Visitors who choose to “take the waters” at Caledon Hot Springs will know how relaxed one feels after spending a few hours slipping in and out of the warm sulphur baths. Visitors who choose to “take the waters” at Caledon Hot Springs will know how relaxed one feels after spending a few hours slipping in and out of the warm sulphur baths.
Since childhood I have spent many hours enjoying the calming benefits of the springs and a recent overnight stay at the Caledon Hotel, Casino and Spa peaked my interest in the history of this magical place.
For over a thousand years the waters at Caledon have been known to have healing powers. The Khoikhoi had erected kraals in the area and had occupied the land for centuries. The springs were discovered by European explorers and the location of the Bath River was first depicted on a Dutch map dated 1700.
When the Dutch East India Company (VOC) first set up a refreshment station at the Cape to provide fresh food and water to the ships that passed around the tip of Africa the “Mountains of Africa” in the east (The Hottentots Holland range) blocked the way east for a few decades. Eventually, explorers managed to pass over the Hottentots Holland range in their ox-wagons and began to discover the lands over the mountains.
Travel time from the Cape to Caledon was three days.
What makes the water hot?
The groundwater is warmed up by the earth’s to over 53 degrees centigrade at depths of at least two kilometres. Metallic impurities in the sandstone – particularly iron and manganese and silica dissolve in the hot waters, creating their healing properties.
The development of the Caledon Springs
The springs attracted numerous visitors and hospital doctors referred Company officials there. As the demand for accommodation increased, the VOC established a guest house in the area in the 1770’s that accommodated up to 200 visitors a year.
By the beginning of the 18th century, a new approach to taking the waters was inspired by a medical doctor from Germany who was employed by the VOC. He re-modelled the baths and introduced medical treatments associated with traditional European spas. The guest house continued to flourish and as it was halfway on the route between Cape Town and Swellendam, the British Government chose it as an administrative centre, creating a formal settlement 1810 named Caledon in memory of the Earl of Caledon, Governor at the Cape from 1807 until 1811.
The Mineral Baths and the Victorian Sanatorium
In 1897 a new sanatorium was built in the style of a Swiss Chalet - reminiscent of the European style of spas. The new hotel could accommodate five hundred guests.
The sanatorium proved so popular in 1902 the original Victorian bath was developed (which is still in use), a grand concert hall, gymnasium, two dining rooms, a reading, writing and billiard room. Outside facilities included tennis, croquet, bowls and golf, and a large garden.
The development of the sanatorium was in line with international trends in balneotherapy at the time and the Caledon Spa was awarded the Best spa in the world in the early 1900’s.
Residents were advised by physicians on the nature of their disease and a specific hydrotherapy programme was prescribed for them. Until it burnt down in 1945 the Caledon Sanatorium was the hub of social life in the Overberg.
In 1961 the site was taken over by the Caledon Municipality and developed into a caravan and campsite. In 1989 the site was developed into The Caledon Casino, Hotel and Spa.
Not only is it the ideal family destination (they have fantastic indoor and outdoor facilities for children of all ages), it is also a wonderful place for couples and friends who are seeking a day or two of sheer relaxation within an hour and a half drive of Cape Town.