3 reasons why you should visit the Eastern Cape Karoo
At the height of the Covid-19 pandemic many people cancelled their travel plans and if you are dusting off your luggage now then a staycation or a holiday on home soil must be a serious consideration.
If cabin fever has hit hard, now would be the best time to travel inter-provincially; the roads are a quieter, accommodation isn’t fully booked, places are not as crowded and it will take less effort to avoid large gatherings.
If you’re serious about hitting the road, this is the perfect chance to explore the Karoo in the Eastern Cape. And with the curfew being adjusted to kick in at 11pm daily, the Karoo drive is the perfect setting for even just a sunset drive.
The Eastern Cape Parks and Tourism Agency (ECPTA) invited me to go on a trip around the Karoo, and I wouldn’t dare say no.
Many times, I have driven via the Karoo with family and friends when going to Cape Town, but never found the time to stop and explore this beautiful pocket of the province.
The Karoo in the Eastern Cape is often referred to as the "dry heart" of South Africa, the Karoo heartland is but a portion of the area set on the eastern periphery of the central plateau.
This area is water-scarce and is surrounded by beautiful desolate areas, a series of mountains, vast plains, star-studded skies, and farmland.
While there are plenty of activities to choose from, my husband and I opted to explore Graaff-Reinet which offered us the majestic Valley of Desolation and Mount Camdeboo National Park, Nieu-Bethesda, and Ganora Guest Farm.
Valley of Desolation and Mount Camdeboo National Park
I’ve probably driven past Graaff-Reinet four times in 2020, but never had I taken the time to admire the hidden gems of wildlife, spectacular scenes and sunset vistas on offer there.
The Camdeboo National Park is home to the world renowned and iconic Valley of Desolation which I plan to visit regularly from now on.
The Valley of Desolation’s cliffs and precariously balanced columns of Dolerite rise 120 metres from the valley floor, against the timeless backdrop of the vast plains of the Camdeboo. This is the product of volcanic and erosive forces of nature over 100 million years.
This was the ideal setting for beautiful sunset pictures on the top of the majestic mountain that one would otherwise only see in a magazine.
En route to this spectacular place – with the help of a guided tour from Karoopark Guest House and Camdeboo Cottages, we took a game drive up the mountain and had a magnificent view of Graaff-Reinet.
We got to see Cape Mountain Zebra, plenty of Kudu, Buffalo, the majestic Black Eagle and the Kori Bustard, the heaviest flying bird in the world.
If the mountains are not for you, the night life here is definitely worth checking out. We had dinner at Muller House. A community based restaurant filled with art that enhances the ambiance of the space. Best seat is outside where you can sit under the stars enjoying home style and modern dishes.
I fell in love with the small quaint and cosy cottages and there’s arguably no better way to spend a night in town than in Camdeboo Cottages, overlooking the mountains.
Next stop was a hidden gem called Nieu-Bethesda, a small town, tucked away on your journey. The town is a rich cultural node and offers a wide range of creative spots, quaint eateries, quirky art galleries and the iconic Owl House.
The Owl House is a museum at the heart of what the town has to offer. The owner, Helen Martins, turned her house and the area. It's a visionary environment, elaborately decorated with glass and is home to more than 300 statues including owls, camels, pyramids, peacocks, and figurines. Martins inherited the house from her parents and began its transformation after they passed away. As per Martin's wishes after her death, the Owl House has been kept intact as a museum.
The best way to explore the dusty roads of Nieu-Bethesda and meet the locals is by donkey cart. As you do that, you are met with local residents who wave and smile.
There are limited options for local cuisine – Die Waenhuis being the one we choose. My husband and I had rice with a Karoo style stew, a very homey dish that suited the setting. For dessert we had traditional malva pudding that reminded me of my hostel dessert served on Sundays back in high school in the Eastern Cape.
If you have a hankering for an authentic South African village community, this place is the best place to explore.
Ganora Guest Farm
For our last night, we just needed some time to be together and Ganora Guest Farm was the perfect spot. It is a remote area that will help you connect with nature and a simpler, slower way of life. Travelling into the farm you’re greeted by the sheep and can hear other animals in the area.
The farm also houses a fossil exhibition that's more than 280 million years old. It’s Compasia dela Harpi fish fossil is also on show, it has pride of place as it is the only complete example of this fossil in the world.
The owners of Ganora Guest Farm are also knowledgeable of the history of the land, rock art and cave man. A history lesson that comes to life in the midst of your journey.
The beauty of the Eastern Cape is ready to welcome you, it’s a holiday that has something to offer for anyone, families or solo travellers.
Make sure you map out your route and keep yourself open to the possibility that you might divert from your holiday plans and discover a town, museum or mountain range you didn’t think would be part of your getaway.