Following the Mission Village Route north from Cape Town along the West Coast, visitors tour some of the less travelled back roads of South Africa to near forgotten historical mission settlements dotted across the country side.
The Route takes travellers through a varied landscape with wild sandy beaches, mystical Cape mountain ranges, deserted plains, vineyards and rolling wheat fields.
The journey starts with a visit to the Mission Association Museum in Long Street, Cape Town to gather information on the missionary movement in Africa. After a fascinating brief on the challenges and successes missionaries experienced during the 1800’s with the establishment of their settlements, visitors head north.
Mission Villages along the Route
First stop on the route is near the picturesque town of Darling at one of the oldest missionary settlements in the country, Mamre. The quaint restored mission complex is set under old shady oak trees – complete with church, parsonage, school, water mill, bakery, barns and stables.
Half an hour’s drive inland from the West Coast, near the town of Piketberg, is the Moravian mission station of Goedverwacht. The little settlement is characterized by simple whitewashed thatched homes with brightly painted windows and doors.
The old water mill, the parsonage as well as the stone church are all National Monuments and are well worth a visit. Stock up on some fresh locally grown produce at the Mission Store before heading out to the neighbouring mission village of Wittewater.
Wittewater nestles against the shady slopes of the Piketberg Mountain. Although many of the original whitewashed and thatched houses have fallen into disrepair, a stroll down the gravelled streets provides a glimpse of times gone by.
The isolated Wupperthal Moravian mission station situated on the edge of the Cederberg is the next stop. The simplistic church, approached through an avenue of gum trees, is an imposing sight and so also the rows of cottages overlooking the Tra-Tra River. Leather shoes handcrafted by fourth generation shoemakers, a Rooibos tea factory supplying organically grown indigenous tea, traditional meals and donkey-cart trips are some of the gems on offer. Tempting homemade fare sold at the Lekkerbekkie shop is a must have before heading out of town to the next stop along the route.
The small coastal missionary settlement of Papendorp overlooks the Olifants River Estuary. Remnants of the old reed-and-mud houses where the fishermen once dwelt can still be seen as well as the rustic little church overlooking the river mouth.
Townsfolk derive their livelihood from fishing in the estuary and from salt-gathering at the nearby salt pans. Traditionally processed salt and fresh fish are up for sale. At the community centre beautiful hand embroidered linen can be bought.
Further up the Olifants River near Vredendal is the historic Dutch Reformed Mission of Ebenhaezer, still a peaceful rural village with cattle and sheep lazily grazing in green pastures.
The arid landscape just south of Bitterfontein houses the Rietpoort missionary. The chiming church bell from a beautiful cathedral still calls townsfolk to daily mass.
Life is simple and unhurried with interesting traditional remnants on view. Sample traditional fare baked in outside clay ovens or cooked on cooking fires sheltered by hedges of dried thorny bushes. Guided tours, traditional meals and donkey-cart drives can be arranged. This area is also renowned for its spring flower display, which counts among the best in the region.