Buffelsfontein Visitor's Centre in Cape Point, Table Mountain National Park, Western Cape
From Past to Present
Given its close proximity to South Africa’s “Mother City’, Cape Town, and a history of over 300 years of European settlement in the area, perhaps the most remarkable thing about the southern Cape Peninsula is the fact that so much remains in a relatively undisturbed state.
What happened yesterday …
In earlier years, generally infertile soils, harsh climatic conditions and the terrible state of the roads between Cape Point and Cape Town all served to discourage settlement on the southern peninsula. Impact on the natural environment was limited and it was only with the establishment of Simon’s Town in 1741 that people began to settle in the area in significant numbers.
Farming only remained a viable option as long as there was no transport link to the Cape to supply the area’s inhabitants with fresh produce. When the railway to Simon’s Town was completed in 1890, the majority of farmers went insolvent and abandoned their land.
John Osmond purchased the land surrounding Buffelsfontein in 1811. The homestead that he constructed out of local materials forms the nucleus of the current Buffelsfontein Visitor Centre today. On 1 July 1816 Osmond bought another property, the Cape Point Farm, to add to his land around Buffelsfontein, bringing his total holdings to about 2500 morgen or 5000 acres in extent. The two farms were effectively consolidated and passed to subsequent owners as one property.
The next person to show an interest in the area was George Smith. The Smith farm, approximately 3200 morgen in extent in time formed the nucleus of the future Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve.
With the outbreak of the First World war, the coastal road from Simon’s Town was finally completed through to Cape Point. This made the trip far less arduous than in the past and a steady stream of visitors began to venture into the area. Smith’s farm was ideally placed to benefit from this influx and Smith himself took advantage of the opportunities that arose to provide accommodation and meals, making the necessary alterations and additions to the original homestead structure. A tearoom was established at Cape Point itself.
To compensate for being unable to play an active role in the war due to poor health, Smith wrote to G.J. Boyes, the Resident Magistrate of Silmon’s Town, and offered to place parts of his farm at the disposal of the Union Government, free of charge, to be used for whatever purposes Boyes deemed necessary.
George Smith Senior passed away in 1918, followed by his wife ten years later. With the death of their mother, the surviving sons and daughter took the decision to put the farm on the market. The Smith family, however, were reluctant to let the area fall into the hands of speculative developers. From the start it was their hope that a government agency would purchase the property in recognition of its natural and cultural historical significance and hold it in public trust for future generations.
Only in the year 1938 was the idea of purchasing Cape Point for the nation propelled into public awareness through a newspaper article written by the noted naturalist, Dr S.H. Skaife. The Divisional Council of the Cape took ownership of smith’s Farm for the purchase price of 16 000 Pounds on 1 July 1939. Proclaimed the “Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve”, the original nodal area grew through further land purchases and donations to over 7750 hectares in extent.
Since this time the Buffelsfontein building has served as accommodation for the reserve’s wardens, as a tearoom and, until 1995, as a restaurant.
In May 1998 the reserve was incorporated into the greater Cape Peninsula National Park, and thus the preservation of one of South Africa’s most important and worldj-famous natural and cultural heritage sites was ensured.
What is happening today …
The Buffelsfontein Visitor’s Centre was officiallly opened to the public on 18 January 2003. The newly renovated building contains artifact displays, state-of-the-art audio-visual equipment and information brochures to make visitiors aware of the area’s natural and cultural wealth. It also serves as an environmental resource centre for visiting educational groups.
What can I do for tomorrow? …
- Learn about and become involved in the protection of the park by joining the Cape Point Volunteer Group. Contact +27 21 789 9204 for futher details
- Visit the Buffelsfontein Visitor’s Centre. The centre is open from Monday to Sunday, 08h00-17h00.
- Watch the press for details or contact us on +27 21 780 9204 in order to find out about special activities taking place at the Visitor’s Centre.
Did you know? …
- John Osmond built the original homestead structure with the use of locally dressed sandstone for the walls. Burnt seashells were used to produce the lime mortar used to cement the stones together. The teak came from a salvaged ship the , located in the Simon’s Bay harbour.
- The origin of the name “Buffelsfontein’ remains a mystery, as there are no historical references to support the notion that the Cape Buffalo ever occurred in the Cape Peninsula.
- The ‘Buffelsfontein’ spring continues to rise behind the homestead building and currently provides the supply of water to the pond situated in the courtyard.
Further reading …
Prof O. Pryce-Lewis, 1989, "When first we practise : The Life of Jan Michiel Endres, Surgeon", Simon’s Town Historical Society.
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