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About Fraserburg

Fraserburg, a little-known farmer’s town in the Northern Cape, actually punches well above its weight when it comes to local attractions – and interesting residents.

The most astounding feature in the Fraserburg district is a footprint on a farm. About 252 million years ago a lumbering bradysaurus strolled over a clay bed and left a deep print that you can still see today. It’s now part of riverbed rock.

The local museum is where you start your Ancient Footprint Safari. They have a model bradysaurus and will provide you with a guide to take you out to the farm.

On a stroll around, have a look at the Anglican Church of St Augustines. It was one of many designed by genius architect Sophie Gray, the Victorian-era wife of the Bishop of Cape Town, Robert Gray. It was built in the Gothic style, with no steeple. You’ll find the bell tower next to the church.

Everyone directs you to The Pepper Pot building, which has become the icon of Fraserburg. It’s a rather strange six-sided structure used for the ringing of the old curfew bells.

Fraserburg has friendly people. Just chat to them while you’re on the walk, or in your guest house and pretty soon you’ll have a view of Fraserburg that you never could have guessed at before. It’s an old-time Karoo town – with old-time style.

The Area
The only tarred road into Fraserburg snakes over the Nuweveldberge via the Teekloof Pass from Leeu Gamka. All other roads into the town are gravel, connecting Fraserburg with the distant towns of Sutherland, Loxton, Carnarvon and Williston. Fraserburg sits astride the high Nuweveld Plateau and can be blisteringly hot in summer and very cold in winter. The town occasionally experiences snowstorms as the icy South Atlantic weather fronts sweep over the exposed plateau in the winter months. In 1869 it was so cold in Fraserburg during the winter that the town dam remained iced up until midday. For the most part the town is blessed with almost continuous sunshine and the high altitude, at slightly more than 1200-metres above sea level, ensures that at night you can almost reach out and touch the stars.

Ancient Footprints
On a certain day in 1968, a Karoo farmer by the name of Nic van Gass was stalking across the veld on his property, Gansfontein, near Fraserburg, in a foul mood.

His dam had burst, and water loss in the Karoo is never a laughing matter. But as he walked, he noticed strange footprints in the freshly washed rock at his feet.

Geologists were alerted, and they revealed a water course that went back more than 250-million years to the end of the Permian Period, when two-thirds of present-day South Africa was under sea. This was the time that therapsids, early mammal-like creatures that preceded the dinosaurs, roamed the Earth.

The rock bed laid bare by the waters of the bursting dam used to be clay. As such, it became a fine canvas for evidence of ancient life and is now known as the Gansfontein Palaeo Surface.

You can see the tiny marks left by worms as they foraged and moved about. Even the ripples made by wind over flowing water are evident, as are the small parallel lines of dots left by a brace of ancient beetles.

Wander on and you will spot the pigeon-toed leguaan-like footprints of an Anthiosaurus as it once waddled across the shallow waters. And here, see the passing of very old fish in the form of their fin marks.

Star of this display is what the kids around here call ‘the Croco Monster’ – the single right footprint of a very large Bradysaurus. It stands out so clear it could have been made yesterday.

Why is this so perfectly preserved? The theory is that a pile of soil and debris – at least a kilometre high – must have landed on this spot to turn it from clay to rock over time. What was the cataclysmic ‘event’? Some say it was a comet strike, others prefer the ‘supervolcano’ theory. Either way, the skies darkened and more than 96 percent of all life on Earth simply vanished.

But as you standing tracking ancient life on the rocks of this farm outside Fraserburg, 250-million years are rolled back in a flash...

But wait, there's more!
The three towns of the Karoo Highlands offer an ancient, yet futuristic experience. This is a place where a huge telescope allows you to look back to the beginnings of our Universe 13 billion years, and where pre-dinosaurs roamed the Earth and the First People gazed up to the heavens.

‘Ah, the star place,' people often say when you mention Sutherland. Alongside its sister towns of Williston and Fraserburg, Sutherland is world-renowned for its star-strewn night skies.

The three towns form the triangle of the Karoo Highlands. Sutherland is the best known of the three. This is where you'll find the Southern African Large Telescope (SALT). Launched in November 2005, it is so sensitive and powerful that it can see deep into space and time, back to the earliest light, 13.5 billion years ago, when the first galaxies were still forming.

SALT is a global tourism drawcard, but Karoo highlands Tourism offers plenty of other things to do and see in this star town, including a visit to a tulip farm, the last active volcano south of the equator in Africa (it last erupted 66 million years ago), exquisite hiking trails and museums.

In Fraserburg, you can find 251 million year old pre-dinosaur footprints, embedded in the stone as clearly as if they had walked past yesterday. And the region also has corbelled houses, bee-hive shaped structures so built because there was (and is) no building materials except flat stones.

In nearby Williston you could follow the trail of Cornelius de Waal, a tall semi-literate giant of a man who earned a pittance carving gravestones decades ago. They are so exquisite they remain poignant examples of folk art. In fact you can go on a fascinating Gravestone Route to the cemetery and surrounding farms.

