Die Bult, the vernacular term for the commercial and residential area adjacent to the North-West University campus in Potchefstroom, means “the Hill” in Afrikaans. (Incidentally there are several other Afrikaans words for hill, depending on the kind of hill — including “heuwel”, “hoogte”, and “koppie”.)
Die Bult is not hilly but in fact rather flat, and no one seems to know how the place got its name. But despite the nonsensical name Die Bult’s flatness is actually a blessing, as this area is one of the best spots in Potchefstroom for a leisurely stroll. In a nation in which walkable public spaces are few and far between, Die Bult is a notable and pleasant exception.
University towns like this have a special vibe about them, with a youthful energy and a wide variety of people whom you wouldn’t normally expect to find in a small highveld village. There is no better way to encounter them than by walking. So park your car next to Cachet Park on Steve Biko Street and let your feet take over from there.
The best thing about Die Bult is its long line of oak trees — the longest in South Africa, or perhaps in the entire Southern Hemisphere depending on who you believe. The tree-lined avenue was planted in the early years of the 20th century and stretches for nearly seven kilometers along what used to be called Tom and Berg Streets, renamed Steve Biko Street and Peter Mokaba Avenue.
The avenue used to include more than 700 oaks but has now dwindled to around 500, due to invasive parasites and shrinking groundwater supplies blamed on rapid development in the area. Nonetheless the line of oaks remains extremely enjoyable to walk beneath. The trees are beautiful when the leaves change in autumn, and in winter the dry leaves crunch beneath one’s feet, creating a satisfying oaky smell. (Be warned though, the leaves also contain a sap that loves to stick to the soles of shoes.)
In addition to the trees Die Bult is also lined with cafes, restaurants, coffee shops, barber shops, and bars of all shapes and sizes, with countless places to sit and watch the world go by. Grab a gelato from Munchies or — if you’re lucky — a flat white from the Slouw Coffee trailer, which sells delicious coffee from a mobile unit and can often be found parked in Die Bult.
Eat your ice cream, drink your coffee, and just keep walking north: If you’re feeling energetic you can go beyond Die Bult, past the campus and the retro student housing, past the beautiful family homes and the lovely botanical garden, all the way up to the River Café on the banks of Potchefstroom Dam. There, you can reward your feet with a beer before walking the two kilometers back.
Die Bult centers on the block between Steve Biko and Molen Streets to the west and east, and Esselen and Borcherds Streets to the north and south.