Interesting titbits about the town’s history is that it was founded in 1843, and named after Queen Victoria of England, though later amended to Victoria West to distinguish it from an Eastern Cape district. The second Standard Bank in South Africa (as in, the second one ever!) was opened in Victoria West in 1856. I was also amazed to learn that the town has a small airport that was used until the 1970’s by SAA as a refuelling stop between Cape Town and destinations to the north.
But enough of the history lesson. Most people who travel through the town will have noticed the Trading Post and the Mannetjies Roux Museum housing the rugby legends’ private collection of memorabilia and photos.
The town, however, has much more to offer. The first way in which it fools the traveller charging through in a hurry to someplace north or south is the way in which the main street lies at a right angle to the highway, which is unusual, and serves to ‘hide’ much of the town from the highway traffic. This makes the main street much quieter, and serves to make it more charming, but also gives the highway travellers completely the wrong first impression on the drive through.
It has a beautiful collection of Victorian-era houses, many now converted into guest accommodation. We loved the Apollo Theatre, the only remaining Art Deco cinema in Africa. The theatre, with its 1950’s feel and red velvet curtain is the venue for the yearly national Film Festival that takes place in September to showcase the best South African independent films. Our day in Victoria West ended at the lovely Karoo Deli, a coffee shop with a variety of gifts, and which seems to enfold the Kingswill Guest House, which has taken a number of small houses and turned them into the rooms of the inn. It’s a guest house with a whole town block to itself!
Many Karoo towns, sadly, are slowly crumbling away to dust in the heat. You can see what they were, driving through them, but all that remain now are ghosts. Victoria West is escaping this fate before our eyes. Maybe it’s close enough to Cape Town. Maybe it has just enough momentum and people and things to offer. Maybe its people are determined to keep its spirit and charm alive. Whatever it is, we all wish them well.
Image credits: All photography by me