Vegetation, Wildlife & Birdwatching
Suurbraak is surrounded by gorgeous ancient forests, hidden streams and waterfalls, with the Marloth Nature Reserve and Grootvadersbosch Nature Reserve (both World Heritage Sites) on either side. One of many enticing features of the area includes the Wonder Kloof, an incredible geological crack in the east-west Langeberg Mountain range dressed by 200m high waterfalls on either side of the kloof. Suurbraak is regarded as the “Waterfall Capital of the Overberg”.
This is the most significant stretch of indigenous afromontane forest left in the south-western Cape, with nearly all of the 35 typical forest tree species including yellowwood, stinkwood, Cape beech, wild olive, assegaaibos, cherrywood and hard pear.
The valley is also home to fynbos and renosterveld (which is critically endangered).
There are several species of protea and more than 25 species of erica, most of which flower in November.
The area is home to many small mammals, including the grey rhebok, klipspringer, common duiker, baboon, caracal, mongoose, porcupine, dassie and hare. Marloth also has leopard, but they are rarely seen.
Sighting a subspecies of the Forest Emperor butterfly, the Cape Ghost frog, or the Grootvaderbosch Dwarf Chameleon would be the highlight of a visit here, as they can only be found in Grootvadersbosch forest area.
An excellent birding destination with more than 196 bird species regularly spotted, including the African Fish eagle, African Crowned eagle, Wood owl, Red-Winged francolin, Tambourine dove, Forest buzzard and four different species of woodpecker.
Things to do
- Hiking trails – guided or alone (4 trails in Suurbraak, as well as trails in Grootvaadersbosch & Marloth)
- Mountain biking trails
- Bird watching
- Swimming in the river or rock pools, or for a change of pace visit the natural pools and waterfall at Tradouw Pass
- Take a horse-drawn cart ride with “Dawie’s Village Cart Rides”
- Explore the village with its historical sites and cultural attractions
- Grab a bite to eat at Paradise Organic
- Pick your own berries or taste a few of the ten unique South African Liqueurs available at Wildebraam Berry Estate
- Visit the Faery Sanctuary, Drosdy Museum or Bukkenburg Pottery Studio in Swellendam
- Take a day trip to Barrydale to experience some of the local highlights, including Barrydale Cellar, Hand Weavers, and the Magpie Art Collective.
Suurbraak was originally called “Xairu” by the Attequa KhoiKhoi / Quena tribe who originally founded a village here. “Xairu”/”Xairi” means “paradise” or “beautiful” – and it certainly lives up to its early name.
The town’s current name, Suurbraak, came from “Zuurbraak” (Dutch) or “Sour Brake”, an early nineteenth century term referring to the masses of “sour ferns” (aka bracken) that grows abundantly throughout the area.
Next door to Zuurbraak, a trading post was established in 1667, which later became the town of Swellendam, officially founded in 1747 when the Drostdy was built to house the landdrost (magistrate).
For a momentous few months in 1795, it was one of the capitals of the world!
Then, angered by the misrule of the Dutch East India Company, its handful of citizens dismissed their magistrate, declared a republic and appointed a president.
Three months later the British took over the Cape and the little republic passed into history.
The Dutch East India Company assumed ownership of land that was Khoikhoi territory and it was cleared of fynbos as farming ensued.
The arrival of these settlers in the Overberg (as elsewhere) was catastrophic for the indigenous inhabitants. The bartering impoverished the Khoikhoi, and diseases (particularly the smallpox epidemic of 1713), land competition, alcohol and tobacco decimated the clans of the Hessequa’s.
Many entered the service of the European settlers and were lost to their clans. Missionary settlements became a refuge for some.
In 1809, the Attaqua tribe’s (last) Chief, Hans Moos, invited the London Missionary Society to send a missionary to minister to the 300-400 people in his kraal (settlement).
In 1812, the London Missionary Society arrived and built a mission station which you can still see today in the main town.
As written by Matthew Mentz in his paper “Unearthing the determinants required for off-grid subsistence: a case study” (Mentz, M. 2013), the London Missionary Society ceded 2755 hectares of land to the inhabitants of Zuurbraak in 1812 (the same year of building the mission).
But according to the Swellendam Municipality Heritage Report, the land was surveyed and transferred to the London Mission Society in 1873, and only later in 1877 when the church buildings were sold to the Dutch Reformed Church was the land returned to the inhabitants.
Either way, today the land is held in trust by Swellendam municipality, whilst still belonging to the original villagers decedents.
By the 1850s, British settlers had colonised the eastern parts of the area, and Swellendam prospered as a replenishment stop. Boats laden with provisions were sent via Malgas down the Breede River to the ships waiting near Infanta harbour.
A split in the congregation of Zuurbraak resulted in the building of a separate Anglican church and school in 1883. By now the village was well established, with some 2500 inhabitants, 18 teachers, over 400 students and nearly 500 houses (there is still a major housing shortfall in Suurbraak today as housing promised by the ANC government has not yet materialized).
In 1948 the National Party came into power and instituted the Apartheid (‘seperateness’) policy, along with enacting the Group Areas Act. Zuurbraak was renamed Suurbraak, and was proclaimed a ‘Coloured’ village’ in 1960, forcing the removal of any white inhabitants. Since the end of Apartheid a small community of white inhabitants (2.6% as of the 2011 census) has resettled in the area, and Afrikaans remains the predominantly spoken language.
Although some of the original character of the domestic architecture of Suurbraak has been lost or destroyed, the village still presents a historically interesting representation of the unique vernacular architecture, layout and cultural heritage of mission towns.
A large number of its mud-brick and thatch (later iron-roofed), two- or three- roomed cottages survive, many on or attached to smallholdings.
“But not found in most other mission stations is a type of double-storeyed house peculiar to Suurbraak, five or so of which are still left. Their upper floors have tiny windows sometimes placed slightly inwards giving them a curious ‘squinting’ look. Small pediments are set in the centre of their plain cornices.” – H Fransen (2007)
In June 2011, the Swellendam Municipality area, which includes Barrydale, Suurbraak, Malgas, Infanta and Stormsvlei, re-declared itself a Republic.
This republic is dedicated to the principles of the New South Africa, and celebrates rural life, racial harmony, respect for nature and wildlife, and aims to promote sustainability and an “unplugged” way of life for all to enjoy.
CREDIT TO SOURCES:
- Hendrik Mentz – Suurbraak
- Wikipedia – Suurbraak
- Wikipedia – Swellendam
- IOL – Starry, Starry Nights at Suurbraak
- Fergus Murray – Rural Townships in the Western Cape
- SABC News – Suurbraak The Paradise (Xairy)
- Swellendam The Gram – Paradise Rediscovered
- Overberg Info – Suurbraak, Zuurbraak Shining Bright
- South African History Online – Group Areas Act of 1950
- Matthew Mentz – Unearthing the Determinants Required for Off-Grid Subsistence: A Case Study
- Open Africa – Xairu Blue Crane Route
- Swellendam Municipality Heritage Report
- eGGSA Library – Steyn