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North West - maize, diamonds and the Magaliesburg

In the summer time the North West is a green sea of maize fields, of which there seems to be no end, and then in the far east of the region is there a change of scenery as the countryside climbs up the high, sub-tropical, Magaliesburg Mountain Range.

The soil of these plains is deep and fertile and vast herds of game once roamed area. The land was first farmed by Tswana people who lived in cities of huts surrounded by low stone walls and the remains of these can still be seen in many areas dotted about the North West.

In 1832 two French missionaries named Prosper Lemue and Samuel Rollard opened a mission station west of Zeerust in the Mosega Valley but within a few months the area was invaded by Mzilikazi and his Matabele warriors and the missionaries. Chaos reigned in the North West until 1837 when Mzilikazi was chased north by the Voortrekkers and for many years the North West remained a quiet farming region where maize, groundnuts and sunflowers were the priority and the area also produced excellent grazing for cattle. But while this farming area flourished from day to day, few people realised or even dreamed that beneath the rich fertile farming soil, lay a fortune in diamonds.

The discovery of diamonds along the Vaal River at Barkly West in the Northern Cape caused huge excitement and there were speculators showing interest all along the river. In 1872 diamonds were found along the Vaal River near Christiana and this led the diamond rush into the North West. One of the major discoveries which caused a huge diamond rush was when diamonds were discovered in Lichtenburg back in 1926. Today diamonds are still mined in the area but farming has taken the upper hand and the North West Province plays a major role in South Africa’s ever growing food chain. 

Bloemhof - John Barclay was a survivor the famous Birkenhead shipwreck of 1852 and he then went on to buy a farm, up north, in the veld. The farm he bought became well known for the flower garden, or ‘bloemhof’, which was laid out by his daughter to brighten up the dreary and drab surroundings. For a few years John Barclay ferried equipment, animals and vehicles across the Vaal River on his ferry known as the North Star. Diamonds were then discovered in the area around 1870 and remains of the old diggings can still be seen today. John Barclay’s farm then became a town named Bloemhof and is now an agricultural centre with tall maize silos among other farming amenities. Upstream from the town is the huge Bloemhof Dam which hosts a number of water sport activities and lots of fishing.

Brits - The waters of the Hartbeespoort Dam irrigate the fertile  Brits farms which produce wheat, vegetables, flowers and various citrus fruits. The Orange blossom perfumes the crisp air around the green countryside around Brits

An old karee tree grows in the south of Brits and it is beneath this tree where the peace treaty which ended the Boer civil war was signed on 15 January 1864.

Christiana - Diamonds which were discovered in the gravels of the Vaal River back in 1870 led to the hurried establishment of a town by the, then, Transvaal government. The town was established to settle ownership of the diggings and try to create a civil and peaceful existence for the diggers and prospectors. It was named Christiana after the daughter of President Marthinus Pretorius and the rush of diggers turned it into a boom town with a rowdy community of all sorts from everywhere ranging from hustlers to preachers.

Today Christiana is an agricultural centre revolving around the mighty Vaal River. There are prehistoric engravings at the Stowlands national monument and just out of the town are the Rob Ferreira Mineral Baths, a sulphur spring with added health benefits.

Delareyville - Salt is one of Delareyville’s main products and is produced in vast quantities. The town was founded in 1914 and named in honour of the Anglo-Boer War hero, General Jacobus de la Rey. The town has a proud farming community and today is a strong agricultural centre for the farms in the area bearing maize, monkey nuts and cattle.

Fochville - A ‘golden horseshoe’ of mines including the great Western Deep Mine just about completely surrounds Fochville which was established in 1920 as an agricultural centre and named in honour of Marshal Ferdinand Foch who was the commander-in-chief of the Allied forces in France during the First World War.

Groot-Marico - The fertile valley of the Groot Marico River is densely cultivated for maize and citrus farming. This valley is the setting for many of the tales written by Herman Charles Bosman who became a famous South African author who wrote a number of Afrikaans flavoured English books. He was a delightful story teller and his books are still available all over South Africa.

Today the town of Groot-Marico has an intriguing Wild West atmosphere and marble, slate and granite are mined in the district which is also famous for some remarkable dolomite caves containing many animal fossils.

Klerksdorp - The discovery of gold in 1886 ended the rural tranquility in which Klerksdorp had been used to for some 50 years back. A gathering of more than 4000 prospectors drew lots for rights to mine the area and you can just imagine the chaos. A town of corrugated iron shanties sprang up almost overnight and within a year there were as many as 200 stores, 70 bars and a even a stock exchange. Within 12 months the boom was over and Klerksdorp never got back to normal. There was still gold in the ground but it demanded complex recovery techniques so most of the diggers abandoned the field.

Today, with the use of modern extraction methods, Klerksdorp has become a major producer of gold and uranium. It is also a very important maize farming centre which is world renowned.

Leeudoringstad - On 17 July 1932 the railway town of Leeudoringstad literally exploded into the headlines. A train carrying 1200 tons of dynamite blew up 2 kilometres from Leeudoringstad. The train was on its way from the De Beers factory in Somerset West, near Cape Town, to the Witwatersrand gold fields. Unfortunately the guard and four people living close to the railway line were killed and almost every building in the town was either damaged or destroyed. It must have been quite an ordeal as 1200 tons of dynamite can produce one hell of a blast.

