The town is built on the outer slopes of the Drakensberg and is 1,302 m above the sea level. Behind it Mount Currie rises to a height of 2,224 m. It is a centre for cheese and other dairy products.
Kokstad is currently the fastest growing town in KwaZulu-Natal, with approximately 50,000 people residing there.
In 1820 the Griqua tribe which lived in Griquatown (in central South Africa) split and under the leadership of Adam Kok III, descendant of the ex-cook who established the tribe, one section first moved to Philippolis (southern Free State). In 1861 several hundred Griquas moved across the Drakensberg down the Ongeluks Nek to the vicinity of modern Kokstad. They moved because of the growing confrontation they faced with the Voortrekkers who had moved north of the Orange River to escape the laws of the British. The Voortrekkers, largely Dutch, secured leases over Griqua land and then refused to return the land at the end of the lease. The big hole of Kimberley was at the centre of controversy over one such lease.
The Griquas were forced to travel over the Drakensberg into a region earlier devastated by the great Zulu King, Shaka—thus its name "Nomansland". By the time the Griquas arrived in their new promised land eighteen months later they were exhausted and most of their livestock had perished. The impoverished Griquas named the mountain where they settled Mount Currie after Sir Walter Currie who gave support to their effort to settle here. Once settled their leader, Adam Kok, renamed their new land East Griqualand. Every male Griqua who settled in East Griqualand was able to secure a 3,000 acre (12 km²) farm, but most of them sold their land cheaply to white settlers and squandered their money. The Rev William Dower in his 1902 book "The Early Annals of Kokstad" describes in great detail how cheaply the Griqua gave their farms away.
When, in 1869, the Reverend William Dower was asked by the Griqua to establish a mission, he agreed on condition that they resettle in a more suitable place on the banks of the Mzimhlava river.
Two prominent European settlers George Brisley and Donald Strachan played a major role in the early development of Kokstad and East Griqualand: their trading store, Strachan and Co, in 1874 introduced South Africa's first indigenous currency—a set of trade tokens which circulated across a wide region, covering an area the size of Ireland.
Confirmation that the Strachan and Co coins circulated as money in the region at this time comes from the local Standard Bank at Kokstad . and the Managing Director of Strachan and Co.
In 1878 East Griqualand came into the possession of Cape Colony. The first hotel in Kokstad, The Royal, was opened by an African-American who also started a newspaper (the Kokstad Advertiser) in 1881. Kokstad became a municipality in 1892. In 1904 the population was recorded at 2903 whom a third were Griquas. Today the population of Kokstad lies at just over 50,000 people.
Stemming from a relatively old farming community, Kokstad rose from the lands beneath Mount Currie. Many old buildings and monuments have been erected that are now considered to be National Heritage Sites.The Adam Hoek Monument (Griqua): The Monument commemorates the leadership of the Griqua, Adam Kok, who, after leading the Griquas from the Southern Free State to Griqualand East during the 1860s, died after a fall off a cart in 1875. The Monument is situated next to the police station of Kokstad.
Adam Kok's laager (Griqua): In 1861, 2000 Griquas under Adam Kok migrated to the area from the Southern Free State.They lived in a laager in this vicinity for about ten years, before moving to Kokstad itself.They also took possession of a large number of farms which had been laid out for them. The site of their laager is marked by a Monument, which is situated in the foothills of Mount Currie.
Kokstad Bandstand (British Colonial): The ornamental, cast iron bandstand dates from 1912. It was donated to the town council by the engineers who were responsible for the Kokstad water scheme. It was declared a national monument in October 1983.
Boy Scouts Monument (Brititsh Monument): The Monument to former Boys Scouts who fell in the world wars is situated in the foothills of Mount Currie North of Kokstad.
Cape Mounted Rifles Monument (British Colonial): The Monument to the Cape Mounted Rifles is a tall column surrounded by four lions peering upwards. It is situated close to the town hall.
St. Patricks's Catholic Church (Cathedral)
East Griqualand Museum And Community Tourism Info Center: Griqua history is the main theme of this museums display. Although it has several other local history exhibits and items also known as the Kokstad museum.
