Philippolis, Free State
Did you know?
International naturalist, war hero and writer Sir Laurens van der Post grew up in Philippolis.
In the 1960s Africa’s version of Asia’s Grand Trunk Highway – the Great North Road – threatened to swallow up a tiny little southern Free State village on its march from Cape Town to Cairo.
Instead, the N1 bypassed Philippolis and there was great sadness in town. No tourist boom. No filling station and franchise strip mall. No motels and no immediate job bonanza for locals.
Today, as it turns out, that N1 omission was a blessing in disguise. Like a precious butterfly preserved in amber, Philippolis still has most of its Karoo architecture. Centred by the Dutch Reformed church, the town’s wide streets and slope-roofed homes are largely original, unlike those of its more developed Free State counterpart communities.
In the evenings, one feels the soul of the Karoo in a simple walk around Philippolis, where there is little chance of being run over in the traffic – unless you get in the way of a wandering donkey cart. And the night stars are always fine after-dinner entertainment.
Philippolis was born in 1823 as a mission station for the local Khoi. It was founded by the London Missionary Society, represented by Dr John Philip – hence the town’s name.
After the Khoi came the Griqua nation and a succession of their leaders, from Adam Kok I to III. Then the Boers arrived in the area and began farming this semi-arid land. Basotho and Xhosa people followed shortly thereafter.
Today, more than 3000 people call Philippolis home.
Visitors to the little town can go book-hunting at a fine collectibles store, buy art at a gallery, visit an intriguing tiger project at nearby Tiger Canyons, go on day drives to Gariep Dam and, in the final week of April every year, attend the local Witblits Festival ('witblits' means 'white lightning') and sample locally produced ‘white lightning’ liquor.
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Who to contact
Tel: +27 (0) 51 773 0063
Tel: +27 (0) 82 770 0101