The Saragossa Story
The first name given to the land that Saragossa is now located on was “Farm Elandshoek”. It was one of the huge farms allocated to the first settlers in the valley. Through sales and inheritances over the years these farms were broken down into portions.
It is one of these portions that was bought by a William Harlow, or simply “Harlow”, as he was called by everyone. He came to the Valley from England in the early 1920s. His farm life began with him and his wife Poppy (also from England,) moving into a very simple house with only four rooms and no bathrooms. Harlow spent the rest of his life in the Valley and died in 1972 at the age of 86.
On his lands he built the first bridge over the Elands River which was opened in 1930.
It was in 2008 when the Saragossa story really began. After various owners and the farm being utilised for different purposes (such as an ostrich farm), a German business man and a friend from South Africa bought one of the portions of Elandshoek as a farm and country retreat.
Four years later he teamed up with a business friend to buy those portions that have since the 1970s been known under the name Saragossa. The farm was expanded and properties were gradually re-united to form a game and nature reserve of 1400 ha.
In the future several other properties of the former Elandshoek farm are going to be added.
The Saragossa Story is part of the history of the Elands Valley.
Elands Valley stretches lavishly along the Elands River and follows it from the area west of Waterval Boven to Elandshoek further north where it joins the Crocodile River, and to Kaapsehoop in the east. The Valley separates the Highveld, with its towering escarpment, from the bushlands and savannah of the subtropical Lowveld. Citrus fruits and other crops flourish in this fertile region. Gold and lime have also been found and mined. The landscape is a beautiful mixture between mountains and hills, forests along the river and savannah – an irreplaceable area with the highest biodiversity status.
Elands River is an important perennial water source for the Valley, the Lowveld and the southern part of Kruger National Park. Its beauty is reflected in the remarkable waterfall in Waterval Boven.
In days gone by the Valley is believed to have been inhabited and farmed by Khoikhoi and, later, the Basuto. By the time the first Europeans arrived, those early inhabitants had been driven away by the Swazi, who subsequently settled here. Nineteenth-century records tell of encounters between the Swazi and the occasional game hunter, or pioneers passing through in an era when travel was only possible on foot, horseback or by ox-wagon.
Things changed dramatically in the 1890s, when the Netherlands-South African Railway Company (ZASM) built a railway to connect landlocked Pretoria to Delagoa Bay (today’s Maputo Bay) in Mozambique. The advent of the railway boosted trade in the Valley.
In 1895 the railway between Waterval Onder and Waterval Boven became known for its four kilometres of rack railroad that climbed up the escarpment and for the famous ZASM tunnel that had been blown into the rocks for this purpose. This narrow-gauge sideline – a remarkable piece of engineering – was one of few racktracks in the world.
In 1920, upon completion of a new train line along the waterfall, the tunnel became the first road leading directly into the Valley, which had previously been accessible only on foot or by train. It was only in 1972 that an adjacent tunnel and the N4 national highway were built to link Johannesburg with Nelspruit and Maputo.
The Valley’s most famous inhabitant was Paul Kruger, the last president of the South African Republic (Transvaal), who spent several months here in 1900. Forced to flee from Pretoria at the height of the Anglo-Boer War, he took up residence at the Krugerhof, near Waterval Onder, while his government was based at Machadodorp. Word has it, that president Kruger preferred the warmth of Waterval Onder to the cold of the Highveld. As a result, his ministers had to shuttle back and forth to manage the affairs of state. Kruger later fled to Europe, via Mozambique, and remained there for the rest of his life. He died in Switzerland in 1904. Though initially buried in Europe, he was finally laid to rest in Pretoria.
Other noteworthy places in the Valley – to name just two – are the old goldmining village Kaapsehoop (or Kaapsche Hoop), which is also known for its wild horses and the rare blue swallow, and the Sappi Pulp Mill, the largest of its kind in the southern hemisphere and a giant in the paper trade.
Nowadays, with agriculture no longer profitable, only a few commercial farms have remained in the Valley. It is home to retirees who enjoy nature and country living.
Davies-Webb, Paddy (2009): Memories of the Lowveld’s Elands Valley, 1854-1983, Recollections of a lifetime in the Valley and its surrounds. ISBN 978-0-620-44799-7