A town ‘unplugged’

Swellendam is the 4th oldest town of South Africa situated in the Western Cape.  The town has over 50 provincial heritage sites, most of them buildings of Cape Dutch architecture.  Swellendam is situated on the N2, approximately 220km from both Cape Town and George – the perfect link between the Cape and Garden Route.  Looking back at History, this is exactly how Swellendam was established. An important part of the Cape Trade Route.

Swellendam is one of the most beautiful towns in the country.  Nestled at the foot of the Langeberg Mountains with many hiking trails, ranging from day walks to a 5-7 day trail .  The area is botanically diverse with an abundance of wild flowers and fynbos. The 250ha indigenous forest at Grootvadersbosch is the most noteworthy in the southwestern Cape.  Woods like these are rare to find in the Cape this far west of the Knysna forests.

Nature lovers enjoy coming to this area to hike, mountain bike or drive scenic routes.  Three nature reserves are situated nearby. Marloth Nature Reserve, Sanbona Wildlife Reserve and Bontebok National Park is where the rare bontebok was protected when it was close to extinction.  The population has increased from 17 individuals in 1931 to a sustainable number today. Wildlife such as the formerly endangered bontebok and Cape mountain zebra inhabit the area. Other species include bushbuck, klipspringer, grey rhebuck, Cape grysbok, baboon, mongoose, genet and the occasional leopard, as well as species of ghost frog and a unique forest emperor butterfly.  Over 200 bird species found near the town include waterfowl, the crowned eagle, black eagle, Narina trogon, paradise flycatcher and the Knysna woodpecker. Witsand a small coastal town about 50 km from Swellendam, is one of the best whale viewing spots on the South coast as it is the largest whale nursery in South Africa.

Swellendam is a flourishing agricultural area with wheat, canola, oats, sheep and dairy farming being practised.  Many farmers and their families are situated in the area. During August the long stretched green and yellow pastures can be seen.  Yellow Canola fields is in bloom and this is when the most beautiful photos can be captured.

The town has many attractive and historic buildings which serve as a reminder of the past.  Over the years Swellendam got filled with many City dwellers and European immigrants who exchanged their busy lives & cold winters for a more unplugged way of life.  This brings more culture and hip to town and these days the area is much more than just another small town. Take a walk or bike ride through town and enjoy the architectural buildings, gift shops, coffee shops and restaurants.


The region has a predominantly Mediterranean climate, with long summer days in January and February.  The best time of year to enjoy the town to its fullest. During February and March, summer draws to a close, with prevailing South Eastern winds.  April and May are autumnal months, with milder days and occasional showers. June and July bring the Cape winter, with mild weather, rain and possible snow on the mountain tops.  August and September are the start of spring.

History of Swellendam

Early travellers and explorers who visited the Cape in the 16th century traded with the Khoikhoi people who lived on these shores and in the interior.  When the Dutch East India Company established a replenishment station at the Cape in 1652, trade continued inland as far as Swellendam.

In 1743 Swellendam was declared a magisterial district, the third oldest in South Africa, and was named after Governor Hendrik Swellengrebel, the first South African Governor, and his wife, Helena Ten Damme.  Swellendam was visited by many famous explorers and travellers including Francois Le Vaillant, Lady Anne Barnard, William John Burchell and Thomas William Bowler.

In 1795 they declared themselves a Republic.  Steyn was appointed as President of the Republic of Swellendam who called themselves “national burghers”after the French Revolution.  The Cape was however occupied by the King of Great Britain in 1795 . With the arrival of British settlers in the early 19th century the Overberg boomed and Swellendam was soon the heart of the mercantile empire of Barry and Nephews, created by Joseph Barry, which dominated trade in the area up until 1870.  The Breede River is the only navigable river in South Africa and ships sailed 35 km up river to Malgas to unload and load merchandise.

Middle 19th century the area was colonised and Swellendam was a thriving metropolis.  The town served as a useful refreshment station on the long, slow journey up the coast

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.