Often viewed as a pit-stop for travellers travelling to and from Gauteng, the small hamlet of Van Reenen offers gracious splendour and rural simplicity that is unfortunately often only discovered by chance by those travelling through en route to other destinations.
Named after Frans van Reenen who assisted the transport riders in laying out the route for the wagons carrying supplies to the gold mines, it was only in 1891 when the railway line was opened that the present village of Van Reenen came into being.
Those who take the time to more than fill up their petrol tanks are often blown away by the sheer beauty and history this quaint little town offers. The Llandaff Oratory which is recorded as the smallest Catholic Church in the world is open to the public and is visited each year by large numbers of tourists. Although the church is off the beaten track, thousands still find their way to this hidden gem nestled deep in the Kwazulu Natal countryside. The Oratory which was built by Maynard Mathews in memory of his son Llandaff, who was killed whilst rescuing eight of his co-workers from the Burnside Colliery in 1925, has been declared a national monument. This tiny basilica was modelled on a cathedral based in Cardiff, and seats only eight people.
In years gone by, long before tarred roads and cars became common place, travellers often faced the treacherous slopes and when reaching the summit of the pass, were warned by the use of a bright green lantern that stopped weary travellers in their track if conditions were considered dangerous. Today the four-lane highway leading over the pass is regarded by many as a remarkable construction, leaving little evidence of the early challenges faced by those wending their way to and from KwaZulu-Natal.
The need to provide accommodation to weary travellers was paramount for a number of years. One hotel which was built on the site of a present day garage, was infamous for the circumventing the strict Liquor Act of the day. The Cairngorm Hotel which stood directly on the border between the Orange Free State and what then was referred to as Natal would have had to abide by these laws.
However, although the Orange Free State had strict laws in place, banning the sale of alcohol after 10:00pm, Natal had no such law. According to local folklore that come 10 o clock, the pubs inhabitants would simply move from one side of the bar to the other enabling them to drink legally.
Given the remote location of this tiny hamlet it is hardly surprising that Lightstone’s statistics reveal that only five property sales have been concluded over the last 12 months. Although living in such a remote area may not be at the top of everyone’s agenda, taking the time to discover this small piece of South Africa is highly recommended.