Fort Beaufort, in the Kat River Valley, is set in the horseshoe formed by the Kat River on the one side and the Brak River, on the other side. It was the site of one of the most effective forts set up to serve as a buffer between the Settlers and the Xhosa people during the Frontier Wars and was often used as a place of refuge. The fort was established in 1823 and named after the Duke of Beaufort, father of Lord Charles Somerset, the Governor of the Cape at that time. In 1842 a military road, known as the Queen’s Road, was built by the famous road engineer, Andrew Bain, between Fort Beaufort and Grahamstown to give British troops rapid access to the frontier. This road was the first properly-constructed road in South Africa. The present tarmac road between Fort Beaufort and Grahamstown follows the same route and the stone bridges over the Kat and Great Fish Rivers are still in use.
Adventure And Sport
Katberg Hiking Trail: The trail covers over 51 km of spectacular scenic terrain, forests and grass-covered hills between the Mpofu Game Reserve and the Benholm Forest Station.
Water-sport: The Kat River Dam, the largest concave dam in South Africa, offers excellent fishing, boating, picnic and barbecue facilities.
Fauna And Flora
Aquarium: The sophisticated aquarium houses over 400 marine and freshwater species.
Fort Fordyce Nature Reserve: This small but beautiful reserve, situated 1 170m above sea level, overlooks the Hogsberg Mountains. The reserve incorporates forests of yellowwood, milkwood and pine trees where many species of birds and game reside. Four circular day-trails crisscross the reserve. There is also as a more strenuous two-day trail with overnight accommodation. A new rock-climbing project has been initiated in the reserve that includes abseiling and other rock-climbing activities.
Katberg and Katberg River Valley: The mountain and valley, in the vicinity of town, is an area of great natural beauty, a patchwork of indigenous forest and aromatic pine plantations, fynbos and grasslands. Several nature reserves as well as game farms have been established in this area to preserve the natural beauty. There are ample opportunities for outdoor activities such as hiking, biking, horse riding and climbing.
Mpofu Game Reserve: Situated north of Fort Beaufort in the Winterberg Mountain Range, this reserve offers abundant wildlife in a delightful setting of mountain grassland and valley bushveld on its lower slopes. Various caves with San rock art are found in this mountainous area. The reserve is close to the Kraal of the local Chief Maqoma. The Katberg Hiking Trail passes through the reserve.
History And Architecture
Dutch Reformed Mission Church: The church was completed in 1845 under the direction of William Thomson. Since then, the church has often been at the centre of racial and theological controversy.
Fort Beaufort Historical Museum: The museum was originally the mess for the officers of the garrison. Today its exhibits include an overview of local history and culture, ranging from the military history of the area to a collection of Xhosa art and crafts. One of the relics from the Officers’ Mess is a square-shaped piano.
Fort Beaufort Library: The original land-grant documents in the library tell the interesting tale of land-ownership in the area. For example, during the Frontier Wars, the British gave the Khoi-Khoi some villages in the hope that they would support them against the Xhosas. The villages were named after prominent men of the London Missionary Society. Then, when the Khoi-Khoi sided with the Xhosas, the British took back the land and the Khoi-Khoi were tried for treason.
Graveyard: Stroll through the graveyard where you will find gravestones dating back to the time of the earlier Frontier and Settler Wars.
Kat River Citrus Cooperative: The town is situated in a prime citrus-producing area and the cooperative dates back to 1922. Guided tours can be arranged.
Martello Tower and Military Museum: The impregnable Martello Tower, Fort Beaufort’s most famous landmark, stands to this day. It was built in 1847 and is one of only two such towers in South Africa (the other is in Simon’s Town in the Western Cape). The museum displays a collection of relics dating from clashes between the Xhosas and the Settlers.
Prophet Ntsikane’s grave: The well-known Xhosa prophet, Ntsikane, spent most of his life in the Kat River Valley. His grave is still visited by worshippers.
Victoria Bridge: This triple-arch bridge was built by Andrew Geddes Bain in 1844.