Experience the Northern Cape, South Africa

When September springtime arrives in South Africa, Calvinia is abuzz with ‘flower tourists’ who have come to see the vast swathes of Namaqualand blooms that have made this region an international destination.

The small Northern Cape town is ideally situated for day trips in all directions: the Tankwa Padstal to the south, Nieuwoudtville to the west, Brandvlei to the north and Williston to the east. Along the way, there is always a chance of flower sightings.

Calvinia Gammies Home
Gammie’s Home: A cheerily decorated front garden in Calvinia West. Photo by Chris Marais.

But what makes Calvinia so special all year are its hospitable people and the very special museum in the centre of town.

A former Jewish synagogue building, the Calvinia Museum has a number of interesting display sections. This includes a section dedicated to the once-prominent local Jewish community, dioramas of the first European settlers and the San Bushmen they encountered, and a courtroom jury box commemorating Judge Leopold Greenberg, who presided over the sensational Daisy de Melker murder case in 1932.

To the right of the entrance stands the Makadas Class 24 steam loco that used to haul Calvinia’s wool to Williston, then to Hutchinson and finally onto the main line to the markets of old Port Elizabeth (now Gqeberha).

Calvinia Makadas Train
Makadas train: Museum curator Memci van Wyk and her assistant Adonis de Wee at the Makadas Train. Photo by Chris Marais.

There are also some eccentric displays, designed to catch the eye, like the infamous ‘four-legged ostrich chick’. A Calvinia carpenter, remembered only as ‘Du Preez’, glued two artificial legs to the stuffed chick more than a century ago and charged local children a penny each to view it.

One entire room is dedicated to the ‘Lombard Quads’, born in the Calvinia Hospital in 1951. The Philadelphia Enquirer reported that the Lombard Quads (Klasie, De Waal, Jan and De Villiers) used to sing and rock each other to sleep at night. 

Calvinia Lombard Quads
Lombard Quads: The Lombard Quads Room in the Calvinia Museum. Photo by Chris Marais.

Calvinia abounds with characters, like Boeta Gammie the local entertainer and traffic policeman who, in his time, has also bred German Shepherd dogs, run marathons, guided flower tourists, driven the municipality refuse truck, been a police reservist, an orchestra leader, and a butchery blockman.

Calvinia Boeta Gammie
Boeta Gammie: Calvinia music star Boeta Gammie playing music in the spring flowers of Namaqualand. Photo by Chris Marais.

On the hospitality side, the Coetzee family run the Hantam Huis collection of guest houses in Calvinia, including Die Boeke Huis (The House of Books), which is made available to authors completing their manuscripts.

Calvinia Boeke Huis
Boeke Huis: Die Boeke Huis in Calvinia, where writers come to complete their projects. Photo by Chris Marais.

Dr Erwin Coetzee is also the man behind the Giant Postbox, which stands 6.17 metres high, a shade taller than its counterpart in Australia.

Calvinia Big Postbox
Big Postbox: The Giant Postbox of Calvinia – tallest of its kind in the world. Photo by Chris Marais.

ACTIVITIES

  • Calvinia Museum: Memci van Wyk
    Tel: 083 650 4673

ACCOMMODATION

  • Die Blou Nartjie Guest House & Restaurant
    Tel: 027 341 1263 or 079 881 0566
    Email: herman@nartjie.co.za