The Church of St John the Baptist at 24 Rivers was designed by Sir Herbert Baker, the top architect of his time. This little place of worship in the Waterberg is still the spiritual hub of many Waterbergers, whose families settled here more than a century ago.

Did you know?

The highly talented but ill-fated Afrikaans writer, Eugene Marais, most famous for his novel The Soul of the White Ant, lived and worked in the Waterberg.

The Waterberg community, spread around the small Limpopo town of Vaalwater, is traditionally close-knit.

Consisting mainly of farmers and wildlife operators, and their workers, the people of the Waterberg are outdoor types, adventure-orientated and hardy. They live in the Waterberg Biosphere Reserve, a large and beautiful part of the South African bushveld.

More than 100 years ago, the Waterbergers needed a place of worship. A local named EA Davidson, his wife, Molly, and her two aunts, Katherine and Edith, were the driving forces behind the establishment of the Church of St John the Baptist at 24 Rivers, not far from Vaalwater.

They decided to do it in style, and approached Sir Herbert Baker to design a church for them. Baker was at that stage famous for having designed the Union Buildings in Pretoria (Tshwane), St John’s College in Johannesburg and Groote Schuur on the slopes of Table Mountain in Cape Town.

Baker was, in fact, the face of South African architecture for more than 20 years, from the early 1890s.

Troubles between the aunts and Baker began when the famous architect neglected to list the 24 Rivers church among his body of work.

This angered the commissioning family so much that when he sent his bill for the job, the reported reply was: ‘One does not ask for money to work on the House of God.’

Did Baker get paid? People are still trying to find the answer to that.

But he did a lovely job. The chapel accommodated 33 people, including the preacher. By 1902 services were being held, and it was officially consecrated in 1914.

Since then, a larger place of worship has been built alongside it, but the original church is still the spiritual haven of the descendants of the Victorian-era Waterbergers.

The church is located on a portion of the farm 24 Rivers.

Travel tips & Planning info

Who to contact

Waterberg Biosphere Reserve:
Tel: +27 (0)14 755 4002

Charles Baber Farm Tour
Tel: +27 (0)14 755 4000
Mobile: +27 (0)83 276 0518

How to get here

Vaalwater is about 280km from Johannesburg, or a 3-hour drive or so. From Vaalwater, take the Melkrivier road for 11km. Turn right and take the 24 Rivers road for 10km, then turn left. The church is 500m on your left.

Best time to visit

Definitely winter (June to August), when the days are mild and the nights cold; also the shoulder seasons of spring (September to October) and autumn (April to May).

Around the area

The Waterberg Meander is a great mix of community projects, sites of interest, places to stay and things to do.

Tours to do

It's worth doing the Charles Baber Farm Tour, for a good insight into the agricultural workings and history of the community.

Get around

It's best to drive yourself, and it’s a good idea to get the Waterberg Biosphere staff to help organise your stay in the area.

What will it cost

Costs vary according to your activities and where you stay, but in general a visit to the Waterberg is reasonably priced.

Length of stay

There’s so much to do and see in the Waterberg that it could keep you occupied for anything from a few days to a week or more.

What to pack

Pack for the season and the bush. Pack for game drives and walks. Pack for chilly evenings and hot days.

Where to stay

Check the listed Waterberg Biosphere website for the many accommodation options in the area.

What to eat

The establishments in Vaalwater and the Waterberg Biosphere in general offer a wide variety of dishes – venison being one of the meats of choice.

Best buys

Leather and beaded products from the Beadle Craft Workshop and Shop (located on the Sterkstroom road, 5km from its junction with the Melkrivier road from Vaalwater).