Located in the magisterial district of Barkly East some 1832 metres above sea level, the magnificent somewhat unusual village of Rhodes is not easily accessible due to poorly maintained gravel roads.
The effort required to get there however, is well worth it as this hidden gem offers some of the most extraordinary sporting events, including the Rhodes Run which takes place every July. According to the website promoting the race, it’s not unusual for runners to experience temperatures of around -10 degrees Celsius and the race, which is by invitation only, has nearly been called off on a number of occasions due to heavy snowfalls in the area.
The origins of the town’s name have been the subject of debate. History books present two trains of thought as to how the area came to be called Rhodes. One possibility is that the town was originally named Rossville, after an English speaking minister who resided in nearby Lady Grey, and travelled to and from the village on horseback in order to conduct Sunday sermons.
The story goes that the name was later changed to Rhodes in honour of the mining magnate and then Prime Minister of the Cape, Sir Cecil John Rhodes, in an attempt to win favour with the statesman in the hopes that he would bestow his favour upon the town.
The village’s humble beginnings started in September 1891, when the farmstead Tintern, owned by a Mr J.A. Vorster, was advertised in the local newspaper as a farm which had been subdivided into 274 lots for sale. In September 1894, the erf holders and residents met to petition the government to proclaim Rhodes a village under the Village Management Act of 1881. Rhodes was eventually proclaimed a township with municipal rights in 1897.
The majority of the buildings were constructed in the early 1900s and the village grew at an astonishing rate. A predominantly agricultural region, the area prospered on the back of the wool industry during the 1950s. However, the boom proved to be a mere flash in the pan. The steady decline in opportunity and the riches gained through wool exports were slowly eroded and the town’s residents found it more and more difficult to eke out a living, with many moving on to greener pastures. This resulted in the closure of the local school in 1976, rendering Rhodes a virtual ghost town.
It was not all doom and gloom however. The area boasts scenery reminiscent of the Scottish Highlands and is set against a magnificent mountain backdrop. Rhodes has gone on to build a solid reputation as a top tourist destination in the Eastern Cape. Mountain biking, 4x4 trails and trout fishing are among the more popular attractions that keep visitors entertained.
The famous Tiffindell Ski Resort, established on the slopes of the Ben McDhui peak in 1993, once welcomed thousands of visitors to the region each year. Unfortunately the resort, which covers 101 hectares, has been the subject of a court battle between the current owners and investors since 2007. The resort has not been in operation since 2009, causing a severe loss of revenue to the town and ancillary businesses. The courts have placed the resort under liquidation and ruled that the property is to be auctioned.
On the residential property front, there have been a total of 48 transactions in the area in the last 12 months. According to statistics released by Lightstone, the average price paid for a freehold property was R406 000 and all sales fell into the freehold sector of the market.