Mission Route – Head off the Beaten Track

The Mission Route along the West Coast of South Africa will take travelers through an incredibly beautiful region of the country, with the Atlantic Ocean washing white sandy beaches, rugged mountains and seemingly endless stretches of croplands, orchards and vineyards. The Sendinggestig (Mission Association) Museum situated in Long Street, Cape Town, is the best place to start the journey, as visitors learn about the history of the mission movement in South Africa, setting the tone for exploring the fascinating Mission Route.

The small town of Mamre is located about an hour’s drive from Cape Town, between the industrial area of Atlantis and the picturesque town of Darling. Mamre was originally established in 1701 as a military and cattle post to protect European settler’s cattle from theft by the indigenous people in the area. In 1808, when the Cape Colony was under British rule, Mamre was transferred to Moravian missionaries who went on to build a thriving mission station that exists to this day. The well preserved historical buildings in Mamre have been declared as National Monuments.

The Moravian mission station of Goedverwacht is situated near the town of Piketburg, about a half an hour’s drive inland from the West Coast. The land originally belonged to Hendrik Schalk Burger, who was a widowed farmer. After the abolishment of slavery, he asked his slave, Maniesa, together with her five children and son-in-law, to remain on the farm to care for him until he died. He left the farm to Maniesa and her descendants in his will, and they sold the farm to Moravian missionaries in 1881.

The Wupperthal Moravian mission station is situated on the edge of the Cederberg wilderness region, in the remote Tra-Tra Valley. The town is in an isolated area that can only be reached via a winding gravel road through the Kouweberg Pass. Wupperthal was originally established by German Rhenish missionaries in 1830, becoming a Moravian mission station in 1965.

Papendorp is one of the few remaining settlements that offer visitors insight into the uncomplicated way of life that used to exist all along the West Coast. Overlooking the Olifants River Estuary, Papendorf has a stunning view over the river and the wetlands, which are the habitat for an astounding variety of birds. Inhabitants of Papendorp make a living out of fishing in the estuary, as well as salt-harvesting at nearby salt-pans, which they process in the traditional way. Further up the Olifants River the Dutch Reformed Mission in the town of Ebenhaezer dates back to 1831 when it was first established by German Rhenish missionaries. The community at Ebenhaezer is linked to that of Papendorp.

Other towns on the Mission Route include Vanrhynsdorp, Rietpoort and Vredendal, which is home to the Vergenoeg Mission Station. Traveling along the Mission Route is a great way to explore some of the off-the-beaten-track towns of South Africa.