In the year of 1876, a farmer by the name of James Hooper was ambling along the banks of the Karatara River on his farm, collecting stones to aid the digestion of his prized ostriches (yes, strangely enough, ostriches do not have teeth and therefore eat stones to help break down their food). Among this bed of stones something shimmered and caught his eye. He picked it up and suspected that he had stumbled upon a nugget of alluvial gold. His suspicions were confirmed by Knysna’s apothecary and well, the rest as they say, is history.
Throughout history, this precious metal has held the power to seduce and intoxicate mankind and in this case it was no different. Word of the discovery of gold in Knysna’s Millwood Forest spread fast and furiously, luring prospectors locally and from abroad to seek out their fortunes.
The team at Knysna & Partners was recently invited to take part in the Historical Millwood Goldmine Tour, which is one of the activities on the popular Rheenendal Ramble tourist route and which is led by accredited and extremely knowledgeable guide, Andrew Aikman. His captivating tales of the past took us all back in time to this short- lived period in Knysna’s history, when the area was in the grips of man’s relentless thirst for gold. We learnt that a bustling town sprang up and eventually there were up to 1000 people living there. Six hotels were built as well as two schools, three newspapers were established and a host of saloons mushroomed.
The problem was that no one struck gold in any large quantities and as the production was unable to sustain the large number of miners, the result was that the ‘rush’ lasted a little more than a decade.
The first stop on the tour is a visit to Mother Holly’s, one of the only remaining buildings of this gold mining boom. It houses a museum which contains fascinating relics of the past, not only of the gold mining era but also tales of the timber industry that is so deeply ingrained in our history. It also shows images of the iconic elephants that once roamed here, and sadly were hunted in large numbers.
The tour includes visits to two abandoned mines shafts, including the well-known Bendigo Mine, one of the mines in the area bearing reef gold. Walking through these dark chambers blasted out of hard bedrock, one can only imagine the gruelling life of these hopeful miners. Along the route is the restored mining equipment of the Bendigo Mine.
Our tour concluded with a visit to the amazing Tottie’s Farm Kitchen, another destination steeped in history. It is named after Florence Eleanor van Reenen, affectionately known as ‘Tottie’ by the van Reenen family. Born in 1878, she later moved to South Africa from New Zealand as a “Florence Nightingale” nurse during the Anglo-Boer War. In 1922 Tottie opened a general dealer store on her farm named Rheenendal, which is the building where “Totties” is situated today.
Tottie’s Farm Kitchen has remained in the family and is now run by her great-grandson Garth and his wife Marian. Beautiful old artefacts, coupled with antique lace, old photographs, eclectic reclaimed timber and freshly picked roses, gives this country restaurant an exquisite charm. And then there is the food. Their salads are out of this world and their burgers give new meaning to the phrase ‘gourmet burger’! On Sunday’s they offer a buffet to die for!
Looking for something to do over the holidays, check these tours out:
• Gold Mine Day Trip (Thursdays from 09h00) - Jubliee Creek Gold Mine Walk, Lunch @ Mother Holly’s, Gold Mine Tour, High Tea at Totties Farm Kitchen @ R950 per adult
• Mine and Bike Day Trip (Friday’s from 10h00) – Mine Tour, Refreshments at Mother Holly’s, 1hr20min cycle through indigenous forest and fynbos, lunch at Totties Farm Kitchen @ R950 per adult.
• Standard Goldmine Tour (Wed – Sunday: 10h00, 12h00, 14h00) @ R200 per adult
• Combo Deal (Sunday’s from 10h00) – Gold Mine Tour, Buffet Luncheon @ Totties Farm Kitchen @R325 per person.
Bookings essential via Totties Farm Kitchen 074 228 4103/ 044 389 0092