The Forgotten Highway


The Forgotten Highway Route

This route will be located through the Karoo, some distance west of the N1 highway.

Between the mid-1700s and the mid-1800s, an increasing number of people travelled north, from the Cape Colony, to the new frontier along the Orange River. From the 1780s, another route went northwards from Tulbagh, then through the Karoo, via Sutherland, Fraserburg, Carnarvon, Griquatown, or Blinkklip (later called Postmasburg), Danielskuil and Kuruman.

The main theme will be the forgotten history of different peoples along the route. By providing information to travellers (in pamphlet and online formats), they will know what the key historical events and dynamics were along the route. This will be an intrinsically multi-cultural experience.

These travellers included Basters (coloured farmers) who wanted to escape repressive Colonial practices; run-away slaves; missionaries; explorers; hunters; traders and trekboers.  They typically met up with San, Khoi, and Xhosa people (the latter were based near Prieska). Near Griquatown, there was also a Tswana presence in the Langberg and in Danielskuil. This important crucible of South African culture was therefore a “confluence of cultures”. This confluence occurred at mission stations, indigenous settlements, fountains and farmsteads.


Different sectors of the northern Frontier society related to the Colony in different ways – some traded with the Colony, and some shared ideas and values (such as missionaries); others were refugees (such as runaway slaves), while other shaped new forms of statehood (such as the Griqua). The Korana spent decades resisting the expanding white trekboer economy. The San resisted the loss of their fountains and many were absorbed into other multi-ethnic groupings.  The main lingua franca was Dutch, which evolved a distinctive dialect, and which later developed into Afrikaans.

Crossing the Orange River; 1840 (sketch by Thomas Arbousset)
Crossing the Orange River; 1840 (sketch by Thomas Arbousset)

This history has been largely forgotten by the broader public of South Africa, so that the most important phase of South African cultural integration has largely disappeared from view.

Numerous books have been written about these dynamics over the last century, and the number of publications has further escalated recently.  Such books and travellers’ records offer fascinating information about obscure places along the route. Today, these places are farms, villages, and towns.  Some mission stations near Fraserburg, Carnarvon and Niekerkshoop can still be identified.


The total Forgotten Highway route is the following, from a base in Cape Town or Tulbagh: Matjiesfontein, Sutherland, Fraserburg, Loxton, Carnarvon, Vanwyksvlei, Copperton, Prieska, Niekerkshoop, Griquatown/Campbell, then either via Postmasburg/Witsand or via Danielskuil to Kathu/Kuruman.. The final stop, along this difficult desert route, was Reverend Robert Moffat’s little house and church, north of the current town of Kuruman. This little dirt track still exists, and this was the final spot where travellers could replenish some goods before they headed off into what is today Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Malawi. Beyond Kuruman, villages such as Dithakong also have historical interest for the Forgotten Highway Route.

The Forgotten Highway Route therefore interfaces seamlessly with the Go-Ghaap! Route (largely an east-west route), which is situated in the northern region of the Forgotten Highway Route (a north-south route).

The full vision for the Route which will be developed over two years, as an inter-provincial Route between the Western Cape and the Northern Cape.

Our first event of the Route will be the Forgotten Highway Horse and Wagon Expedition.

This will be a horse-and cart ride lasting 20 days, from Sutherland in the south, northwards to Griquatown.

Sketch by William Burchell, 1811
Sketch by William Burchell, 1811

The Forgotten Highway Express

This monthly newsletter is compiled by our in-house historian, Ms Rose Willis of Bloemfontein, in collaboration with Prof Doreen Atkinson.

We presents key themes related to the Route, which add flavour and spice to our knowledge of bygone days. There are currently 13 issues on the way … and counting!

  • Issue 1: The Two Marys – exploring the lives of Mary Moffat (who married Robert Moffat the missionary), and her daughter Mary (who married David Livingstone, the missionary explorer). Click here.
  • Issue 2: The Early Currency of the Hinterland (forthcoming)
  • Issue 3: A salute to the smouse (forthcoming)
  • Issue 4: Meet the men of the Highway (forthcoming)
  • Issue 5: South African food: A Fascinating Tale (forthcoming)
  • Issue 6: Philippolis celebrates: A Small Town with a Big History (forthcoming)
  • Issue 7: Seeking Ancestors and their Stories (forthcoming)
  • Issue 8: The Men who made the Maps (forthcoming)
  • Issue 9: Horses and Heroes (forthcoming)
  • Issue 10: The New Way (forthcoming)
  • Issue 11: Of People and Places (forthcoming)
  • Issue 12: Religion along the Rugged Routes (forthcoming)
  • Issue 13: The Men who Plied the Route (forthcoming)

Happy reading!

The Forgotten Highway Horse and Wagon expedition
(22 October – 12 November 2022)

The Forgotten Highway Expedition covered the 640km stretch of road between Sutherland in the south and Griquatown in the north.

The Expedition was led by Mr Piet Coetzer with his horse-and-cart team. Many of the local people along the route joined him in horse carts and on horseback.

NHC logo pic

For more information, contact Doreen Atkinson on, or whatsapp 071 401 2583.


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