If high altitude, extreme weather and a remote, snow-filled landscape are your preference for a perfect winter break – with some snow skiing thrown into the mix, then the North Eastern Cape town of Rhodes more than fits the bill, says Wayne Rubidge, Pam Golding Properties manager for the Karoo.
“Of all the mountainous highlands areas in South Africa, the Cape Province is one of the most diverse and is home to magnificent, high altitude mountain ranges. In these areas you will find some of the most picturesque towns and villages on the continent. And of all the mountain top towns and villages in South Africa, Rhodes, which was voted one of South Africa’s Top 20 Secret Places by Getaway Magazine, is surely the crowning jewel in this category.”
Located in the majestic Southern Drakensberg Mountains at the foot of the highest mountain pass in South Africa – Naude’s Nek Pass, the entire village of Rhodes is a National Monument. Established in 1891 and surrounded by spectacular mountains and winding rivers and streams, much like the Scottish Highlands, Rhodes is situated a mere 20km or 40 minutes’ drive from South Africa’s only ski resort – Tiffendell which is on the slopes of Ben McDhui, at an altitude of some 3000m or three kilometres above sea level. The village of Rhodes itself is 1832m above sea level and 16km south of the Mountain Kingdom of Lesotho. The closest town is Barkley East which is approximately 60km by road through the mountains, while the villages of Maclear, Ugie and Elliot are the nearest towns situated below the escarpment.
As a proclaimed conservation area, Rhodes’ by-laws are in place in order to protect, maintain and enhance the cultural, architectural, aesthetic and historical significance of the area. With most of the buildings being built around the late 1800s and early 1900s, there are a variety of different types and sizes of homes in the village, with architecture mainly a mixture of Karoo and Victorian. Homes include Victorian cottages and houses, Karoo style homes and farmhouse homes. Today Rhodes is home to adventurists, artists, anglers, writers and conservationists and many others who treasure all the benefits of tranquillity and natural beauty in this high altitude mountain retreat.
Says Rubidge: “The village of Rhodes has some beautiful historical homes set in a very rural landscape. Prices of homes range from R600 000 up to a R1 million. Current property opportunities include a two bedroom historic cottage in a quiet area of town with views over the mountains, priced at R700 000, while a fine example of a top end Rhodes home is a fully furnished, newly-built character home with three bedrooms and a loft living area priced at R1.65 million. Vacant stands with scenic views can be acquired for around R350 000. As a result of the limited size of Rhodes village there are only a couple of homes on the market at any given time, and on average about four to five properties are sold each year.”
He says being a National Monument, Rhodes is a ‘lifestyle’ village with the main economic driver being tourism in the village and its surrounding wilderness areas. The village has a hotel, two general dealers and accommodation, coffee shops and the like.
Tiffendell is a major attraction in the area, with snow skiing in winter either on natural or man-made snow, complete with qualified instructors as well as varied accommodation options available at the resort. Weather willing, regular snowfalls can be expected any time from late May onwards, turning the Eastern Cape Highlands into an Alpine delight for both skiers and photographers alike. Rubidge says the importance of the Epson Wild Trout Festival event – one of the longest running festivals in the Cape Province – for Rhodes cannot be underestimated, as this is much more than a fly fishing event. It is a showcase that provides participants with an overview of the entire region and its hospitable residents.
Dave Walker, owner of the local Walkerbouts Inn and chairman of Rhodes Tourism and the Wild Trout Association, initiated the inaugural Stoepsitfees, which was held in February this year (2014) and the annual Fly Fishing Festival, held for the 17th year in March. Says Rubidge: “Walker has been an agent with Pam Golding Properties since 2007 and considers Rhodes the centre of the universe. With the cold winters that can drop to about -15 degrees, the village and its loyal repeat visitors enjoy a great sense of community, with initiatives where locals and tourist raise funds for extra winter blankets for the needy and elderly. The first Stoepsitfees weekend saw homeowners invite residents and visitors to their stoeps with local produce.”
Rhodes is situated approximately 400km from Bloemfontein and East London; 798km from Johannesburg and 1149km from Cape Town. As a result of its high altitude and extreme weather the area is a naturalist’s and birdwatcher’s dream with lots of endemic species and sightings of the Bearded Vulture or Lammergeyer a regular occurrence. Apart from fishing, hiking trails abound, including the Ben MacDhui Hiking Trail which offers one to six day hikes, and the area is also popular for mountain biking and gliding.
Adds Rubidge: “Due to its location and historical status Rhodes offers a sound investment for anyone who loves the outdoors and is looking for a very special getaway place to enjoy the clean, crisp mountain air.”