvial soil. Agricultural crops are grown on either side of the two rivers (Nel's and Gamka - lion in Khoi), up to around 1 km. Early writings show that the Khoi people called Kannaland "the valley with no grass".
Evidence of early San and Khoi settlements are evident in numerous rock paintings found in the surrounding mountains. The position of many of these are kept gaurded to protect them.
In 1821, land was granted to JJ and MC Calitz who named it Buffelsvlei. (derived from the local vegetation and animals found here). In 1853, the Calitz's donated land for a church and school to be built, as Oudtshoorn proved to be too far to travel for their monthly "Nagmaal".
In 1910, the population was 4000 and a larger church and school were needed. Both buildings were completed in 1912. The church has a neo-Byzantine style with a Marseilles roof. It is a good example of the sandstone architecture of the ostrich-era in the Klein Karoo. (It was declared a national monument in 1991).
Also in 1912, building commenced on the old Standard Bank building, presently housing the museum, and the Nel's river dam. This dam wall was the first of many to be built in South Africa, using concrete. Drought, the great flu epidemic, and the collapse of the ostrich feather industry, played havoc on the fledgling community, which was revitalised in 1924 with the introduction of the railway line (in 1924) and electrification (in 1937). The first cement road in South Africa was also completed around this time and runs between Calitzdorp and Oudshoorn. The new R62 was built in 1978, and although changing the original town drastically, has probably ensured the survival of the town, making it accessible to tourism. Today, this Klein Karoo thriving community is known as the "Port Wine Capital of South Africa", the "Fruit Basket of Kannaland", and the "Heart of the Klein Karoo".
Geology of the Little Karoo
The geology of the region bears no resemblance to that of the Great Karoo.The valley is an integral part of theCape Fold Mountain Belt, with the two ranges on either side composed of extremely hard, erosion resistant,quatziticsandstonebelonging to the 450-510 million year old Table Mountain Group (i.e. the oldest layer of the Cape Supergroup). The valley floor is covered, in the main, by the next (younger) layer of the Supergroup, namely the much softer Bokkeveld shales. The dolerite of the Great Karoo did not penetrate these rocks, and so Karoo Koppies are not seen in the Little Karoo.
The Little Karoo contains two other geological features that give the landscape a special character. During the erosion of the African interior following the bulging of the continent during the massive lava outpourings that ended the Karoo sedimentation 180 million years ago, some of the eroded material was trapped in the valleys of the Cape Fold Mountains, especially during theCretaceous period, aboutThe second special geological feature that marks the Little Karoo, is the 300 km long fault line along the southern edge of the Swartberg Mountains. The Swartberg Mountains were uplifted along this fault, to such an extent that in the Oudtshoorn region the rocks that form the base of the Cape Supergroup are exposed. These are locally known as the "Cango Group", but are probably continuous with the "Malmesbury Group" that forms the base ofTable Mountainon theCape Peninsula, and similar outcrops in theWestern Cape. In the Little Karoo the outcrop is composed oflimestone, into which an underground stream has carved the impressively extensiveCango Caves. to years ago. These "Enon Conglomerates", as they are known, were deposited by high energy, fast flowing rivers,and are found between Calitzdorp and Oudtshoorn, where they form the strikingly red "Redstone Hills”.
Cape Floral Region
Calitzdorp falls within The Cape Floral Region which has been called the world's hottest hot-spot for plant diversity and endemism. Its flora is so diverse and unique that it warrants classification as one the world's six principal floristic regions. In less than 0.38% of the area of Africa it has nearly 20% of the continent's flora and five of its twelve endemic families. Although the entire floral region is only 90,000 km2 in extent, it is home to 8,996 plant species and 988 genera, with 32% of its species found nowhere else in the world.
The world heritage site comprises an ‘archipelago' of eight protected areas encompassing as much as possible of this floristic diversity and the range of ecological conditions, soil types, rainfall regimes, and elevation found in the region. It stretches from the Cederberg to the Cape of Good Hope and includes the Boland Mountains, De Hoop Nature Reserve, the Swartberg mountains and eastwards to Baviaanskloof.
In 2004, the "Cape Floral Region Protected Areas" were inscribed as a World Heritage Site. The site includes eight representative protected areas:
- Table Mountain National Park
- Cederberg Wilderness Area
- Groot Winterhoek Wilderness Area
- Boland Mountain Complex (Limietberg Nature Reserve, Jonkershoek Nature Reserve, Assegaaibosch Nature Reserve, Hottentots Holland Nature Reserve, Kogelberg Nature Reserve)
- De Hoop Nature Reserve
- Boosmansbos Wilderness Area
- Swartberg Complex (Swartberg Nature Reserve, Gamkapoort Nature Reserve, Towerkop Nature Reserve)
- Baviaanskloof Mega Reserve
The United National Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) on 9 June 2015 approved the designation of the Gouritz Cluster ecosystem as a Biosphere Reserve, bringing the the total to 9.
The Gouritz Cluster Biosphere Reserve is the only area in the world where three recognized biodiversity hotspots converge ( Fynbos, Succulent Karoo and Maputoland-Tongoland-Albany). The entire domain falls within the Cape Floristic Region, the smallest but one of the richest of the six floral kingdoms of the world. The reserve is rich in endemic plant species with more than 670 plant species. Even the arid inland portion of the reserve is rich in endemic species with at least 400 plant species.
Visit UNESCO for more info
Why Port ?
Calitzdorp falls within the wine route of the Klein Karoo, on the eastern border of the Western Cape. It is located within a basin surrounded by a number of large mountains - to the North, the Swartberg, to the South the Rooiberge and to the West the Mountains of the Huisrivier Pass.
Summers are very hot during the day, mainly a dry heat, up to 40ºC. Winters have sunny days, very cold nights with occasional frost and snow often falling on the surrounding Swartberg Mountain Range. Rainfall is approximately 200mm per year, often with the changing of seasons. Prevailing winds are mainly from the south in summer and hot wind from the North in August.
Due to the very dry soil of the area, and the alluvial soils that are used in farming, Calitzdorp has often been considered the Douro Valley of South Africa. The original valley in Portugal is the home of Port, and Calitzdorp is home to many port-wine making wine farms. The ground here is particularly accommodating to plants that enjoy very dry weather, including the Port blend grapes Tinta Barocca and Touriga Naçional.
As well as being the Port Capital of South Africa, the Calitzdorp district is also able to produce a range of distinct red blends, which can be similar to the wines of Portugal, or may resemble Brandy or Cognac. The very dry climate of Klein Karoo does not suit most wines, but the Calitzdorp district has found a way to produce internationally recognised fortified wines.