Somerset East, Eastern Cape
Did you know?
Somerset East’s famous Gill College is named after its 1st patron, a former district surgeon.
Tucked into the forested Boschberg Mountains of the Eastern Cape, the historic little town of Somerset East used to be a key agricultural food source for the newly-arrived 1820 Settlers.
The Cape governor at the time, Lord Charles Somerset, bought a farm below the Boschberg and for more than 10 years it supplied both the military and civilians of the area with livestock and victuals.
Part of that old farm is now one of the leading heritage assets around Somerset East. Glen Avon Farm, still owned by Settler descendants, has been carefully preserved and restored, offering accommodation, interesting walking trails and at least three good fly-fishing pools.
But if you want the low-down on local fishing conditions, drive into Somerset East and visit Alan Hobson of the Angler & Antelope Guest House. He knows all the great places to cast your fly and land a trout of note.
People visit Somerset East for many reasons. Firstly, it is replete with museums telling the story of times gone by in the Eastern Cape, which has seen no fewer than eight Frontier Wars. The main museum stands in the midst of a magnificent display of indigenous trees and rose gardens. Visitors quickly realise that Somerset East people are very proud of their roses.
The other museum you should visit is dedicated to Walter Battiss, one of South Africa’s most original and eccentric artists. Lose yourself in his imaginary world of Fook Island and read about how Battiss depicted life and the universe using his art.
Ros Turner, the local tourism officer, will show you the Somerset East Heritage Trail, which takes in a series of churches, schools and private homes built nearly two centuries ago.
There are various walking trails on offer in and around the Boschberg Nature Reserve. And there’s a very beautiful nine-hole golf course nearby.
Somerset East stages a successful Biltong Festival (mid-July), a Rose and Art Festival (mid-October), the Bruintjieshoogte Marathon (late April) and the Bruintjieshoogte Cycle Tour (end March) to the village of Pearston and back.
Travel tips & Planning info
Who to contact
Blue Crane Development Agency (Somerset East)
Tel: +27 (0) 42 243 0095
Hobson’s Choice Deli
Tel: +27 (0) 42 243 3440
Mobile: +27 (0) 82 375 4720
How to get here
Somerset East lies on the R63 route, about 104km south of Cradock and 180km north-west of Port Elizabeth (about a two-hour drive). The best way to get there from Port Elizabeth is to drive north on the N10 and turn west towards Somerset East at Cookhouse.
Best time to visit
Cold winters and hot summers make Somerset East a good place to visit in the shoulder seasons of spring (April to May) and autumn (September to October).
Around the area
From Somerset East you can day-trip to Addo Elephant National Park or the towns of Graaff-Reinet, Cradock and Bedford.
Tours to do
Learn to catch a trout the proper way with fly-master Alan Hobson of the Angler & Antelope Guest House – see listed websites.
Getting to Somerset East might require you to hire a car, but once you’re in town most of the local sights are within walking distance.
What will it cost
Accommodation in Somerset East is inexpensive. Expect to pay in the region of R250 – R350 per person per night, with breakfast around R70.
Length of stay
If you’re on a quick visit to the area, then two nights in Somerset East would suffice. However, if you’re a more leisurely traveller who wants to experience all the region has to offer, why not spend four nights?
What to pack
Pack for walks and general outdoor activities.
Where to stay
The listed websites have good accommodation options, ranging from farm stays to in-town guest houses.
What to eat
Try some slow food specialties at Hobson’s Choice Deli in town – see Contacts.
The two-day Biltong Festival happens in July. The Rose and Art Festival is in mid-October, the Bruintjieshoogte Marathon is in late April and the Bruintjieshoogte Cycle Tour is in March.
Look out for good mohair products – you’re in the Mo-Zone right now.