There is nowhere in sub-Saharan Africa that is less African in aspect than the tiny Hamlet of Rhodes in the Eastern Cape of South Africa. The landscape surrounding Rhodes is that falling off the southern rump of the Drakensberg, immediately adjacent to Lesotho. It is composed of soft, interlocking hill country clad in alpine type vegetation with a tangible Scottish moorland character. Rhodes itself, albeit something of a tourist town, is a village of perhaps one hundred and fifty houses as well as a mini township. The architecture is minimalist, giving the whole settlement a slightly fairytale character, but very much in keeping with the architectural styles of the period.
Currently Rhodes is the epicenter of the Eastern Cape fly fishing culture, which is huge, and growing, but it is also a jump off point, both ways, for the far more remote Tiffendel Ski Resort, the only facility of its kind in Africa. Both are remote. Rhodes is reached most easily from the town of Barkly East, a fairly typical Eastern Cape settlement devoid of franchise restaurants, strip malls of chain supermarkets. A true town in the old sense of the word, surrounded by very little other than sheep farms and with very little to do on any given evening other than drink and watch TV.
All roads leading to Rhodes are gravel. It is surrounded by some of the best fly fishing real estate in the world, with its alternative claim to fame, it’s wild flowers, adding some cerebral gravitas to the usual fare of horse riding, hiking and mountain biking as recreational pursuits. It also has more than its fair share of quaint hospitality options, ranging from self-catering rentals in the style of the town, to lifestyle guest-houses, luxury lodges and small hotels.
Rhodes was established in 1891 with the sale of urban plots on what had been the farm of Tintern that belonged to a certain Jim Vorster. It was named after the then Prime Minister of the Cape Colony, Cecil John Rhodes. Cecil Rhodes, of course, was responsible for a great deal more than just the name of a tiny village on the fringe of the civilized world, and in fact founded Rhodesia, which is now Zimbabwe, and created the Rhodes Scholarship endowment that made accessible an Oxford education for those otherwise socially or financially unqualified.
In the 1970s it became something of a beatnik Mecca for the obvious reasons of its remoteness, beauty and inherent cool. That cool has since attracted artists and artisans from across South Africa, with a per capita population of sensitive and creative people probably unequaled in the southern hemisphere. Rhodes is worth a visit just for the quaint beauty of the place, but also for the fantastic opportunities for outdoor recreation, not least fly fishing. A must on any tour of South Africa.