The district of Calvinia was settled in the middle of the eighteenth century by pioneer trekboers. Called Hantam, meaning “Mountain of the Red Bulbs,” by the Qua clans who inhabited the region, it offered good grazing and relatively stable water.
By and by the farmers began to look for a central place to come together for religious services and Abraham van Wijk, a prosperous farmer of the region, proposed his farm Ramskop. Thus they decided on a spot at the Oorlogskloof River (“War Ravine”), so named after a fight with Bushmen in a ravine there a long time ago.
As the main purpose of the meeting-place was for the community to get together for worship, people soon started planning to build a church. They elected a church council and in 1848 bought a section of Ramskop farm to establish a church and a town, which they called Hantam. Three years later in 1851, the first Minister of the congregation, the reverend N.J. Hofmeyr, renamed it Calvinia, after John Calvin.
Calvinia is the hub of one of the largest wool-producing districts in South Africa. The Calvinia Museum, housed in an old synagogue in Church Street, for instance exhibits a stuffed sheep which ran wild for several years in the mountains and sported a fleece so long the beast could hardly walk any more.
The Akkerdam Nature Reserve merits a visit by anyone passing, especially during the flower season in September, when the veld is transformed into a carpet of living colour. The Hantam Meat Festival during the last week in August has become an annual feast for meat lovers from all over the country.
Several of the old houses have been lovingly restored by the local doctor and his wife and are utilised as unique guest houses. One is the wellknown Boekhuis (“Book House”) on Water Street with an impressive library of local literature where writers are invited to stay and recharge their batteries.