Kaapsehoop is the (long belated) third stop in my #10SouthAfricanTowns project, for which I’m visiting ten small towns across South Africa. Read about my first stop in Val and my second stop in Kameel.

In September 2019, when I was first conceiving the idea for my #10SouthAfricanTowns in 2020 campaign, I went to Kaapsehoop for lunch with my friend Julia. Julia had just moved to Nelspruit, about 30 kilometers from Kaapsehoop, and had already discovered the charm of this magical hamlet.

While we were there, I decided to make Kaapsehoop a part of #10SouthAfricanTowns — it was the first town I officially chose for the project. I planned to visit Kaapsehoop again the following September.

A horse greets me during my first misty visit to Kaapsehoop in September 2019. Kaapsehoop is known for its prolific mist and roving herd of wild horses.

Fast-forward to September 2020. A pandemic hit in March, forcing me to postpone #10SouthAfricanTowns indefinitely. This was very sad. Although South Africa’s provincial borders re-opened in August, I’d pretty much lost my motivation to travel by that time. I thought I might never leave my house in Melville ever again.

But Julia kept asking me when I was going to visit her and I didn’t have a good excuse not to go. Also Julia recently started dating a guy whose family runs a guesthouse in Kaapsehoop. All signs seemed to be pointing me toward a #10SouthAfricanTowns revival in Kaapsehoop. So I went.

My second visit to Kaapsehoop was more magical than I could have hoped.

Magical light in Kaapsehoop
Magical late-afternoon light in Kaapsehoop. According to Wikipedia, these rock formations are made of quartzites.

Kaapsehoop (also spelled Kaapschehoop, which means “Cape Hope” in Afrikaans) is a really unusual little town. Despite the meaning of the name, Kaapsehoop is nowhere near the ocean; it sits on a 1500-meter (4900-foot) escarpment in landlocked Mpumalanga province, overlooking the South African lowveld.

Kaapsehoop was founded in the early 1880s when gold was discovered in Battery Creek, the stream that runs beside the town. But gold-mining never took off in Kaapsehoop and the town fell into decline. Perhaps that explains why Kaapsehoop is now completely isolated — perched at the top of a mountain, surrounded by a Sappi tree plantation.

The view from the top of the escarpment. You can see the Sappi-planted pine trees stretching endlessly into the distance.

Today, this failed gold-mining town is a tourist town, with a couple of hundred residents, a handful of restaurants and pubs, zero paved streets, many B&Bs, a waterfall, and a bunch of wild horses who graze among the misty, moon-like rocks. I didn’t encounter any hobbits during my visit. But I wouldn’t have been surprised if I had.

Kaapsehoop is utterly charming and photogenic and the whole place has a good sense of humor about itself. I could almost move there.

Horse-crossing
Horse-crossing.
Bohemian Groove Cafe
Bohemian Groove Café, one of the three restaurants in town.
Antique shop in Kaapsehoop
The town’s antique shop, which could easily exist in Middle Earth if it were 75% tinier.
Statue with a mask on in Kaapsehoop
One of the only people I saw wearing a facemask in Kaapsehoop.
Funny sign in Kaapsehoope
Kaapsehoop has many street signs along these lines.

24 Hours in Kaapsehoop

I stayed at the Green Venus Guesthouse, right in the center of Kaapsehoop, which is run by Sandra Bouwer and her grandson Jay. As I mentioned, Jay is Julia’s boyfriend and has spent much of his life in Kaapsehoop. This whole arrangement worked out well for me. I had a nice place to stay in Kaapsehoop, a free tour guide who knows everything about the town, and an attractive couple (Julia and Jay) to star in my photographs.

Sandra and Jay Bouwer
Sandra and Jay in front of the Green Venus, which obviously has a green door.
Room at Green Venus
My favorite guest room at the Green Venus — each room was decorated by a different member of Sandra and Jay’s family.
Julia and Jay in the abandoned jail.
Jay and a horse
A moment between man and beast.

Here are a few of the things we got up to during our 24-hour visit:

Battery Creek Waterfall

The dramatic Battery Creek Waterfall is a 20-minute walk/clamber down a ravine across the road from town.

Battery Creek Waterfall from a distance
The waterfall from above.

Fortunately Jay knew that you have to get to the waterfall between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. to properly enjoy it, as that’s the only time the sun shines into the ravine and warms the water enough to swim in. We arrived at just the right time for a swim and it was perfect.

Hanging beneath the Battery Creek Waterfall
Hanging beneath the waterfall.

Kaapsehoop Cemetery

I took a solo walk to the town cemetery, which is very close to the waterfall, on my last morning. It’s a lovely spot and well worth a wander around the graves, which date back to the 1880s.

Entrance to the cemetery
Entrance to the cemetery.
Oldest grave in the Kaapsehoop cemetery
I think this might be the oldest grave — it’s from 1886, a few years after Kaapsehoop was founded.
Shane's grave
My favorite gravestone. This is all it says.

Lunch at Salvador’s

Salvador's in Kaapsehoop

We had lunch at Salvador’s, one of Kaapsehoop’s restaurants, but the only photo I have is this shot of a mural inside the bar. I was suffering from a rare and delayed hangover during this part of the day — due to a crazy (for me) night out in Nelspruit with Julia the evening before — so I really cannot provide a proper review of the meal. It was fairly decent pub fare though. Bohemian Groove, the restaurant next door, is a bit more high-end.

Tour of the Town

Jay took us on a walk around town in the late afternoon, when we checked out some historical sites and had a drink at Nagkantoor, the local pub.

Old jail at Kaapsehoop
The former town jail, thought to be the oldest building in Kaapsehoop.
Nagkantoor Pub
Nagkantoor, which means “Night Office” in Afrikaans.
De Wet Potgieter, a retired South African journalist, moved to Kaapsehoop a couple of years ago and recently opened Nagkantoor. The walls of the pub are decorated with historical newspaper articles and photographs. I had an interesting conversation with De Wet: He worked for the Sunday Times in the 1980s and knew Jon. I’ll have to have a longer chat with him the next time I go.

A Walk to the Escarpment

I was lucky to experience the most perfect light imaginable during our evening in Kaapsehoop. Jay walked Julia and me to one of the best overlooks on the escarpment, which is a ten-minute walk from town.

Julia near the escarpment
Julia near the escarpment.
Julia and Jay on the escarpment
Jay and Julia on the escarpment, which was so much more beautiful than I could capture with my camera.
Jumpstagram on the escarpment
It’s been a couple of years since I did a jumpstagram but this seemed like a good place for one. (Photo: Jay Bouwer)
Walking home from the escarpment
Walking back home.

A final note: When planning your visit to Kaapsehoop, remember there are no ATMs, food markets, or petrol stations in town.

Thanks to Julia for pushing me to do this mini #10SouthAfricanTowns visit. I’m going to continue to do the visits sporadically — for the rest of this year and next year — until I finish. It won’t be on the timeline I initially planned, but hey: That’s 2020 for you.

Thank you to the Green Venus Guesthouse for hosting me in Kaapsehoop.

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