There’s a lively spirit in the Amandelboom community of Williston village in the Upper Karoo, where you still find the legends of the River Snake, old corbelled houses, swathes of windmills across the horizon, sunsets you want to bottle, miniature-horse farms and beautiful hand-crafted tombstones of long-dead settlers.

Did you know?

Local choirs used to stand on the 2 'Singing Hills of Williston' and perform spiritual songs.

Should you ever find yourself on a Sunday stroll around Amandelboom, the so-called coloured township of Williston village in the Upper Karoo, best you not be hung-over.

That's because, at any moment, you might turn the corner and encounter the Williston Brigade in its full, blaring, marching, joyous glory, waking saints and sinners alike before the Sunday church services begin.

Amandelboom was the original name of this little Northern Cape village on the Sak River, which began life as a Rhenish Mission station in 1845. It was named after the wild almond tree where the first missionaries encamped, and then renamed in honour of the then-Colonial Secretary of the Cape, Colonel Hampden Willis.

But back to the Williston Brigade, and modern-day Amandelboom. Brigade leader Major Cyril Swart says every time his band marches, 'two or three join our flock'.

The local population is predominantly Nama (of Khoikhoi descent), and the older generation still talks of the River Snake that can turn into a beautiful woman, or a dust devil, at will.

This legend stretches far up into the Richtersveld, to the original River Snake abode, the Orange River. There was once a mystical connection between the River Snake and the coming-of-age ceremonies of the young Nama girls of the region.

Another talented Amandelboom outfit is Mieta's Riel Dance Group. The “Riel” is the ancient cultural dance of the Khoikhoi.

The group – there is an adult group and a children's group – performs a variety of cultural dances where it features the indigenous wild animals in the environment, including the dassie and baboon.

Mieta's Riel has entertained visitors from all over the world and performances can be booked through the owner of 'Die Ark' – a well-known guest house in town.

And if this was 200 years ago, they would probably have gone down to the Sak River and performed for the Great Snake as well.

Travel tips & Planning info

Who to contact

Die Ark at the Williston Mall
Tel: +27 (0)53 391 3659
Email: pieter-naude@hotmail.com

How to get here

Williston lies on the R63 between Calvinia and Carnarvon in the Northern Cape province. The driving distance from Cape Town to Williston is about 450km.

Best time to visit

Spring/early summer: August to October; Autumn: April /May. Summers are blisteringly hot, winters brutally cold.

Around the area

Corbelled houses, the Tombstone Route and day trips to Sutherland – home to SALT, the largest telescope in the southern hemisphere. Sutherland is 140km from Williston.

Tours to do

Book a tour of SALT through the Karoo Highlands Tourism Office.

Length of stay

Spend two days in Williston if you can.

Where to stay

There are a number of B&Bs, and self-catering and guest house options in Williston.

What to eat

This is meat country, so if you have carnivore tendencies you can enjoy succulent lamb chops and steaks at most establishments in the village.

What's happening

Williston Winter Festival, August