The scenic little town of Matjiesfontein is like an oasis in the semi-desert of the surrounding Karoo. The name is derived from the mats (matjies) which the local people used to make from a type of sedge which grows locally. Once the home of a Victorian health spa and resort, the town, railway station and cemetery, are now national monuments. A lot of the old Victorian architecture remains and Matjiesfontein continues to attract tourists.

Karl-Heinz (who took the photographs in this post) remembers Matjiesfontein from his childhood when his family would travel by train from Cape Town to Walvis Bay (in Namibia).

©Karl-Heinz Niemand

195 miles (or 313 kilometres – South Africa went metric in the early 1970s) from Cape Town by rail. ©Karl-Heinz Niemand

The town of Matjiesfontein originally owes its existence to the Cape Government Railways, and to the route that their founder, Cape Prime Minister John Molteno, chose for a railway line that would connect Cape Town’s port to the diamond fields of Kimberley. The Royal Commonwealth Society (1898) records that in a meeting with his consulting engineers, the Prime Minister called for a map of Southern Africa to be brought to him and, taking a ruler, drew his pen along it from Cape Town all the way inland. He then handed the map to the engineers, telling them to build the railway accordingly.

The line rapidly extended inland, and a station was built at Matjiesfontein on 1 February 1878. At the time, Matjiesfontein was only a small depot and farm, however a Scotsman by the name of James Douglas Logan, who was superintendent of this stretch of railway, bought land at Matjiesfontein, moved there because of his weak chest, and opened a refreshment station for the passing trains. This was so successful that the business soon formed the nucleus of a growing village.

From: Wikipedia – Matjiesfontein

©Karl-Heinz Niemand

Matjiesfontein railway station. It is easy to see why one would want to preserve a building like this. ©Karl-Heinz Niemand

©Karl-Heinz Niemand

A station building passageway looking out onto the railway tracks. ©Karl-Heinz Niemand

©Karl-Heinz Niemand

Some aloes – typical Karoo plants. ©Karl-Heinz Niemand

©Karl-Heinz Niemand

©Karl-Heinz Niemand

©Karl-Heinz Niemand

Petrol pumps along a Victorian road. ©Karl-Heinz Niemand

©Karl-Heinz Niemand

©Karl-Heinz Niemand

©Karl-Heinz Niemand

The Lord Milner Hotel. ©Karl-Heinz Niemand

Other posts in the Namaqualand and Tankwa Karoo series include:

Thank you to Sonette and Karl-Heinz for sharing their trip and beautiful photographs with me!


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Categories: Lifestyle/Travel


I live on the Southern coast of South Africa, and write about the things that interest, amuse or inspire me. You can find me at and (my photoblog)


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20 Comments on “Matjiesfontein”

  1. December 6, 2012 at 9:19 am #

    Beautiful! But now I have that Sonja Herholdt song ‘Die trein na Matjiesfontein’ stuck in my head! 🙂

    • December 6, 2012 at 4:59 pm #

      🙂 Is that a good or bad thing?

      • December 6, 2012 at 7:28 pm #

        I looooved Sonja Herholdt when I was little…but not sure having the song stuck in my head is good! Does bring back memories though…

  2. Estie
    December 6, 2012 at 11:06 am #

    Great place to visit. Did they take the tour on the Red bus?

    • December 6, 2012 at 5:00 pm #

      I don’t think they had much time there. Judging by their photos, it looks like they just walked around.

  3. Eha
    December 7, 2012 at 2:45 am #

    Have heard the name so many times: now thank you for the pictures! Again, comparing with Australia, SO much is similar: the look of the railway station and the verandah ‘lace’, now so cherished Down Under: just the bicoloration on those corners seems ‘strange’! Lovely post!

    • December 7, 2012 at 6:44 am #

      The architectural similarities between South Africa and Australia were probably the closest during the Victorian era. About the bi-colouration – are you talking about on the corners of the buildings? I’m not sure what they were thinking there! 🙂

      • Eha
        December 7, 2012 at 7:19 am #

        Yes, exactly: don’t know whether I have not paid enough attention to our more colonial and now preserved areas, but the in-and-out differential is ‘different’ to me! Dutch methodology?

      • December 10, 2012 at 6:00 am #

        We have just so many cultural influences here in South Africa, that nothing stays “pure” i.e. pure Victoria or pure Dutch-style.

  4. December 7, 2012 at 5:35 pm #

    I love this architectural style – I think I must have had a previous life during this period, either that or I’ve got my great-grandmother’s memories kicking around in my head!

    • December 10, 2012 at 6:02 am #

      I can imagine that it’s closest to what you might have seen growing up in Scotland. Or did Victorian architecture not make it there?! 😉

      • December 10, 2012 at 1:10 pm #

        It did!, but in the cities it’s mostly in the form of Victorian tenements (blocks of flats) and sandstone blocks rather than painted façades. It is not often that you find flats with all the traditional Victorian features – wooden shutters, tiled fireplaces, tiled entrance halls and of course stained-glass windows, as many people try and modernise their homes. Some, luckily, like to preserve the old-world charm
        We rarely had the need for a shady porch 😉 – that seemed to be the preserve of those that went to colonise warmer climes.

  5. December 8, 2012 at 1:38 am #

    What a great tour! I loved the winding staircase. That looks quite treacherous. I think down would be worse than up. 🙂

    • December 10, 2012 at 6:04 am #

      The staircase looks like an afterthought. Not sure whether I’d like to negotiate it.

  6. December 10, 2012 at 9:59 pm #

    A couple of years ago, we actually took the train to Matjiesfontein with Sonja Herholdt! It was the most amazing experience, and one we will never, ever forget. We were a large group, filling up an entire train carriage on the Shosholoza Meyl (or whatever it’s called now), and we stayed at the Lord Milner Hotel for a weekend, and Sonja gave us the most wonderful concert. We all had such a fabulous time! And of course, we all sang “Trein na Matjiesfontein”!!! 😀

    • December 11, 2012 at 8:03 am #

      Sounds like quite a weekend! You’re obviously much more “qualified” to write about Matjiesfontein than I am. 🙂 Do you know if it is still very popular to go and stay there? Everyone I’ve talked to has only been there on a day visit.

      • December 11, 2012 at 8:07 am #

        It WAS quite a weekend! We really enjoyed Matjiesfontein, and I hope we’ll have another chance to visit, as it’s a very peaceful, quiet, quaint place.

  7. December 14, 2012 at 7:49 am #

    The Lord Milner Hotel doesn’t seem to have changed much. Here it is in 1982! Wonderful place.
    1982 Matjiesfontein, South Africa

    • December 14, 2012 at 10:20 am #

      You’re right, it hasn’t changed much – except for the flags on the 1982 photo: the old South African flag and the UK flag!

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