I stumbled upon Ann’s Villa a few months ago while zooming in and out of Google Maps; a hobby-like practice that usually leads to planning a road trip. I saw the name, recalled seeing a road sign for it at the foot of Olifantskop Pass, investigated a bit more and it turned out that Ann’s Villa was more than just a road sign and a speckle on the map.
I was convinced that I need to visit Ann’s Villa as soon as I opened its website and read, “If you have been looking for the middle of nowhere, welcome.”
“Take a deep breath and time travel into the past at Ann’s Villa. “
Even more convinced.
“Situated at the foot of the Zuurberg Pass, guests come to enjoy a taste of history in an authentic and undemanding atmosphere.”
Did someone say pass? Did someone say dirt road? Did someone say it’s just the right job for an Isuzu bakkie? I just knew I had to get myself to Ann’s Villa.
The Zuurberg Pass
There are two ways to reach Ann’s Villa; one is via the tarred R335 (and then you follow the R342 to Patterson, then the N10) and the other road will get some dust on your wheels, take you through a few hairpin-bends and twists, over a few loose rocks and it will bump a few organs into new positions as you navigate your way through and over the Zuurberg Pass.
The Zuurberg Pass was built in 1848 by 250 convicts and formed part of the road that was planned to connect Port Elizabeth to Grahamstown, Somerset East, Cradock and Colesberg. The mountain was described an “almost impassable mountain” and in 1850, when the 8th war of Dispossession broke out, they halted the work and recommenced in 1853, and under the supervision of the Inspector of Roads, Woodifield, they tried to remedy the flaws of the unfinished road.
Just to give you an idea of how “almost impassible” it was, in 1872 an anonymous correspondent for the Herald wrote, “If anyone wishes to have a model of the road over the Zuurberg range, I would suggest to him to take a corkscrew, dislocate it very slightly – very slightly will do – and hand it up with the inscription, Model of the road over the Zuurberg Mountain.”
Zuurberg Pass is one of South Africa’s longest passes at 17.5 km. The Pass traverses all four tiers of the dominant Zuurberg Mountain range and it offers views left, right and centre, fynbos on the peaks and has an elevation summit of 888m. In the area you’ll find major climatic and floral transition and in the small area five distinct floral types are present.
The pass officially opened in 1858 and became a toll road shortly after.
Thanks to research done by Dr. Helen Lunn, the rates (which were collected at Matthews Farm, now Zuurberg Mountain Village) to pass the pass were:
* Upon each wheel of every four-wheeled vehicle, not provided with a wooden shoe, or on an iron shoe nor less than 8” broad, 3d.
But that’s not all. The animals also had to pay, those who were ‘employed in drawing a vehicle’ was charged 1d, and ‘upon every sheep, goat or swine ½ d.’
It is recommended to use something with a higher clearance if you want to travel via Zuurberg Pass and in bad weather, I would suggest something with a bit more oomph than just a higher clearance, a 4WD will come in handy. I was afforded the opportunity to use the Isuzu KB300 D-TEQ Double Cab LX 4×4 (MT) and this workhorse of a bakkie charmed the socks off of me. It was also my first time using the manual KB300 and it grew on me within the first gear change.
I can talk about the impressive interior space, especially if you’re sitting in the back seat (no more leg cramps), the massive loading space, the shiny wheels, and go on about the infotainment system with its big 6.5 inch touchscreen, Bluetooth, reverse camera etc. but even though those gadgets come in handy when on the long road (with the navigation system and reverse camera being my two favourite features), it was the ride, the fuel consumption and the way the vehicle handled itself that impressed me more than anything else. You can read more about the whole trip I did with the Isuzu where I challenged myself to have multiple adventures on one tank of fuel (the Zuurberg Pass was only the beginning of the adventure).
Just a side note: If you are a 4×4 enthusiast I highly recommend you subscribe to Mountain Passes South Africa (MPSA). It is only R200 per year and MPSA is dedicated to the research, documentation, photographing and filming of South Africa’s Mountain Passes and by subscribing you’ll have a world of information right at your fingertips. There are videos (Google Earth animations) that help you to orientate yourself of where, what and how before you go. You can also download the route file that is compatible with most GPS software systems.
A short history of Ann’s Villa at the foot of the Zuurberg Pass
The current Ann’s Villa was built by John Webster (originally from Scotland) in 1864 but it is believed that the early growth in traffic over the pass encouraged Webster to build a building that was used as a hotel (which was already in existence before the completion of Ann’s Villa. Ann’s Villa also acted as postal agents and had seven bedrooms. A year after opening the pass there was sufficient traffic for the PE Herald to publish a travellers guide for those going from PE to Cradock via the pass.
What I would do to get my hands on that guide.
Ann (Webster’s wife) passed away, John remarried, and in 1867, the year diamonds were discovered along the Orange River, fortune hunters flocked to the interior of South Africa and by then the hotel also offered food, a blacksmith, a bakery, a wagon repair shop and wholesale and retail shop.
Over the years Webster Hotel became known as Ann’s Villa and they marketed themselves in 1887 as ‘The healthiest spot in Africa. For change of air, try Ann’s Villa Zuurberg. With good accommodation at 25s per week.’
About two decades after building the villa, a school also saw the light. Then came the Anglo Boer War in 1899 and in 1912 Ann’s Villa was sold to Mr. G.R. Hall for £ 1550. The N10 national road was completed in 1959 and the visitors and guests to Ann’s Villa became fewer and fewer.
Watch the video of the Zuurberg Pass and Ann’s Villa.
Ann’s Villa Today
Luckily, thanks to the owners of Ann’s Villa, all the history of the place is long gone but definitely not forgotten. Dr Helen Lunn (co-owner of Ann’s Villa) also did an incredible, well-researched write up on the history of Ann’s Villa and this information is available from the old shop at the villa.
Upon arriving at the 153-year old Ann’s Villa – with the wind howling and the floors creaking – I could not help but wonder whether any visitor has ever experienced something ‘weird’ while staying here. Perhaps a cold chill or a shiver down the spine?
It also did not help that, before I went to bed and before midnight and darkness set in – the opportune time for ghosts to roam according to Hollywood – I read that Ann died somewhere on the farm. It also did not help that a friend who is into paranormal activities replied to my “I’m too tired to be bothered by a ghost” told me that it is exactly then when they ‘come out’. It also did not help that someone, who stayed there for a night, told me it was very creepy (but they also said it was worth it). It also did not help that two sheep followed me around and ended up sleeping on the porch of the school (our accommodation for the night) like two watch dogs.
Or wait. Maybe the sheep did help because I’m happy to report that no ghosts were seen or felt or experienced or encountered.
In fact, I woke up the next morning and quickly realised that it is a lot less creepy when there is no wind. And when the morning sun is out the house and shop become encapsulated with golden light and interesting shadows.
If you are in the area and don’t want to stay over the entry to Blacksmith museum is R20 and accommodation is R270 per person (self-catering and very basic). But do yourself a favour, stay over if you can. The school can accommodation up to 6 (or 7) people. If a dirt road is not your cup of tea, take the N2, then N10 and turn off at R400. Contact details to make a booking can be found on the website, www.annsvilla.co.za.
Route options for reaching Ann’s Villa. If you continue with the R335 it becomes the Zuurberg Pass (indicated by the red arrows). Only attempt this road if you have a high clearance vehicle).
Here are a few more photos of Ann’s Villa
Old world charm of Ann’s Villa.There’s a man on the roof.
Prickly pear putting its prettiest foot forward.
Scenes from the old school building, now used as accommodation.A watch-sheep.
Ann’s Villa, built in 1864.