Lichtenburg - When President Thomas Burgers proudly named Lichtenburg (‘town of light’) in 1873 he said he hoped that it would be a beacon of progress. Well that it was because a mere 33 years later Lichtenburg became the scene of the greatest diamond rush of all. Lichtenburg is a handsome and modern town with a spacious central square which is shaded by elegant karee trees and is the setting for a superb equestrian statue of General Jacobus de la Rey, the brave Anglo-Boer War leader.

Orkney - A Scot named Jackson who was from the Orkney Isles in Scotland once owned a small gold mine on the banks of the Vaal River in the late 1880s. Jackson has long since disappeared from the scene but his mine is now used as a ventilation shaft by the giant Vaal Reefs Mine, which dominates the town named after his farm, Orkney.

Potchefstroom – This is the oldest European town in the Transvaal and the former capital of the South African Republic. It was founded by the Voortrekker leader, Andries Hendrik Potgieter, back in 1838 just after his victory in the ‘Nine Days Battle’ with the Matabele tribe. As well as being the new republic’s headquarters, it was also a trading centre and a base for exploration of the interior.

Adventurers, hunters, traders and prospectors streamed through Potchefstroom. Among them was Pieter Jacob Marais, a former ‘forty-niner’ from the California gold rush, who in 1853 brought to the town a few specks of gold he had found in a stream flowing off the Witwatersrand. He caused quite a stir and although no more gold was found at the time it was a hint of things to come.

In 1854 the capital was shifted to Pretoria, but Potchefstroom retained its commercial and cultural importance. The first newspaper in the Transvaal, the Transvaal Argus, was printed in Potchefstroom on 8 May 1866. The first shots of the Anglo-Transvaal War were fired at Potchefstroom on 16 December 1881. 500 Republicans rode into the town and occupied the printing works and British soldiers who tried to throw them out were driven off in a gun battle and had to retreat into the Old Fort where they were besieged for three months. Although 25 soldiers and six Republicans died in the siege an amicable ending was reached on 23 March 1882. The Republican leader named Piet Cronje invited the British officers to dinner at the Royal Hotel and after some discussion and a hearty meal the British soldiers marched out of the fort the next day with their drums beating and their flags flying. The remains of the fort and the adjoining cemetery are a national monument today.

Rustenburg - A church and township was established in September 1851 and was the second Dutch Reformed parish in the Transvaal. Rustenburg (‘a place of rest’) grew as the church and administrative centre for a rich farming area producing citrus, tropical and sub-tropical fruits, cattle, Virginia tobacco, groundnuts, sunflower seeds, maize and wheat.

The Boekenhoutfontein farm which lies northwest of Rustenburg was the home of President Paul Kruger for a while and of its original 500 hectares 32 are maintained as a museum.

Back in 1852, two rival Voortrekker leaders, Andries Hendrik Potgieter and Andries Pretorius met in Rustenburg to settle their differences after a lengthy period of quarrelling and skullduggery. They remained friends and went on to play an important part in the history of South Africa together.

Schweizer-Reneke - In 1885 the Transvaal government had had enough of the ongoing cattle thieving complaints and decided to launch an attack on a secret rustlers’ hideout on a hill called Massouskop on the banks of the Harts River. A major shoot out perused and ten government men were killed but nevertheless the hill was captured and the rustlers who consisted of a mixed crowd of Europeans, Hottentots and Tswana people were driven away for good to the delight of the surrounding cattle farmers.

A town which later grew up at the foot of the Massouskop hill was named in honour of two of the soldiers who died in the nasty skirmish. They were Captain G. A. Schweizer and Field-Cornet G. N. Reneke, hence the town, Schweizer-Reneke. The walls of the rustlers’ camp can still be seen on the summit of Massouskop today.

Stilfontein - Midway between Klerksdorp and Potchefstroom are the workings of three of the largest gold mines in South Africa namely the Hartebeesfontein, Buffelsfontein and Zandpan mines. Stilfontein (‘quiet fountain’) was created in 1949 as the residential centre for the mines and has grown rapidly into a modern beautiful little town with attractive gardens, tree shaded streets and modern shopping and recreational facilities for the residents.

Wolmaransstad - The stream known as the Makwasi (‘wild spearmint’), named because of the bushes growing on its banks, flows through a shallow valley to join the Vaal. At the point where the main road from Kimberley to Johannesburg crosses the river a town was built in 1891 and named after J. M. A. Wolmarans who was a member of the volksraad (‘people’s council’). It is a centre for maize production and there are old alluvial diamond diggings in the area.

Zeerust - A thorn bush wilderness occupied by vast sheep and cattle farms surrounds Zeerust. In 1864 a guy by the name of Casper Coetzee employed a builder named Walter Seymore to build a church and fort on his farm. Unfortunately Casper Coetzee died before the buildings were completed and the town which grew around them was named Coetzee’s Rest or Zeerust in his honour and memory.