Aquatic sports require suitable bodies of water - the ocean, rivers, dams, swimming pools - and in the early history of southern Africa there were few such bodies of water available. The development of aquatic sports was also largely due to the arrival of the British, as the earlier Dutch, French and German settlers seemed to have little time or appetite for any sports. The Cape Fold Mountains form a barrier between the coast and the Klein Karoo to the north, with few rivers flowing down from the arid interior.
By the time the British took over at the Cape in 1806, settlers from the VOC had already settled along the coast up to Port Elizabeth and into the interior beyond. Voortrekker leader Piet Retief owned a farm at what was to become the Summerstrand suburb from 1814 - 1821. After an attack on the frontier town of Grahamstown in 1819, the British government sent 4000 settlers to occupy the area between the Fish River and Kei River - which later became the Border Province - to create a buffer between the white farmers and the migrating Bantu tribes that were move westwards along the coast. The 1820 British Settlers, as they became known, developed Port Elizabeth in Algoa Bay to become the main commercial centre of the Cape Colony, while East London was founded at the mouth of the Buffalo river by some of the same Settlers in 1836.
From Mossel Bay, few towns developed along the coast, with George as the administrative capital of the district founded in 1811. Some coastal towns like Sedgefield were developed as resort towns, while the holiday town of Plettenberg Bay had been a stop-over for shipping since the days of the Portuguese. Places like Oudtshoorn and Willowmore grew beyond the mountains as centres for the local farming activities, and although lack beaches, schools and municipals have built swimming pools for aquatic sports.
Due to the Bantu tribes in the area beyond the frontier along the Kei River, few towns developed in the Trans-Kei region, which stretched along the coast as far as Port Edward, which marked the southern border of the Natal Colony. From Cape Town in the west, the route travelled overland to Mosselbay, where the settlers were forced into the narrow strip of land between the mountains and the coast.
The British influence in the area had a profound influence on the frontier. Many towns were built in the eastern Cape, and English-style Grammar schools as well as University developed. Aquatic sports were introduced through these schools, and eventually the South African Amateur Swimming Union (SAASU) was created at Port Elizabeth in 1899.
Today the so-called Garden Route (now mainly a busy highway) travels about 400km along the Indian Ocean coastline from Mosselbay eastwards to Port Elizabeth,. This section of the Garden Route includes numerous rivers as well as the five lakes that appear as a shimmering string of irregular blue glass running parallel with the Indian Ocean. They were created over time, by a natural damming of water in the valleys between two dune ridges, one 300,000 years old and the other a much more recent age(in geological time) of 6000 years old. Besides the lakes, from the beaches of Mosselbaai and the Hartenbos river in the west, the Garden Route includes numerous rivers and beaches. Many have played an part in the aquatic sports history of South Africa.
The resort town of Sedgefield hold a special places in South African aquatic history, for it was from here that Henry Charteris Hooper traveled to Cape Town in 1909 to become the first person to swim from Robben Island to Cape Town. It took him 6hrs 55min to swim the distance of almost 11 kms. He was quite at home, weekly swimming the length of Groenvlei and back before breakfast and was noted to have swum the distance between Platbank and Gericke's Point also!
Swimming history in southern Africa began when the Portuguese vessel São Gonçalo sank here in 1630, on their way back from India. 150 sailors drowned but 100 managed to swim to shore. For years Plett was a sleapy holiday dorpie along the N2, where Transvalers had holidy homes which they used briefly in the summer months each year. In 1970 the local roads were tarred and the town began to expand rapidly.