The small town of Piet Retief is situated on the Assegai River in the extreme South East of Mpumalanga. Weary travelers heading from Gauteng to the coast would be well-advised to rest in one of the many well-maintained guesthouses in the area. Piet Retief is the last major town before reaching the Elephant Coast, so it is also a good place to stock up on last minute items.
It is situated in the center of huge timber plantations and was originally established in 1883 on the farms Osloop and Geluk. The town gets its name from the voortrekker Piet Retief who was killed by the Zulu King Dingane in 1838, and whose descendants were the founders of the original village. Settlers of many nationalities, many of them Scots and Germans, found Piet Retief to be a charming village and an attractive farming area. The surrounding area abounded with indigenous hardwoods, including yellowwood and other valuable timbers, and these were initially cut up into planks and sent to the Transvaal Republic.
There was large scale planting of wattle between 1900 and 1910, and after the advent of the railways in 1911, forestry and woodworking soon became important industries in Piet Retief, and timber was transported from the area to the whole of South Africa and exported overseas. Piet Retief has developed into an important center for the timber industry with over 75000 ha of forest. Scottish and German influence can still be seen in the area, and German is still the first language of many families.