A new tourism route, Walking with the Ancestors, links Karoo Highlands attractions in the towns with stars, dinosaurs and proto-mammals and the first star observations 25 000 years ago.

Journeying in time between the three Karoo Highland towns gives you fresh perspective on life. One minute you're gazing at Saturn, the next you're buying candles from the general dealer.

How to get there
The easiest would be to head to Sutherland from Cape Town, where there is an airport. Take the N1 and when you get to Matjiesfontein, turn left along a winding road. Williston and Fraserburg are fairly short drives away from Sutherland.

Sutherland and the South African Large Telescope (SALT):
On a hilltop outside the Karoo hamlet of Sutherland, the Southern African Large Telescope (SALT) focuses its giant African eye on our universe.
The reason the Southern African Large Telescope (SALT) was erected outside the town of Sutherland, some 370km from Cape Town, is because it is one of a handful of locations in the world that is ideal for stargazing.

Its remoteness, elevation (2 000 metres above sea level), the cold and the absence of light pollution, ensure clear, cloudless skies essential for research.

Tourists who visit SALT during the day can book a guided tour of the interpretive visitor centre and a selection of the research telescopes, including SALT, located on an elevated plateau overlooking a vast expanse of the Karoo.

And while the SALT facility is closed to the public at night, visitors can experience the thrill of astronomy by booking a stargazing session at the visitor centre where two dedicated visitor telescopes, a 16″ Meade and 14″ Celestron, are located.

Nobody is allowed to drive up to the dome facilities on the plateau at night as astronomy research is light sensitive and that's when local and international scientists are at work.

The stargazing session lasts about 90 minutes, but may be cancelled due to inclement weather conditions. Booking is essential.

SALT is an extraordinary international collaboration and has put South Africa at the forefront of 21st century scientific exploration. Such is its magnification that it can see the light of a candle on the moon.

One of the first light images taken by SALT was of 47 Tucanae, an ancient cluster of several million stars about 15 000 light-years from earth. The stars are 10 to 12 billion years old and among the oldest stars in our Milky Way galaxy, which makes them the perfect laboratory for the study of the life, birth, and death of stars.

Astrophysicists are currently unable to explain about 96% of the universe, notably dark matter and dark energy, and they believe images and information gathered from SALT may trigger a revolution more dramatic than the leap from Newtonian to quantum physics.

SALT will assist them to look deeper and more clearly into the dark heart of time and tackle unsolved questions about the universe and our place in it. This means giant leaps for not just those who make it to Mars, but for the whole of humankind.

It is managed by the South Africa Astronomical Observatory (SAAO).

Quick Facts

Province: The Northern Cape
Country: South Africa

Why go?

- Dinosaur footprint can be found on a farm here
- At the Local museum is a great place to start your Ancient Footprint Tour
- Visit the Anglican Church of St Augustines

History icon


The town has a wealth of well-preserved Edwardian and Victorian era buildings and a number of unusual and quirky buildings that are unique to the town. One of the most unusual is the Peperbus or pepper pot which was designed by the Reverend Carel Bamberger and built in 1861 by Adam Jacobs. The building is 8.5-metres tall and has only one door and one window. The building was used at different times by the magistrate, the school board, the public library and the church council. In years past the bell in the Peperbus was rung at 9pm by the village constable to enforce a nightly curfew for the Coloured community of Fraserburg. Originally the bell was mounted at the top of the Peperbus. After complaints by the village constable about having to climb to the top of the Peperbus every evening, the bell was removed and hung at ground level to ensure that the police officer was not inconvenienced. This curfew was discontinued in about 1900. Another interesting building is the powder magazine above the town which was used by the British as an ammunition dump during the Anglo Boer War.

Another extraordinary tale of unfair exploitation involved the Jewish community of Fraserburg who were the pioneer traders and entrepreneurs in the town, setting up their businesses on Rossouw Street during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Rossouw Street was the main street entering the town from Sutherland and ran through the town towards Carnarvon and Loxton. During the 1930s the Afrikaans business community arranged to move the main thoroughfare through Fraserburg one block to the south along Voortrekker Street, where their businesses were located. As Voortrekker Street was now the main thoroughfare through the town from east to west, the Jewish businesses along Rossouw Street collapsed as they were dependent on passing traffic for trade. The Jewish business owners packed up and left the town. The odd kink in the main road entering Fraserburg from Sutherland is all that remains as a recollection of the vanished Jewish community of Fraserburgh.

The celebrated writer and poet A.G. Visser was born on the farm Zaaifontein in a tent, in the district of Fraserburg on 1 March 1878. The precarious existence of the early settlers in the Hard Man’s Karoo in the nineteenth century and a crippling drought in the district of Carnarvon drove his parents to Fraserburg just before his birth. A.G. Visser was published at age eighteen in Ons Kleintji. He twice won the prestigious Hertzog prize for literature, for both his first and second anthologies. His writings were notably simple and musical, making use of traditional verse forms such as the rondeel, intertextual references and techniques such as the switching of idioms, epigrams and spellings.

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