In 1876, Thomas Maclear, Astronomer Royal at the Cape, established a settlement in the valley of the Mooi River, beneath the rocky cliffs of the Drakensberg Mountain Range. The town soon became the main centre of this 2 500-square km sheep- and dairy-farming area. From Maclear a winding dirt road snakes its way up the highest road pass in South Africa, Naude’s Nek, which, in places, reaches an altitude of 2 920 m and is often blocked by snow in winter. A memorial to the Naude brothers who built the pass using picks, shovels and a horse-drawn cart, was erected at the Rhodes side of the bottom of the pass.
South of Maclear lies the small town of Ugie, founded in 1863 by the Reverend William Murray and named after the Ugie River in Scotland. Ugie is situated on the banks of the willow-lined Inxu River beneath the sandstone cliffs of the southern Drakensberg Mountain Range. The impressive “Gatberg” peak (”Hole Mountain”) lies north of the road between Ugie and Maclear.
Local inhabitants sometimes refer to this area as Nkapaailand after the Bhaca chief, Ncapayi who once ruled here.
Adventure And Sport
Fishing: All forms of fishing, especially trout-, fly-and coarse-fishing can be indulged in, in the crystal-clear streams and rivers of this mountainous area.
Prentjiesberg (Picture Mountain) Hiking Trail: The 1-to-4-day Prentjiesberg Hiking Trail lies north-west of Ugie and meanders through some 3 100 ha of spectacular mountain area. Named after the many San rock art sites (“prentjies”) along the escarpment, this 50-km trail offers breathtaking vistas and woodland covered in proteas (wild flowers).
Skiing: Skiing is possible along the southern slopes of the Drakensberg Mountains during the winter months from May to August.
Woodcliff Cave Hiking Trail: On offer is a choice of one-to-five-day trails from the farm Woodcliff in the picturesque Joelshoek Valley, approximately 22km from Maclear. Overnight accommodation includes various sheltered caves (weather permitting) or one of three stone cottages along the way. The trail meanders through the grass-covered slopes of the Drakensberg foothills.
Archaeology And Palaeontology
Three characteristic aspects of San rock art, i.e. idiosyncratic images, paintings of colonists and significantly differentiated human figures, are all represented in the rock art of the Maclear/Ugie area.
Dinosaur footprints: One of the most excellent examples of dinosaur tracks can be found on Oakleigh Farm, north of Maclear. The eight tracks on this farm are believed to be at least 200 million years old and are the earliest evidence of the existence of dinosaurs in Southern Africa.
San rock art at Chamisso: One of the best San rock art sites in the area is situated at Chamisso, on Mondi’s, (North-East Cape Forests) land. A 4×4 vehicle is needed to reach the site. The paintings are mostly of eland antelope.
San rock art at Craigmore: The images at the Craigmore site on the Prentjiesberg Hiking Trail have definite supernatural meanings, an aspect characteristic of San art.
San rock art at Rainbow Retreat: Situated near Ugie, Rainbow Retreat offers a scenic walk to the site of the rock paintings and the dinosaur footprint close by.
San rock art at Woodcliff trails: Visit a large painted rock art site and pass on to a second site with fewer paintings but with accommodation facilities.
Gatberg: Wind erosion has created a large hole at the summit of the mountain called Gatberg (“Hole Mountain”), situated south-west of Maclear.