This fertile valley was once a lake, with mainly alluvial soil. Agricultural crops are grown on either side of the two rivers (Nel’s and Gamka – lion in Khoi), up to around 1 km. Early writings show that the Khoi people called Kannaland “the valley with no grass”.
Evidence of early San and Khoi settlements are evident in numerous rock paintings found in the surrounding mountains. The position of many of these are kept gaurded to protect them.
In 1821, land was granted to JJ and MC Calitz who named it Buffelsvlei. (derived from the local vegetation and animals found here). In 1853, the Calitz’s donated land for a church and school to be built, as Oudtshoorn proved to be too far to travel for their monthly “Nagmaal”.
In 1910, the population was 4000 and a larger church and school were needed. Both buildings were completed in 1912. The church has a neo-Byzantine style with a Marseilles roof. It is a good example of the sandstone architecture of the ostrich-era in the Klein Karoo. (It was declared a national monument in 1991).
Also in 1912, building commenced on the old Standard Bank building, presently housing the museum, and the Nel’s river dam. This dam wall was the first of many to be built in South Africa, using concrete. Drought, the great flu epidemic, and the collapse of the ostrich feather industry, played havoc on the fledgling community, which was revitalised in 1924 with the introduction of the railway line (in 1924) and electrification (in 1937). The first cement road in South Africa was also completed around this time and runs between Calitzdorp and Oudshoorn. The new R62 was built in 1978, and although changing the original town drastically, has probably ensured the survival of the town, making it accessible to tourism. Today, this Klein Karoo thriving community is known as the “Port Wine Capital of South Africa”, the “Fruit Basket of Kannaland”, and the “Heart of the Klein Karoo”.