Slouw coffee trailer in Potchefstroom

Five Things to Do in Potchefstroom

The town of Potchefstroom, 120 kilometers southwest of Joburg in North West province, has several claims to fame:

  1. Potchefstroom is a very old town by South African standards, founded in 1838 by Voortrekker Andries Potgieter.
  2. Potchefstroom is a university town. The Potchefstroom University for Christian Higher Education — now the North-West University Potchefstroom Campus — was founded here in 1869.
  3. Potchefstroom has the longest avenue of oak trees in South Africa — possibly in the entire Southern Hemisphere.
  4. Potchefstroom is a long and difficult (at least for me) word to say. Thank goodness most people call it Potch. (Read more about the origin of the name Potchefstroom.)
Oak trees of Potchefstroom
Historic oak trees lining Steve Biko Street in Potchefstroom. Unfortunately the trees are at serious risk due to development in the area.

I lived 90 minutes from Potch for nearly nine years before going there. I didn’t expect to particularly like it. With the exception of the oak tree story I’d never heard much about Potch, and it isn’t a town that one unexpectedly stumbles upon. It’s not really on the way to anywhere.

But I did finally go to Potch a couple of weeks ago, for about 24 hours. And guess what? I had a great time and didn’t want to leave.

I liked Potch because:

  1. University towns are fun, interesting places. I’d forgotten this because there aren’t many such towns in South Africa. (Most of the country’s prominent universities are in major urban areas and don’t really have that college town vibe so common in America.)
  2. Potch has great coffee shops.
  3. Potch is walkable, especially in the area around the university, and has interesting architecture and landscaping.
  4. The people in Potch, at least the ones I met during my brief visit, are exceedingly nice.

If you happen to find yourself in Potchefstroom for a day or two, as I did, here are five things I recommend you do.

Things to Do in Potchefstroom

1) Walk Die Bult

Die Bult means “the hill” and is a slang term for the blocks surrounding the NWU Potch campus — around Steve Biko and Molen Streets. No one seems to know why Die Bult is called this as it’s not hilly at all. But anyway it’s a pleasant place to walk, with lots of interesting shops and cafés and of course the oak trees.

I was there in June, when the trees were losing their leaves and creating a fragrant brown carpet of oakiness. I loved the smell, which reminded me of home, but didn’t like the sap that stuck stubbornly to the soles of my shoes.

A typical street scene in Die Bult, Potchefstroom.
A typical street scene in Die Bult.
Die Akker restaurant in Die Bult, Potch
Die Akker (which means “The Oak”), a legendary restaurant on Die Bult that has an old-school American diner vibe.

2) Have Coffee

I went for coffee as many times as I could in 24 hours but didn’t get the chance to try all the good coffee shops in Potch. (One can only caffeinate so much in a single day.) I did make it to three great ones.

Multa Coffee

Multa Coffee on Steve Biko Street in Potchefstroom
Multa Coffee, on Steve Biko Street in Die Bult, shares its space with a candy shop called Candy Man and a printing/copy place called OppiCopy. The whole venture is the brainchild of former NWU student Human Bodenstein (above). Multa serves coffee from a local Potchefstroom roaster called Faith Brew, which serves both single-origin African coffees and blends. I loved the quirky vibe of this place and especially loved the coffee.
A kaleidoscope of lollipops at Candy Man in Potch.
A kaleidoscope of lollipops (or suckers, as they’re called here) at Candy Man.

Toro and Dukes

Toro Coffee in Potefstroom
Toro Coffee, on Molen Street, serves a mean americano in a well designed space. And Toro shares its premises with a taco shop (!) called Dukes, which serves tacos from morning until evening.
Tacos and coffee at Toro/Dukes in Potch
Coffee and tacos at 9:00 a.m. The tacos are damn good too, especially considering Dukes owners Michelle and Herman have never been to Mexico. The homemade salsa is delicious. Dukes also sells quesadillas, nachos, Cubanos, and mac and cheese.

Slouw Coffee

Slouw Coffee trailer in Potchefstroom
Slouw Coffee (the name is a play on the owner’s last name, Louw) is a mobile trailer that moves around Potch selling locally roasted coffee. I found them on Myer Street in between Steve Biko and Molen Streets. This was my favorite cup of coffee from the trip.

3) Explore the Campus

Like most college campuses, NWU is historic and pretty. I was fortunate enough to take a tour with Joy, a woman I’d never met who contacted me through Instagram when she saw I was in town. Joy is a Ph.D. student in the music department and I had such a lovely time walking around Potch with her.

Main Building at NWU Potchefstroom
NWU’s beautiful “Main Building”.
Lover's Lane at NWU Potchefstroom
Joy on “Lover’s Lane”, a famous avenue of plane trees on the Potch campus.

NWU has a fantastic art gallery, which I visited briefly but didn’t photograph because the curators were in the midst of setting up a new exhibition by acclaimed artist Gordon Froud. Do check it out if you’re there.

4) Visit the Botanical Garden

The university has a great botanical garden, just up the street from the main campus, which was originally created in 1962 to provide samples for the school’s botany department. Today the garden is open to the public (only during the week, sadly) and is a fun place to stroll through at any time of year. The garden also serves as an outdoor gallery for occasional NWU Art Gallery exhibits.

Winter in the NWU Potch Botanical Garden
Winter in the NWU Botanical Garden.
Potch Botanical Garden
Exploring the wilds of the garden.

5) Lunch at the River Café

Shortly after I met Joy she asked me if I’d been to the River Café yet. I said no. She looked alarmed. “But it’s the best place in Potch!” Joy told me. So we went. And she was right.

Inside the River Cafe in Potchefstroom
Inside the River Café.

The River Café sits at the confluence of the Mooi River and Potchefstroom Dam, just a kilometer or two from campus. The restaurant’s deck is so close to the water that there is almost an island vibe, even in winter. The River Café serves a massive selection of beers from around the world, tasty pizzas, and wonderful deep-fried bites called rissoles that are like jalapeño poppers without the jalapeños.

Outside the River Cafe
Almost-island vibes at the River Café. I can’t wait to go back in summer.

Thanks Potch, hope to see you again soon.

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6 Comments

  • Reply dizzylexa July 15, 2019 at 10:43 am

    You should go again for the Aardklop festival at the end of September.

    • Reply 2summers July 15, 2019 at 10:51 am

      Oh yes, I saw some things about that on the Internet. Looks great!

  • Reply Peter July 16, 2019 at 3:00 pm

    I’ve often wondered what happens in Potch ……

  • Reply Jeroen August 7, 2019 at 4:55 pm

    I remember drifting through Potch on my way to Kimberley once, I should clearly have lingered longer than lunch. Your akker caption threw me, in Dutch that only means field, but in Afrikaans it’s also acorn or oak. Learnt something!

    • Reply 2summers August 7, 2019 at 7:08 pm

      It’s funny, when I was at Die Akker I asked the waitress what the word meant and she said she didn’t know! I wondered later if she just couldn’t understand my American accent.

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