Cape Town - Bonnievale

Route 62 - South Africa

The village of Bonnievale

I've travelled the R62 on numerous occasions over the years and have often seen the turnoff to Bonnievale a small town about 30 kilometres to the east Robertson. Well this weekend I finally took that turnoff and visited Bonnievale. Am I glad I did.

Not in my wildest dreams could I have imagined the scenery that suddenly befronted me. The road from Worcestor to Robertson is dry Karoo bush and although there are some picturesque mountain ranges along the way they are nothing to compare to the scenery one comes across in Bonnievale.

The fields around Bonnievale

This small town grew up next to the Breede River which flows through the Worcester valley and makes its way to the sea at Witsands. Bonnievale has an interesting history which began when Christopher Forrest Rigg moved to the area in the year 1900. He was an immigrant from Scotland who had arrived in South Africa with his parents in about 1863. He first lived in the Transvaal in the town of Barberton with his parents.

His parents wanted him to become a detective but Rigg decided he would rather be a blaster on the gold mines and soon was an expert in the use of dynamite. A skill he would use when he eventually settled in Bonnievale.

In 1893 after divorcing his first wife he married Lilian lsobel Elizabeth Moon who came from the Robertson district. She was 19 years old at the time and over the next few years gave birth to three daughters two of whom died in their infancy. In the year 1900 Rigg and his wife moved to Bonnievale and in 1903 his third daughter was born.

She was a very religious little girl and loved playing in a lucerne field close to their home. In 1911 she became ill with meningitis and on her death bed asked her father to build her a church in her honour. She was buried in her favourite field which then became the family graveyard. Her father kept his promise and built a small Norman-style church in her memory.

The Mary Myrtle Rigg church became the only church in the world to be built at the request of a child. Prior to the arrival of the Riggs in Bonnievale there had been a number of farms in the area and although the Breede River flowed through the district utilisation of its water was difficult.

Part of the canal flowing through the valley

Two farmers from the district saw a possibility of using the river's water for irrigation and decided to build a canal to get the water to their farms and the town. After about three kilometres of the canal were completed they struck a major snag which stopped them in their tracks. The Olifants krans crossed their path and they had no way of getting around it. The canal project could not be completed and both farmers went insolvent.

It was around this time that Rigg arrived in Bonnievale and he immediately set to work building wooden channelling that would allow the water to flow around the Olifants Krans. These channels were set on pillars and chains were anchored to the rocks to keep them in place. Water eventually entered Bonnievale via the canals in 1900. Unfortunately for Bonnievale and Rigg the wooden channels collapsed and the water flowing into the town stopped.

Rigg then decided to use his blasting skills to blast a tunnel through the Olifants krans. Eighty cases of dynamite were used on the project and the cost of this nearly bankrupted Rigg. You might wonder why Rigg was nearly bankrupted and why he had to foot the bill for the canal. On his arrival in Bonnievale he had bought the whole valley which included the town and so it was his responsibility to provide water.

Fortunately a bank came to his rescue and the tunnels were completed and the water flowed once again. Rigg's problems however were not over as the canals broke from time to time stopping the water supply to the town. Eventually in 1914 it was decided to use cement on the canals to strengthen them. It is more than a hundred years ago that the canals were built and they are still in use today.

The interesting part is that the whole of Bonnievale gets its water from them today and that there is not one pump used in the whole system. The whole canal system works on gravity. As a result of the constant water supply the valley has blossomed over the years.

Everywhere you look are vineyards spread out across the valley all of them irrigated by water out of the canals. The land in the valley is very fertile and vegetables and fruit trees are also cultivated. Farms that border the main road into the town have planted rose and canna hedges and when we visited Bonnievale this week they were all in bloom . Long rows of red cannas and white roses together with hundreds of flowering jacaranda trees on both sides of the road welcomed us to Bonnievale.

It is not often that one discovers a jewel but in Bonnievale I think I discoverd one this weekend. The two hour drive to get there from Cape Town is well worth the effort and on your arrival you are rewarded with some of the best scenery you will see anywhere in inland South Africa. Don't drive past the turnoff to Bonnievale next time you are in the district. Take the detour which will take you about 60 kilometres out of your way but will make your day.

2023 Turtle SA - All Rights Reserved