Since 1779

– the oldest licensed hotel in south africa –

The oldest licensed hotel in South Africa

The hotel at Houw Hoek was built in 1779 in the days of the Dutch East India company. It was originally the site of a toll gate on the wagon road to the eastern interior. A second floor was added in 1861.

The hotel was licensed in 1834 – it holds the oldest liquor license in South Africa – and has been in continuous operation for longer than any hotel in the country.

It has seen many expansions and improvements over the years and, in one form or another, the Houw Hoek Hotel has offered hospitality to travellers for more than two centuries.

The story of the giant blue gum tree

The massive blue gum tree that can be seen in front of the Houw Hoek Hotel might not be the tallest in the country, but it’s almost certainly the oldest.

There most likely account of the origin of the giant tree comes from the McFarlane family of Hermanus. Towards the middle of the 1800s the owner of the hotel was Johann Paul Beyer. According to McFarlane family lore, a blue gum tree was planted to commemorate the birth of his fifth child, Maria Gertrude on 28 August 1850. The baby’s birth is said to have taken place in the room directly opposite where the tree now stands.

The Houw Hoek blue gum has a circumference of 11m (measured at chest height) and a diameter of 3,5m. It is still expanding steadily.

What’s in a name?

Over the years, the name has varied from Houthoek, Houhoek, Haue Hoek, Houhoeck and Houdhoek Different explanations of its meaning have been offered. 

Dr H Lichtenstein, a German traveller in 1804, explained that owing to the length and roughness of the pass, the animals needed a rest and the wagons had to be held, from there “Hou”, which means to hold.

G S Nienaber submitted that the Hessekwas farmed there, and “Hou(w)” is the Khoi word for cattle. Therefore, he says, Houwhoek means “cattle corner”.

According to Willem van Putten, deputy factor of the Dutch East India Company, the name refers to “ter houw komen” which means, to rest – after negotiating the slopes of the pass.