Ladismith is in the Klein Karoo on Route 62 between Barrydale and Calitzdorp at the base of the Klein Swartberg mountain range. ‘Oh, you should be here during February or March’, the tourism information lady, whose name we never do get to know, remarks at my obvious hot and bothered state and nods emphatically whilst the electric fan, in front of which I’ve stationed myself, lazily continues on its cycle in the large church interior.
We’re standing in one of the oldest buildings in Ladismith, having only just arrived in the village. We’ve lost the details of our B&B and know little more than its name at this stage. The gorgeous Neo-Gothic Otto Hager Church built in 1874 is unique in the sense that it no longer functions as a church – the congregation having long left its supposed instability for a new church in Queen Street.
The roof and walls, despite claims to the contrary, proved so sound that it remained standing until 1943 when it was subsequently used as both a mill, and a seed store, and then bought by the Restoration Committee who finally re-erected and reconstructed parts of it. Now the Tourism Bureau has its office here, and it is used for weddings and concerts.
The tourism lady is mildly discontented with our meagre one-night stay and makes her displeasure known – ‘You can’t possibly get a feel for the town in only one day.’ she replies to my query as to what the main highlights of the town are.
I refrain from pointing out that a Tourism Bureau is surely there to encourage visitors to see and do as much as possible in a day. Iit cannot be that difficult to give me a run down on Ladismith. Instead I arm myself with a few brochures whilst humming under my breath, and, with the details of our B&B restored to us, we head out to our accommodation but a block away.
Much to my chagrin the tourism lady is correct. Ladismith is not the kind of Karoo town into which you drive, explore the main street on which there are a myriad restaurants, walk around a little and leave imbued with the heady scents and sights of the Karoo. Ladismith requires a little more exertion in order for you to learn its secrets.
Ladismith – originally called Ladysmith after Lady Juana Smith, the Spanish-born wife of Sir Harry Smith, Governor of the Cape Colony, but changed to ‘Ladismith to avoid confusion with its namesake in Natal – sits just off centre of and at the bottom of the split peak known as Towerkop, part of the Klein Swartberg mountain range.
It isn’t immediately obvious to me and I have to ask a group of kids passing on their way to Parmalat, one of two cheese factories in town, by just which peak is Towerkop.
Ladismith lies on Route 62, a little further up the drag than Barrydale but close enough to Ronnie’s Sex Shop that, if you’ve made it that far, you may as well keep going and spend some time in the town.
Towerkop is a striking backdrop to a town filled with some wonderful old buildings and national monuments (Ladismith has its own unique building style known as the Ladismith style, described as a simplified Georgian design of the 1830s). There are only a handful of restaurants and a derth of the usual second homes that dominate so many of the Karoo towns within a few hours of Cape Town. This may well be because Ladismith lies that little bit too far for weekend breaks.
Be that as it may, the village is quiet, the night skies filled with stars, and the bulk of Towerkop a reassuring presence.
We spend the afternoon exploring the streets, snapping pictures of Amalienstein and the Lutheran Church Complex, the City Hall, St Luke’s, the Lithuanian style old Synagogue on Van Riebeek street, and a ‘Ladismith’ Georgian house for sale. A group of children pose against the blue of a wall – they want to see their picture. They’ve obviously been swimming at the local swimming pool, built as a project by the local community – ‘we build together’.
Even our B&B has a history worth repeating as it is the restored building of the old smithy, built in 1856, its old mud and reed ceilings still intact beneath the suspended plasterboard with exposed wooden beams in the kitchen on which tack, saddles and horse shoes would have originally hung.
In hindsight it would have been better to spend more than a couple of days here as there is so very much in the surrounds to do, using Ladismith as your base.
To do in Ladismith
- Otto Hager Church in South Street
- Lutheran Church Complex, mission school, and teacher’s house
- Oakdene, Ye Old Cottage, the Pentacostal Protestant Church, Albert Manor, the old Synagogue, the old Royal Hotel, hoffland Hoyz and other beautiful buildings (find out more at the Tourism Office)
- Visit Wijnhuis for wine tasting
- Visit Ladismith Cheese Company and Parmalat (main employers in Ladismith)
Beautiful drives and day trips from Ladismith
- Hoeko valley – this valley lies east of town on R62, with some incredible views during spring and autumn of the vineyards and orchards (include this in a day trip from Ladismith to Seweweekspoort)
- Zoar and Amalienstein – two pretty former mission stations – roughly 21 km east on R62
- Seweweekspoort – roughly 23km east on R62, this poort has some pretty gorgeous rock formations. It winds through the Klein Swartberg Mountains emerging on the northern side in the Karoo. To make a day of it, turn left at the T-junction as you emerge from the poort and head to Vleiland, Middelplaas and Hartland, returning home via the Rooinek Pass, Vanzylsdamme, Voorbaat and Dwarsrvier valley
- Gamkapoort dam – Start with a visit of the church in Amalienstein, take a drive through Seweweekspoort and turn right at the end of the poort. This takes you to Bosluiskloof Pass and down to the Gamkapoort dam
- Prince Albert – take the Groenfontein road over the Swartberg Pass to Prince Albert for lunch. From there head to Klaarstroom and through Meiringspoort to De Rust for late afternoon tea
- Visit Oudtshoorn
- Buffelspoort Mountain Reserve and Aardvark Nature Reserve
Hikes and mountaineering
- Elandsberg – 12 km route to Stanley’s light (sometimes called Ladismith’s extra star, this is a light erected at 1500m up Elandsberg)
- Towersig – 2-12 km in hills above the town
- Springvale – 3 km on a farm or 15 km through a game enclosure
- Towerkop – 2189 m high, it might not be the highest peak, but it is the most well-known and difficult to climb
- Seweweekspoort – 2325m – the highest peak in the Klein Swartberg and in the Western Cape (good luck!)
- Peak Plaats – 2238m
- Steenslang – 2228m
- Toorkop – 2143m
Useful Ladismith Links
- Ladismith Guest Houses
- Ladismith Accommodation
- Ladismith Self Catering
- Western Cape Hotels
- Karoo Accommodation