The Great Berg river used to be navigable for a distance of about 45 km from its mouth and, during the 1880's, it was accessible to a variety of Schooners and Coastal Cutters, sailing vessels . As a result a number of trading stores sprang up on either side of its banks.
The Berg River rises in the Franschhoek and Drakenstein Mountains at an altitude of 1500m. The 294 km long River flows Northwards through Paarl and Wellington and then snakes past Darling, Moorreesburg, Hopefield, Piketberg and Velddrif near the coast and outlets at St Helena Bay into the Atlantic Ocean.
The existence of the Berg River was first recorded by Bailiff Abraham Gabbema in 1657. He was sent by Governor Jan Van Riebeeck to trade with the San for meat. Mr. Gabbema named the river The “Groot Berg Rivier” which means Great Berg River.
Prompted by the Berg River’s fertility and beauty, Paarl was the first settlement to be established in the Drakenstein Valley in 1687 by Governor Van Der Stel. In the late 1680’s Simon Van Der Stel gave the French Huguenots and Free Burghers, Farms along the Berg River.The Berg River runs like a vein through the Drakenstein Valley and sustains grape and wheat farming and provides water for the people.
The Berg River was one of many habitats of Hippos but in the late 1600’s hunters began killing Hippos for their meat and hide. By the mid 1700’s Governor Tulbagh introduced a fine for anyone that killed a hippo. Despite this deterrent, their numbers continued to decline. In 1829 only six Hippos remained. The last Hippo was shot in 1869 by Martin Melck when it attacked and killed one of his employees.
The Berg Rivers native fish contain some species which are endemic to the region. The Berg River Redfin, has one of its last major populations in the Berg River. It has however been listed as endangered.
The Cape Galaxias is a fish endemic to the Berg River. Their survival have been adversely affected by unsustainable human use of water and the introduction of exotic fish like the; 'Small Mouth Bass'.
The Berg-Breede River Whitefish – listed endangered in the IUCN red list – seems to have disappeared from the Berg River.
There has been an effort to clearing the banks of The Berg River of invasive alien plants. Due to the evasion of Eucalyptus and Blue Gumtree species there are no Palmiet – a shrub that grows along rivers – helping to control the flow of the river, filtering the water and preventing erosion. Aliens such as Bluegums lead to the disappearance of valuable indigenous plants and wetlands. Apart from severely limiting animal and plant biodiversity in the riparian areas, the encroachment narrows the width of the river, resulting in significant flooding after heavy rain. The question is which trees and plants were indigenous to the Berg River’s banks. Riparian trees are Breede River Yellowwood, Cape holly, Wild Olives, Wild Pears, Small Ironwood and Wild Almonds to name a few. Restios which belongs to the family Restionaceae, colloquially known as Cape Reeds or Thatch also belong in riparian areas. Riparian shrubs are: blue laurel, bush willow, honey bells, palmiet and others. Riparian Flora: Arum lily, bracken fern, bulrush, matjiesgoed and restios. We can’t wait to see our riverbank restored to it’s former glory!
The Berg River Dam is situated near Franschhoek in the upper catchment area of the Berg River. The Berg River Dam provides water for the city of Cape Town and not for Paarl, Wellington and Franschhoek.
The Berg River Marathon was founded in 1962 by a group of 35 pioneers who set off on a flooded Berg River from Paarl for the first edition of this four-day race. Fuelled by enthusiastic support from “Die Burger” newspaper, the four-stage odyssey caught the attention of the South African public, as only 19 paddlers made it to the finish.
-33° 23' 6", 17° 56' 2.4"