#SAHistory, Week 1: Retracing the steps of the Voortrekkers - Drakensberg

I recently discovered Retiefklip on a recent visit to Northern Drakensberg, I was driving up the Oliviershoek pass coming from Sterkfontein Dam and found a sign board for it, and wondered what it was all about. I paid no attention to the 4 x 4 only sign and figured my Toyota Yaris would handle as it hadn't done to bad before on rough terrain. People laugh at me all the time when I tell them what my car is capable of, and very seldom believe me.

As expected, my car effortlessly made it up the mountain pass after a 20 minute drive.

A moment in South African History

You all remember Piet Retief right?

For those that don't, he played a huge role in South African history. He was a Voortrekker leader and a governor during the Great Trek. The Retief pass is where some of Retief’s party of Voortrekkers descended the Drakensberg in their quest for freedom and to find land of their own.

This group of men consisted of 66 wagons and these were the first ever wheeled vehicles to enter Natal on the 14th December 1837. The trail carved by these wagons is known as Retief’s Pass and was declared a national monument in February 1977.


I can't believe I have never been to this historical area before. With not a soul in site, I walked through a tunnel of rocks before accessing the monument. I was slightly distracted by these softly lit boulders glowing orange as the sun hit it. I was in awe of its beauty.

The rock was a fascinating art piece that told a historical story. When the front trek arrived in the Free State, there was a dispute about the eventual destination of the Great Trek. Some wanted to go to Transvaal and others to Natal. Piet Retief chose Natal. Here at the foot of the Kerkenberg, he left is laager on 7 October 1837 with 14 men to reconnoitre Natal in advance. On 11 November Conrad and Piet Meyer returned with the good news that Natal could be occupied and settled in peace.

Retief's eldest daughter, Debora inscribed her father's name with green paint on this very rock to commemorate his 57th birthday (12 November 1837) and his achievement. Today the rock is now known as Retiefklip.

The Retief trek-party stayed at Kerkenberg till 13 November 1837 from where they moved east to reach the edge of the Drakensberg. With the 1937 centenary celebration of this historic incident, Mrs JC.Preller, a granddaughter of Debora Retief, unveiled a commemorative plaque. In 1986 students of the Pretoria Technikon donated the English version of the Plaque.

The other side of the rock opens up to a scenic surreal landscape filled with usually shaped boulders overlooking the Drakensberg mountains. It was so peaceful sitting there taking it all it. Looking at the threatening mountain passes and rocky cliff faces, I was surprised that the Voortrekkers made it through here with their wagons.

Kaalvoet Vrou

A few kilometres away from Retiefklip I found another heritage site called the Kaalvoet Vrou. This site is dedicated to Susanna Smit, who in 1837 declared that she would rather trek barefoot back over the Drakensberg than live in Natal under British rule. I don't think she ever made it though, as recorded she passed away in Natal. The full sized metal statue of her was erected in her honour in 1977, and strategically positioned with her back towards Natal.

At the top of the mountain I found a small pyramid which marks the spot where the Voortrekker pass starts.


Erasmus Smit - the Voortrekker's priest named these cluster of rocks as Kerkenberg which he considered worthy of a church. The views from here are unforgettable. When you look eastward you will see Natal. To the north you will see the Freestate, and to the east you will see Malutis.