Eastern Cape DestinationsGraaff Reinet, Karoo Heartland
The oldest town in the Eastern Cape, the fourth oldest in South Africa and certainly one of the most atmospheric, Graaff-Reinet lies enclosed by a bend in the Sundays River, overshadowed by the rocky Sneeuberg Mountain within the Camdeboo National Park.
With over 200 buildings claimed as National Monuments and an entire street restored, including its slave cottages, Graaff-Reinet has retained much of the character of a typical 19th century town and is well worth a visit because of it. Known as the ‘gem of the Karoo’, Graaff-Reinet was founded in 1786 by the governor Cornelius Jacob van de Graaff, whose wife’s name was Cornelia Reinet. Her namesake - Reinet House - was originally built as a parsonage and is now a museum with one of the largest living grape vines in the world in its garden. This still bears fruit today.
Although Graaff-Reinet is in the heart of the Karoo Heartland with its flat, sandy plains and incredibly hot summers, it is encircled by the Camdeboo Park, which breaks the sandy monotony with its rich greenness and mountains. Within the park are the Nqweba Dam and the Valley of Desolation, providing some of the best examples of the unique jointed pillars formed by dolerites, which rise to heights of 120 metres in places. This ‘cathedral of mountains’ provides many visitors with an incredible spiritual experience at best and one of environmental awareness at least.
Because of the diverse geography of the area, there is a rich bird and animal life. Within the Camdeboo Conservancy are some 22 farms, providing visitors with a range of accommodation and hikers with some amazing trails. There is trout fishing, horse riding, Graaff-Reinet’s bird club and the national park is stocked with game. There are also specialised tours in Graaff-Reinet for game viewing, rock art, fossil study, township walkabouts and Boer War monuments. A visit to the area would be incomplete without a visit to the little hamlet of Nieu-Bethesda and the Owl House.