The territory of Griqualand East was located south of the Colony of Natal, between the Drakensberge and Pondoland. Despite being well watered, fertile and richly grassed, by the 1850s it was largely uninhabited, probably as a result of the Mfecane wars of 1822-1836. Consequently during the colonial era it was also commonly referred to as "no man's land". In March 1861 Faku, paramount chief of the amaPondo, ceded the territory to the British. They, in their turn, gave it over the following year to the Griqua, a Khoikhoi group who, under the leadership of Adam Kok, were in the process of migrating from their ancestral lands in the northern Cape. Although the Griqua were granted full title to the land and total autonomy of government, in 1869 Adam Kok requested that the territory be annexed by the British, with the specific stipulation that it should not be brought under the direct rule of Natal. Accordingly Griqualand was taken over in 1874, and although the Act of Annexation was passed by the Cape Parliament in 1877, it was not promulgated until 17 September 1879. The territory was originally divided into four magisterial districts centered at Matatiele, Mount Frere, Umzimkulu and Kokstad, later renamed Mount Currie. Throughout the 1870s Griqualand East and its surrounding territories were the object of competing tribal interests and complex political alliances. As a result the British found it difficult to implement effective colonial rule over the region until the remainder of Pondoland was also brought under their control. The lands of the amaXesibe, centered at Mount Ayliff, were brought under their administration in 1878, but were not annexed to the Cape Colony until 25 October 1886. In 1886 a small pocket of land called the Rode Valley was purchased from the amaMpondo chief Umquikela, and was added to Mount Ayliff by Act No 45 of 1887, which was confirmed on 15 September 1888. The annexation of Pondoland to the Cape was completed under Act No 5 of 1894, provisions of which also ceded a portion of western Pondoland to Griqualand East. As a result of this transfer the divisions of Mount Fletcher, Qumbu, Tsolo and Maclear were brought under its administration. Although most of the territory was given over to Griqua ownership in 1862, the Griqua themselves were in a minority and soon began to sell their properties to both European settlers and amaPondo farmers, who were both beginning to prosper there. The following population and literacy figures are available for the territory: DIVISION pop 1891 lit'cy pop 1904 lit'cy
GRIQUALAND EAST,territory of 152 618 9 071 222 685 21 146
Division of Maclear .......... 3 901 910 6 222 1 562
Division of Matatiele ........ 18 411 1 290 33 840 3 895
Division of Mount Ayliff ..... 12 025 440 16 911 1 115
Division of Mount Currie ..... 7 373 1 413 12 328 2 543
Division of Mount Fletcher ... 13 862 730 24 311 1 789
Division of Mount Frere ...... 23 089 1 343 33 025 2 907
Division of Qumbu ............ 23 368 1 118 31 343 2 415
Division of Tsolo ............ 24 108 962 31 671 2 506
Division of Umzimkulu ........ 26 481 865 33 033 2 414

Kokstad is the largest town in the region, named for a famous Griqua leader Adam Kok, whose story is in the quirky local museum. The natural beauty of the East Griqualand Highlands is astounding in all seasons. In spring, the earth comes to life in all its fresh greenery and there are magnificent private gardens, including a prayer garden and a cycad “garden”, many of which can be visited during the annual Encounter East Griqualand festival, one of the strangest and friendliest in the province.

Summer is the lovely blonde-grass harvest season and a beautiful time to visit. There are great hikes and trails through the Ngele Forest (where, with a guide, you can pick wild porcini mushrooms) and Mount Currie Nature Reserve, gyrocopter flights, historic stone walls and Iron Age archaeological sites to explore. For beauty while you eat, on a weekend the popular Bleiden Falls pub and restaurant is open for garlicky prawns and good steaks.
This area is famous for both the quality of its sheep and cattle as well as its artisan cheeses and other fresh produce. People are seldom seen leaving Kokstad without some of the famous regional steaks or biltong (dried meat) tucked into their bags. Kids love watching the sheep shearing, and visiting some of the local 1000-cow dairies. You can also pop in to the African Hazel Nut project, started in 2009 by Italian company Ferrero, who supply the famous Ferrero Roche brand chocolates.
Autumn is when all the leaves turn gold, orange and red before fluttering away ahead of the cold, dry, glühwein sipping, fireplace warming winters, when snow caps the surrounding mountains and sometimes even envelopes the town and surrounding farmlands.
Fly fishing is excellent in the region and you can arrange a horse-ride or 4x4 trail up into the mountains to one of the highland dams on private farms for a spot of trout or bass fishing. There are cottages to rent and small boats to take you pottering around the dams.
Pack your wellies, binoculars, a bird book and, depending on the time of day, either a flask of tea or couple of beers or a bottle of wine, and take yourself off to the beautiful Penny Park Vlei wetland bird hide to enjoy some excellent bird watching. Kokstad is one of the few places in KZN you have a chance to see all three crane species, the grey crowned, the blue and the wattle crane, in one day on a short drive through the farmlands.
-30° 33', 29° 24' 36"
Further Reading