Molteno to Aliwal North – the Stormberg route
Did you know?
Molteno is known as the ‘Home of Ouma Rusks’ – a well-loved South African dunking biscuit.
The Stormberg route is a slow, meandering route between Molteno and Aliwal North in the Eastern Cape during which you imbibe all the local flavours, customs, characters and cultures of the area. There is rich history around here, from the early presence of the San to the many South African (Anglo-Boer) War battles that took place all over these mountains, and beyond.
Molteno is known for many things. It was first a booming coal town. Because of the abundance of good building sandstone in the area, it is blessed with sturdy, attractive homes built long ago. There is also a lot of San art in the mountains around here, and some quirky humour in its main street in the form of a sign advertising food from the Hungry Denn: ‘Stop and eat or we’ll both starve to death...’
Another important fact you should know about Molteno is that it gets very, very cold in the winter months of June to August. With a record low temperature of -18 degrees Celsius (28 June 1996), it vies with Sutherland in the Western Cape as South Africa’s coldest town. Locals will, of course, tell you Molteno is without doubt the coldest of them all.
From Molteno we head to Dordrecht, the farming town that lies in the Stormberg Mountains. Like Molteno, Dordrecht is part of the merino sheep agri-business in the area and also has a number of lovely sandstone homes.
We stay overnight in Dordrecht at the Grey Street self-catering establishment, which means we have to go on a quick grocery shop to the local Quicksave convenience store. We ask the Grey Street owners, Tim and Shari Salmon, for the keys to the Anderson Museum for an interesting insight into local lifestyles from a century ago. Look out for the maize sheller, the old petrol pumps, and the rather frightening dentist’s chair.
The next morning we tour the area, enjoying the snow-dusted Stormberg foothills and seeing the end of the so-called ‘Dragon’s Tail’ – the southern Drakensberg peaks.
We drive on through the rather spectacular Barkly Pass to the town of Barkly East. But we don’t tarry long, because tonight’s stop is in the village of Rhodes and there's about 40km of mountains to cross.
Finally, we check into Walkerbouts Inn and make for the bar where owner Dave Walker is pouring the first round of the evening. It’s starting to chill down outside, and the hospitality and warmth at Walkerbouts are very welcome.
The next morning we head back through Barkly East on the R58 to Lady Grey, where we'll spend the night. It’s only 50km on to Aliwal North and we’ll make a slow drive of it tomorrow...
Travel tips & Planning info
Who to contact
97 Grey Street (self-catering accommodation, Dordrecht)
Tel: +27 (0)45 943 1642
Cell: +27 (0)84 577 2222
Wild Mountain Adventures
Tel: +27 (0)79 536 3996
Walkerbouts Inn (Rhodes)
Tel: +27 (0)45 974 9290
Lady Grey Tourism
Tel: +27 (0)51 603 0176
How to get here
From Aliwal North, head down the N6 for approx. 90km, passing Jamestown, and turning west on the R56. Molteno lies about 20km from the N6 turn-off.
Best time to visit
The best time to tour the area is in the spring (September to October) and autumn (April to May). The winters (June to August) are spectacularly snowy in these parts, and difficult to travel in.
Around the area
Visit the famous eight mountain passes between Lady Grey and Barkly East.
Tours to do
Wild Mountain Adventures will script up a tour for you that includes fishing, San rock-art trips, driving the mountain passes and walks.
Driving yourself is the best travelling option for this route. You don't need a 4x4.
What will it cost
Self-catering accommodation in the area will cost you no more than R250 per person or so, per night.
Length of stay
Set aside three days for the Stormberg route.
What to pack
Pack seasonally, informally and throw in something warm for the evenings. And don’t forget those hiking boots.
Where to stay
Recommended are the Grey Street self-catering accommodation in Dordrecht, the Walkerbouts Inn in Rhodes and any number of guest houses in Lady Grey – see listed websites for details.
What to eat
Most of the menus in guest houses around the Stormberg Route will feature good, hearty country dishes that match the high mountain climes you travel through.
Rhodes and Lady Grey in particular hold a number of festivals and events throughout the year – check the listed websites for details.