Philippolis was first established in 1823 as a mission station of the London Missionary Society for San/Khoi-Khoi (later to be known as Griquas) people. It is the oldest settlement in the Free State. Adam Kok, the famous Griqua leader, and his people settled in the area in 1826 and he was subsequently appointed protector of the mission. When the government of the Orange Free State bought the land, Adam Kok and his people left to start a new life in Griqualand East. Dr John Philip was the London Missionary Society’s representative, hence the name of the town that was later established here. The renowned author, Laurens van der Post, who grew up in this town, described the area with its vast open spaces as “puritanical hills guarding secret water, so that it appears totally unpeopled.”
Adventure And Sport
Angling and water sport: The nearby Xhariep (Orange) River and the Xhariep and Vanderkloof Dams offer excellent, angling, boating and other water sport opportunities.
Hiking: Hikers may enquire at the Municipality regarding the “On the trail of the past and the present” hike/walk through town and the surrounding area.
Horse-drawn cart rides: Book a ride through town on Cafe Khooa’s horse-drawn cart.
Hunting: There are several farms in the district that offer hunting and game-viewing facilities.
Archaeology And Palaeontology
Fossil Finds: The Phillippolis area is renowned for its rich fossil finds. The recent discoveries of a fossilised fish thought to have become extinct 240 million years ago, a fossilised fish bed, reptile fossils and various fossilised footprints again prove that, impossible as it may seem, this area was once located at the bottom of a large lake.
Rock Art: There are various San rock paintings in the area.
Art And Crafts
Art Studio: The town has its own resident artist and child book illustrator, Rina Coetzee. Visit her studio and gallery in Kok Street but remember to make an appointment first.
Entertainment And Shopping
Festivals: the town hosts an annual Witblits (Peach Brandy) Festival in April and a Saddle Horse Show in November.
Fauna And Flora
Birdwatching: More than 200 species of birds, including the blue crane, have been identified in this area.
Grootfontein Nature Reserve: The private 1 600 ha Grootfontein Nature Reserve caters for both local inhabitants and international visitors. The reserve is home to some 18 different species of antelopes, ostriches, warthogs and numerous smaller animals. Grootfontein, together with several other privately owned farms in the district, also offers hunting facilities during the hunting season.
Tiger project: Endangered tigers from China are being provided with a home in a nearby wilderness and conservation area.
History And Architecture
Adam Kok House: Adam Kok House, sometimes referred to as Griqua House, was once the home of the famous Griqua leader, Adam Kok.
Dutch Reformed Church: The Dutch Reformed Church, situated in Voortrekker Street, has been declared a national monument. The historic pulpit is carved out of wild olive wood.
Emily Hobhouse Spinning and Weaving School: Emily Hobhouse, the famous British humanitarian, choose Phillippolis as the location of a spinning and weaving school to help impoverished Boer women after the Anglo-Boer War. Exhibits from the school are on view at the TransXhariep Museum.
Phillippolis Jail: The old jail, built in 1872, has been lovingly restored and turned into a guest house. Enjoy a voluntary stay in one of the individual 2 x 3 m cells safely ensconced behind the jail’s 45 cm thick inner walls and 60 cm thick outer walls, secure in the knowledge that you may leave in the morning. Several married couples have started their marriage in an unconventional way by staying in the honeymoon suite at the jail. For those scared of small spaces, more conventional facilities are also available.
Historic Buildings: There are several historic buildings in and around the town, such as the Van der Post and Van Rensburg houses, as well as some typical flat-roofed Karoo houses.
TransXhariep Museum: The TransXhariep Museum in Voortrekker Street depicts the history of the town and its people. Two historic cannons used by the Griquas can be viewed on a hillock behind the museum.
Van der Post House and Memorial Garden: The ashes of Sir Laurens Jan van der Post, world-renowned South African author, war hero and naturalist, are kept in the Van der Post Memorial Garden. The garden, created by design architect, Alida Stewart, has as its central theme “life as a journey”; the philosophy heralded by Van der Post all through his life. The Sir Laurens van der Post Artist Retreat Centre is also located here and is a retreat where artists, writers, photographers and other creative people can unwind and seek new inspiration. The small museum, also part of the complex, keeps copies of his 25 books and the desk at which he used to write.