Mooi River is one of three tourist areas in the Mpofana District. The town itself is situated on the 30 Deg East line of longitude.
Originally called Lawrenceville, the town of Mooi River nestles in a valley some 1 401m above sea level. The Zulus called the river “Mpofana” or “place of the eland”, while the Dutch named it “Mooi” meaning “pretty”. The countryside varies from mountainous in the west of the district towards Giants Castle, through rolling hills and grassland to the thorn-veld around Middelrus in the northwest. It is a well-watered landscape, most of it ideally suited to agriculture.
In 1884 the railway reached Alexander Lawrence’s farm Grantleigh and the town was established and grew around the railway station. Mooi River became a Town Board in 1921 and steady progress, based on agriculture, tourism and industry, enabled it to obtain Borough status in 1959. It is today rightly regarded as the gateway to the Midlands, Kamberg and Giants Castle and to the dramatically scenic areas of Rietvlei and Middelrus.
The Mooi River district has a pleasant and healthy climate. Summer is the rainy season, when days are warm and nights cool. Rainfall averages around 900mm a year and comes mostly in the form of thunderstorms. Mist is frequent and there are occasional cool rainy spells of a day or two. January and February are the hottest months.
Winter is a time of frosty mornings and crisp sunny days with little to no rain. Snow occasionally falls on the Berg and on rare occasions in the town itself. June and July are the coldest months.
As the hub of the district, Mooi River is surrounded by many smaller settlements, each with its own charm, attractions and facilities.
There are many other places of interest near to Mooi River. These include:
Weston named after Martin West, the first Governor of Natal, was laid out in 1866 after the spanning of the Mooi River by the Helen Bridge. The bridge was named after Helen Bisset, the beautiful daughter of General John Jarvis Bisset who was acting Governor of Natal at that time.
In the mid-nineteenth century, Weston had a store, post office, pound and a hotel. Situated on the river banks, the latter became known as the Lake Hotel. This hotel, established in 1853, served the community for over 100 years. The historic landmark was tragically destroyed in a fired in 1959.
In 1872 a church was built at Weston to serve the community and today, 136 years later, St. John’s Anglican Church still stands although it is no longer used for services. Its graveyard speaks eloquently of the old pioneering days, many of the original settlers having their last resting place here.
Like Rietvlei, Weston village did not develop into a town. The railway arrived in 1884 and crossed the Mooi River two kilometers upstream from Weston. After the station was built, most commercial activity moved to the new village of Lawrenceville, later to be called Mooi River.
During the Boer was, the 1100 hectar Weston town lands were used as a remount depot to supply horses to the British army. This depot was closed in 1913 and the buildings were handed over to the Natal Provincial Administration for the establishment of an agricultural high school. Thus it was that in 1914 the well known Weston Agricultural College was founded. For more than 100 years it has trained future farmers both academically and in the practical aspects of agriculture.
An easy 15 minutes drive south of Mooi River is the hamlet of Rosetta, lying at an altitude of 1429m. In 1895 Kamberg and surrounding farmers petitioned the Colonial government to erect a station at or near the Meshlyn road drift. By 1897 the station, which became the rail-head for Kamberg was built. It was first called Springvale, but later named Rosetta after a farm a few kilometers up the Kamberg road. In the meantime, the need to use the drift over the Mooi River was eliminated by the construction of the Meshlyn bridge in 1896. A hundred plus years later it is still in daily use.
The historic Rosetta Hotel was built in 1897 and the village developed into a thriving little center with two trading stores, a mill and, of course, a post office. Rosetta became well known as a health and fishing resort for coast-weary visitors as well as the center of a productive agricultural region.
In the 1940’s, Reginald Hickinbortham, owner of the Rosetta Mills, subdivided the farm Springvale. Thus today the environs of Rosetta consist of a variety of small properties ranging from weekend and holiday getaways to productive smallholdings.
Giants Castle Reserve
In 1903 far-sighted members of the Natal Government saw the need to preserve the remnants of the great eland herds which had once roamed the Drakensberg and its foothills. Giants Castle Game Reserve was proclaimed in 1903. Then covering only 7000 hectares, subsequent additions have increased the size to around 34 600 hectares.
A delightful hutted camp overlooking the sparkling Bushmans river and the brooding peak of Giants Castle, provides comfortable accommodation. Trout fishing, game viewing and birdwatching can be indulged in, while walks range from gentle strolls for the not-so-energetic to stamina-testing hikes into the mountains. The altitude of the reserve ranges from 1 380 m in the eastern valley bottoms to 3 350m at the top of the escarpment.
Many kinds of antelope from the majestic eland to the tiny klipspringer, can be seen in the reserve as well as smaller mammals and a rich variety of birds. The latter include the rare Bearded Vulture or Lammergeier and Cape Vulture and visitors can be taken to view these birds from a hide camp in the mountains where carcasses are provided for them.
Hidcote is a farming area northwest of Mooi River. Joseph Henderson, an early settler and prominent personality in the affairs of the Colony, farmed at Melbrake Fell in the second half of the nineteenth century. He introduced the beautiful trees to the large stone mansion which was used for many years as a girls’ school. Today it is known as The Lords Of the Manor Hotel.
Mount West takes its name from a 1 749m hill in the area. It is situated at an altitude of
1 600m on the N3 freeway near the Kildare interchange (Exit 132).
In 1856 the military authorities stationed a company of the Nottinghamshire (45th) Regiment, known as the Sherwood Foresters, at a site 13km southwest of the present village of Nottingham Road. A garrison had already been established there in 1850 to protect the settlers against the raiding bushmen and the post became known as Fort Nottingham after the Nottinghamshire regiment. In the early 1880’s when the railway reached the area, a station was established which was first called Karkloof but later renamed Nottingham Road. The village lies at an altitude of 1 470m and is just outside the boundary of the Mpofana Magisterial district. In 1889 a hotel was built, first known as the Railway Hotel, it was later named the Nottingham Road Hotel and became a popular “watering hole”, where troops and local residents could relax and quench their thirst. It is still a very popular hotel and boasts a well known pub called “Notties”.
Rietvlei, lying at an altitude of around 1280m was the original settlement in the Mooi River district, having a post office and pound in 1856. Pioneer farmer and hundter Capt, William Proudfoot lived on Craigie Burn. He led several expeditions into the Berg to punish the marauding bushmen and recover stolen cattle. History records that the last lions shot in the Mooi River district came from Mt. Alida near Rietvlei, but the date is unknown.
Craigieburn dam is situated on a tributary of the Mooi River and is a popular bass fishing spot and watersports venue. Still standing on the banks of the dams is the beautiful little Methodist Chapel, built by the residents of the area in 1877. In the graveyard are many of the pioneer farmers of Rietvlei, including Capt. Proudfoot.
Rietvlei had no chance to develop as it was long before the road from Pietermaritzburg and Durban to the Transvaal was re-routed much further to the west.