Steeped in a rich history of cattle rustling, horse thieves, gun-running, and epic struggles between the Voortrekker settlers and the Basotho tribesmen, the story of Matatiele makes for great reading indeed. These days, the quiet and quaint, predominantly dairy farming and organic goods trading town, situated in the Eastern Cape at the foothills of the stately western Drakensberg on the border of KwaZulu-Natal, experiences a lot less of the abovementioned exciting 'Wild West'-like action. Matatiele now has an entirely new charm to tempt and entice visitors, i.e. the (mostly) unchanged natural beauty of the town and its surrounds that can be enjoyed in peace and quiet – most notably the majestic Drakensberg vistas.
Regarded as quite quiet to the average city folk, the town is actually very busy in farming terms. It is a hub of farming and trading activity that serves a large part of the Eastern Cape, western KwaZula Natal, and southern Lesotho farming communities. But, besides this 'action packed stuff', 'Madadiyela' or 'Matat' (as it is known to the locals) is most welcoming and hospitable, the climate is enjoyable, and it also provides a host of exciting outdoor activities and beautiful natural attractions for tourists and locals alike.
The name Matatiele, meaning 'the wild ducks have flown' in Sesotho, is quite misleading as the area is still home to 40 to 60 species of birds, mostly high altitude birds atop Matatiele Mountain. The pools, marshes, lakes, and pans are still evident, although not to the extent to which they were in times past. Indeed, lions and elephants used to roam freely amongst the vast quantities of waterfowl, but the area still retains most of its natural beauty and charm, especially in the two nearby nature reserves. The Wilfred Bauer Nature Reserve is home to the bizarre but endearing 'zedonk', a cross between a donkey and a zebra (a must see!), and the Mountain Lake Nature Reserve is a veritable Shangri-La for enthusiastic anglers and those merely wishing to relax and unwind by the waterside – the last rays of the African sun slowly disappearing behind the mountains and waving goodbye with their fiery fingers reflecting on the still waters.
A visit to the Matatiele Museum (firstly a garage, then an auction room, then a Dutch Reformed Church, and finally a telephone exchange before becoming the national monument it is today) is imperative if one wishes to learn more of the area’s colourful history, while visits to the public library, civic centre, and town hall, or a day out on a cultural village tour, will complete the cultural journey of Matat. Fly-fishing, 4X4 challenges, hiking, trout fishing, bird watching, motorbiking, tennis, squash, polo, bowls, shooting, a round of golf, and scenic nature drives are just some of the outdoor activities on offer in the area. The land also has a rich ancient history as is evident by the many stunning and fascinating Stone Age rock paintings on view in various locations only accessible by 4X4. Be sure to have your camera charged and ready for some views of a lifetime.
Matatiele is close to various parts of KwaZulu-Natal (via Cedarville and Kokstad, approximately 70km away) and the Eastern Cape (via Mt Fletcher, also approximately 70km away), Durban and Pietermaritzburg are only about 300km and 260km away respectively, and there are a few exceptional AA Quality Assured Accommodation (AAQAA) options available to make travellers feel truly at home in this stunning neck of the spectacular South African landscape.