It feels like arriving in a bygone era when a traveller makes it to the top of the Zuurberg pass.
The pass was built in 1850 and was the only road to the north from Port Elizabeth for anyone travelling towards Grahamstown, Somerset East, Colesburg and Kimberley.
It took a group of 250 convicts two years to complete the Zuurberg Pass. It was described as “passable for the heaviest wagons and with an ordinary team of oxen, and without locking the wheels, a procedure always so destructive to roads”.
At the top of the pass sits the Zuurberg Mountain Inn (now known as the Zuurberg Mountain Village), which began life as a stage coach post and a “half way” house between Port Elizabeth and Somerset East in 1854. A licence to keep a hotel and a tap was only granted in 1861.
The 1870’s were a busy time for the Hotel as diamonds were discovered up north and many prospectors stopped over to rest on their journey to the Diamond fields. It is estimated that between 120 000 and 150 000 coaches used the Zuurberg Pass every year.
The Anglo Boer war brought a halt to the stream of visitors over the Zuurberg and in 1901, the owners horses were all commandeered and he could no longer transport his guests up the pass.
Towards the end of 1901 General Smuts and his commando reached the Zuurberg but there is no evidence that they came close to the hotel. Raiding parties did however venture as far as Kirkwood and Kariega.
Denys Reitz, the famous freedom fighter described seeing the lights of Port Elizabeth from the mountains as the Boers fought the British, who were the last foreign nation to ever invade South Africa.
There was a garrison of British troops who set camp near the Zuurberg Hotel and the old wild fig tree in the grounds was the site of the smithy where travellers could have their wagons and horses shoes attended to.
Around this time, the Hotel was burnt down for the first time and it was not to be the last time either. A second fire occurred in the 1947 and in 2008 a raging veld fire burnt for three days before reaching the Zuurberg.
The current owner, Mr Henri Alant took the opportunity to upgrade the Zuurberg Mountain Village to its former glory and status as the “best country hotel in the Eastern Cape” after the 2008 fire.
“We built cottages on the premises to resemble how the old stables used to look after the fire burnt down the rondawels. That is why they have the Edwardian look to them” said Alant.
“The Inn now has a village feel to it with the cottages looking like the original buildings; we have changed the name to Zuurberg Mountain Village”.
Visit the Zuurberg Mountain Village website to find out what winter specials they have on offer for the modern day tourist who wants to follow in the footsteps of the travellers of old.
Situated a mere 20 km from the main camp at Addo Elephant Park, the Zuurberg Mountain Village is a perfect place to explore Addo and even take a walk in the forgotten valleys of Zuurberg that form part of the expanded Addo Elephant Park.