Old Town Hall (Historical building): The Old town hall is considered a National Monument Site. It is one of the largest town structures that predates World War I within the surrounding areas. Currently used for ceremonial practices, it also functioned as the towns library for many years until 2005 when the new library on the neighbouring plot was opened. The Town Hall is now used for many Municipal and political functions, as well as public gatherings ranging from weddings to sporting ceremonies.
The area is popular for its many rivers and dams that provide ample opportunity for trout fishing and hiking possibilities. There are three reserves, Mount Currie, Wilfred Bauer and the Mountain Lake Nature Reserve. These are filled with many camping and picnic spots. Among these reserves, the Mountain Lake Nature Reserve contains paths that provide sightseeing walks, as well as over 220 species of bird. The Mount Currie reserve is filled with history. On the site stands a historic laager site surrounded by graves of early pioneers and a monument pays homage to Boy Scouts who died during the First World War in East Africa.
The areas many dams provide multiple forms of use. Crystal Springs Dam provides many boating and angling opportunities. The Dam is fed by the pure water of Crystal Springs, the main source of Kokstad’s water supply. In 1924, William Mortimer Mail (b. 16 November 1885) was to take-up an appointment as the Kokstad Town Engineer, Arguably, William Mail’s most notable achievement was improvement to Kokstad’s drinking water, which at the time of William’s arrival, was drawn from a mountain stream. Whenever it rained, became heavily stained. After identifying a suitable spring further down the mountain (Crystal Springs), he first conducted a series of water flow rate metering, to establish there was sufficient flow to meet the town’s needs. Once it had been proven there was sufficient flow, William then oversaw design & construction of a new water treatment plant. The new plant provided crystal clear water to Kokstad, which assisted the town to grow and flourish.
In addition to supplying drinking water to the town, The Crystal Spring Dam has become a great attraction for both the Kokstad residents, and tourists to the area.There are three rural schemes located in nearby Swartberg, Franklin and Kransdraai, which meet the RDP level of service.
Kokstad has many primary and secondary schools and even boasts a tertiary institution college. Some of the main schooling institutions are as follows:Carl Malcomess High
Mount Currie Senior Secondary School
Seven Fountains Primary School
Kokstad Public Primary
Kokstad Junior School
Kokstad Primary School
St. Patricks College (both primary and secondary)
Esayidi TVET College http://esayidifet.co.za/
Kokstad also has two main hospitals that service the surrounding areas:Kokstad Private Hospital
Usher Memorial Hospital (State Owned Hospital).
By 1931, the Kokstad municipal council had assumed a pseudo-heraldic "coat of arms" depicting a landscape with Mount Currie in the background, ears of wheat, and a tree, and the motto Concilio et animis.
A proper coat of arms was designed by Ivan Mitford-Barberton in the late 1950s. It was registered with the Cape Provincial Administration in October 1960 and at the Bureau of Heraldry in July 1979.
The arms were : Per fess Gules and Or, in chief, dexter a Griqua hunter statant holding in his dexter hand a slain buck and in his sinister hand a rifle, sinister a lion statant, all Or; in base, below a yoke the barrel of a cannon palewise, all Sable; the whole within a bordure compony of 40 pieces Argent and Sable. In layman's terms, the shield was divided horizontally into red and gold, the upper half depicting a Griqua hunter holding a slain buck and a rifle and facing a lion, and the lower half a yoke above an upright black cannon barrel, the whole design surrounded by a border divided into forty sections alternately silver and black.
The crest was a cock's head issuing from a golden eastern crown, and the motto was Pro rege lege et grege.Alan George Sumner Gibson: Eight Years in Kaffraria, 1882 - 1890. Wells Gardner, Darton & Co. 1891. reprinted by Negro University Press, New York City 1969, ISBN 978-0-8371-1573-3.
Robert Dower, cricketer
Wilfrid Napier, Roman Catholic archbishop
Kelly Seymour, cricketer
Thomas Mitchell Mullins, High Court Judge
Rosa Hope, artist
Sir Walter Stanford, colonial era magistrate
Trevor Fancutt, tennis player
William Mortimer Mail Town Engineer 1924-1945