History of the Liesbeek River

The Liesbeek River (also spelt Liesbeeck) is a small river in Cape Town in South Africa. It was the first river in Cape Town named by Jan van Riebeeck. “Beek” is Dutch for stream and “lies” is a reed.

The Liesbeek, which is less than 9 kilometers long, is situated in the oldest urbanized river valley in South Africa and in one of the most beautiful cities in the world. The headwaters flow from the eastern slopes of Table Mountain above Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens where the vegetation is largely indigenous.

The slopes of Bishopscourt have large properties, including Jan van Riebeeck’s farm, whose garden was regarded as the best in the British Empire outside Britain. Water abstraction here, often to water residential gardens, has caused the flow to reduce to a trickle during the summer months. From here to the lower section, there is a path known as the Liesbeek River Trail running alongside the river.

In Newlands, there are smaller residential plots. South African Breweries and the Josephine Mill are located here. From Rondebosch, large sections of the river are canalised, and those short sections of the river that are not, are degraded by erosion. Schweppes has a historic pumphouse here.

Below Rosebank and Mowbray, at Observatory (South Africa’s oldest scientific institution), is the confluence of the Liesbeek and Black Rivers. The Two Rivers Urban Park is located on land between the Liesbeek and the Black with heritage sites and designated public open spaces. Raapenberg Bird Sanctuary (a nature reserve), the River Club and the Palotti Wetlands Environmental Centre are located here. From here, the river runs through both industrial areas and railway marshalling yards. The Liesbeek empties into Table Bay at Paarden Island (Island of Horses).