The area in which the Park is now situated was settled upon by a powerful Inqua tribe in the mid-1600's. The Inqua grazed vast herds of cattle and fat-tailed sheep on the apron veld from the Camdeboo River near Aberdeen across the Sundays River to the Agter-Bruintjieshoogte near Somerset-East. The first white farmers settled on the Camdeboo plains and Sneeuberg in 1770 - introducing merino sheep and angora goats as well as foreign plants (Coetzee 1990). Although the first landdrost of Graaff-Reinet was appointed in 1785, the area was already settled by trekboers well before this date. Early accounts of the district make note of the fact that large numbers of Khoikhoi people were settled here but they are not discussed in any of the early 'white' histories of the district. Furthermore, the area to the north of Graaff-Reinet (Sneeuberg) is known to have been a refuge of San groups who periodically raided trekboer farms for livestock. Significant cultural heritage features include:
On the northern boundary of the eastern section of the Park an overhang protects a number of handprints.
This monument was erected in honour of Gideon Scheepers (aged 23) by the Graaff-Reinet Afrikaans Cultural Society. He was executed in the river bed, approximately 100 metres from the monument on 18 January 1902. The monument is comprised of three rocks, supporting a needle of stainless steel symbolizing the hope and faith in God. The large base rock represents the steadfastness of the young Afrikaner nation. The two tilted boulders it supports exemplify the Afrikaner nation suppressed, but not fallen. A fourth boulder bears an inscription, tombstone-like in design.
This monument is situated about three km out of Graaff-Reinet adjacent to the N9 to Middleburg. It honours Andries Pretorius, a Voortrekker who left the Cape to escape oppression by the British, as well as the oxen that pulled the wagons of the Voortrekkers. Plans to relocate this monument to a site within the Park due to the lack of security and the threat of defacement have been approved by the executive management of SANParks but have been delayed by a lack of resources required by the Rapportryers as custodians of the monument.
The Valley of Desolation was proclaimed by Notice 2116 of the Government Gazette dated 22 December 1939 as a national monument of geological and scenic significance. The piled dolerite columns viewed against the backdrop of the plains of Camdeboo are the product of the volcanic and erosive forces of nature during the Jurassic Period. At this time (150 to 190 million years ago) dolerite sills and dykes intruded the Beaufort sediments of the Karoo Sequence.
On 27 September 1920 the Municipality of Graaff-Reinet signed an agreement with the Van Rynevelds Pass Irrigation Board to provide certain commonage land for the site of a dam, in return for nine million litres of water per day in order to ensure a water supply for the town's landholders. Work on the dam commenced in earnest in June 1921 and the Van Rynevelds Pass Dam was opened by the Chairman of the Irrigation Board, H. Urquhart, on 14 July 1925.
A granite boulder with a number of shallow circular depressions ground into the upper and lateral surfaces was discovered on the Gannaleegte boundary of the Park. These circular depressions, known as cupules, are well-documented in the Limpopo region of the country, where they are found on sloping or vertical rock faces or on large boulders within rock shelters. Generally their position on rock faces suggests that they were made for a specific ritual rather than mundane purposes, while their location and planar orientation on big boulders similarly imply a ritual and symbolic function. The apparent age alone of the cupules suggests that they were made by hunter gatherers.
Several heaps of similar sized stones about the size of a fist have been found in the vicinity of the dam wall on what would have been the eastern bank of the Sundays River. Although these features have not been examined by experts they are thought to be good examples of Isivivane, or cairns of stones created by travellers of Bantu origin who placed a stone on the heap in passing to ensure safe passage across the river.
This windmill is a classic feature of the Karoo and is situated in the game viewing area where it feeds a waterhole adjacent to a tourist route.
The Winterhoek house and wagon shed are thought to have been built around 1844. In an 1869 advertisement in the Graaff-Reinet Herald the house was described as a 'splendid dwelling house'. It has subsequently been added to and plans to restore this building to its original state with the assistance of the Historic Homes Foundation could see it used as an upmarket guest lodge.
Not much is known about this feature which is situated near to Barbergat adjacent to the Gideon Scheepers trail. It is in a ruinous condition but worthy of interpretation.
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