Aliwal North lies on the border of the Free State and Eastern Cape on the Friendly N6 route between Bloemfontein and East London. It is situated on the bank of the Gariep River (previously the Orange River). It is within an hour’s drive from Burgersdorp, Rouxville, Lady Grey and the Gariep Dam.
The town grew around a natural drift through the Gariep River that was used as a crossing by early travellers, and which was replaced by a pontoon in 1827.
Sir Harry Smith (then Governor of the Cape) named the town to commemorate his defeat of the Sikhs at Aliwal in India in 1846.
In 1849 the town was laid out and developed as transport centre and health resort, because of its 2 popular hot springs.
In 1880 the Frere Bridge opened and in 1885 the railway from East London reached the town. This made it an important commercial centre for the north-eastern British colony, but its growth was impeded when a newer railway to the Free State bypassed it.
The popularity of the town’s hot springs coincided with the 19th-century discovery of the health benefits of ‘bathing’. They are extremely rich in minerals and gases.
Aliwal North is also the hub of a successful wool, wheat, maize, beef and dairy farming area.
Look out for
The town’s 2 hot mineral springs are 34°C and soothe aching bodies.
The fullness of the Gariep River is a lovely sight, and is popular with canoeists.
There is ancient San rock art in the caves around the area.
The Juana Square Gardens in the centre of Aliwal North are named after Sir Harry Smith’s wife, Juana Maria de Los Dolores de Leon.
The Post and Magistrate’s Office is a lovely sandstone building c.1896. Have a look at the De Wet Huis and Pioneersmonument; the Aliwal Museum, housed in the old library built in 1876; andthe Kerkplein Museum.
The Anglo-Boer War Gardens of Remembrance commemorate the deaths of 720 men, women and children who died in concentration camps. Die Tolhuis (The Tollhouse) was built in 1880, and is a National Monument.
Buffelspruit Nature Reserve has buffalo, zebra, oryx, and large herds of other antelope. The Tussen-die-Riviere Game Reserve between the Gariep and Caledon Rivers has hiking trails, campsites and chalets. The Gariep Dam Nature Reserve and Oviston Nature Reserve are both to the west.