The Forgotten Highway Route

By Doreen Atkinson, Karoo Development Foundation

Photographs by Chris Marais, Karoo Space

Follow in the footsteps of ancient travellers, and stretch your horizons!

This 1 000 km Route stretches from Tulbagh and Ceres in the south to Kuruman in the north. It is the route that was used by the !Xam, KhoeKhoe, Tswana, missionaries and explorers. From there, travellers would venture into central Africa.

The Lord Milner Hotel, Matjiesfontein

This is one of the most exciting projects the KDF has launched since it achieved the registration of Karoo lamb as a Geographic Indicator in 2015.

The Forgotten Highway Route links Tulbagh in the south with Kuruman in the north, traversing several Karoo regions –Ceres Karoo, Roggeveld, Nuweveld, Bo-Karoo, Griqualand West, onto the Ghaap, and into the Kalahari.

From 1823, the Moffat Mission in Kuruman was the last stop from the Cape into the deeper African interior. It was also Africa’s link to the Cape.

Observatory, Sutherland.

Parts of the Route were based on pathways well-trodden by |Xam (San) and other hunter-gatherer groups, later by Khoekhoe herders with sheep and cattle, Tswana farmers at the northern end, and Xhosa who entered the Karoo, taking up residence there and along the Gariep from the late eighteenth century.

From the late 1700s, a trickle of white and ‘baster’ frontiersmen, hunters and fugitives, traders, explorers and missionaries were followed by a steadier spread of Trekboer farmers. The San, Korana, Xhosa (at Prieska and Canarvon), the Griqua at Griquatown, and the Thlaping near Kuruman, met the in-comers in widely varying types of encounter – trade, statebuilding, military power, conflict, and religious competition.

Palaeo Surface, Fraserburg.

The main theme of the Route is “Encounters” – of people often out of their comfort zones and meeting others of different cultural background. Very often, the result was an intercultural mosaic of mutual influences.

The towns along the route include Tulbagh, Ceres, Sutherland, Fraserburg, Williston, Loxton, Carnarvon, Vanwyksvlei, Prieska, Niekerkshoop, Griquatown, Danielskuil, Postmasburg, Campbell and Kuruman.

There are also “cultural off-shoots”, into the southern Free State (such as Philippolis, also a Griqua state); Witsand Nature Reserve in the Langeberg; and Olifantshoek, Kathu and Deben in the Kalahari.

Riel dancers, Williston.

The Route has already awakened widespread interest along the route towns.

Several museums already offer engaging displays – Tulbagh, Ceres, and Griquatown.  More museums are being refurbished along the Route.

The purpose of the Route is to awaken the historical awareness of local people along the Route, so that they realise how special their environment is. Also, other South Africans will explore where their ancestors travelled, and foreign visitors will help us celebrate the historical significance of these remarkable events.

Riel dance statues, Loxton.

The focus of the Route is to add attractions, activities, and experiences. These towns already have excellent accommodation facilities. Local people can add many other themes to the Route, such as Anglo-Boer War, art, crafts, and ecotourism.

The route will include at least eight Local Municipalities: Witzenberg (Tulbagh and Ceres), Karoo-Hoogland (Williston, Fraserburg and Sutherland), Kareeberg (C*arnarvon), Siyathemba (Prieska), Siyancyuma (Griquatown), Tsantsabane (Postmasburg), Kgatelopele (Danielskuil) and Ga-Segonyana (Kuruman).

There are also four District Municipalities along the route: Cape Winelands DM, Central Karoo DM, Pixley ka Seme DM, JT Gaetsewe DM, and ZF Mcgawu DM.

Corbelled house, Carnarvon.

We request these municipalities to add the Route to their Integrated Development Plans.

Until the Route is fully established, it will be managed by the Karoo Development Foundation, an NGO working for the benefit of the Karoo (see

To launch the route, the Great Highway Expedition will set off from Sutherland on Saturday 22 October 2022, travelling northwards to Griquatown. This will be led by the well-known horseman, Mr Piet Coetzer, with his magnificent team of six Vlaamperd horses pulling an old-fashioned wagon.  Other enthusiasts are welcome to join this three-week expedition and learn about the early explorers along the way!

Vanwyksvlei Dam during drought period.
Prieska nestled into the Orange River.


For more information about the route, contact Prof Doreen Atkinson, KDF Trustee, at, or whatsapp 071 401 2583.

For more information about the Expedition, contact Mr Piet Coetzer, at, or whatsapp 073 852 7420.

3 thoughts on “The Forgotten Highway Route

  1. Irene jardine Riffel says:

    What a discovery…I never knew about this. I listened to capetalk’s Pippa Hudson interviewing Prof. Atkinson. I’m a historyvteacher…would like to do this trip. Can I suggest that a trip is organised by the KDF? Thanks

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.