The Northern Region of the Eastern Cape is markedly different from the rest of the province. As the rivers of the Great Escarpment flow down to the Indian Ocean, the lands of the northern region rise towards the plateau. The area is characterised by semi-arid Karoo plains to the south and the wetlands of the Wild Coast to the east and beyond them, a mountainous area of spectacular, rugged peaks and troughs alternating with smooth grassy slopes and valleys.
The position of the Northern Region, in relation to the Free State Province and Lesotho in the north, has caused unique historical events to take place in the area. In the early 19th century “trekboere” (migrant farmers) from other parts of the Cape moved into these northern areas because of differences with the British government of the Cape Colony and because of continuing unrest and wars on the Eastern Cape Frontier. The towns they established on their journey all have very “Afrikaans” (the language spoken by the trekboere) names, such as Burgersdorp, Venterstad, and Steynsburg; a legacy of their “Great Trek” (migration) to the interior of the country.
The primary economic activity of this area is agriculture, livestock farming (mainly cattle, sheep and goats) and crop production (mainly maize, wheat and potatoes). The area is also one of the largest wool producers in Southern Africa. The large Gariep Dam is the main generous source of water that sustains farming activities in the area. Visitors to this region can enjoy trout-fishing, bird-watching, hiking, hunting and viewing fascinating San rock art and recently-discovered fossils. The area has the added distinction of being the only place in South Africa that can offer snow-skiing!
This region falls under the Ukhahlamba and Chris Hani District Municipalities and is divided into four magisterial areas/districts: Gariep, an area that encompasses the Gariep Dam, Oviston Nature Reserve and Berg Game Reserve and towns such as Venterstad, Steynsburg and Burgersdorp; Maletswai, an area that incorporates Aliwal North with its hot-water spa and holiday resorts, Buffelspoort Game Reserve and Jamestown; Senqu, an area that includes the Witteberg Mission and the birthplace of renowned South African author, Olive Schreiner, Holo Hlahatsi Dam, towns such as Lady Grey and Barkly East, the “Switzerland of South Africa”, and Elundini, an area renowned for its excellent examples of dinosaur footprints and San rock art. Other towns in the region include Cradock, Middelburg, Elliot, Tarkastad, Queenstown and Molteno.