Western Cape Tourist AttractionsThe Karoo
The Little or Klein Karoo, which is a long valley bordered by the Swartberg and the Langeberg Mountains in the Western Cape, forms the southern sibling of the larger Karoo - the Great or Groot Karoo occupies the northern part thereof.
This is the land of succulents - their thick, fleshy diversity unparalleled anywhere else in the world - peppered only by the odd bush and tree that gives the Karoo, at first glance, the appearance of arid, dry and very flat land devoid of living matter and given over to hot days and cold nights. Herds of buffalo, elephant and kudu once dominated these plains only to be hunted or driven out by modern development.
Today the mainly visible animal in the area is the ostrich, farmed for his meat, eggs and feathers, but stay awhile and you’ll hear the rustlings of the bat-eared fox, the suricate or meerkat and the common barking gecko.
This bleak landscape is, on second glance, an area of towering cliffs, clear streams and a unique biome dominated by the aloe and dwarf baobab tree with its yellow peeling bark and midsummer red tubular flowers. Majestic mountains lend a blue haze to the distant horizon and spring flowers draw huge numbers of tourists from all over the world for a few weeks every year when sand becomes a tapestry of flowers.
This semi-arid climate with winter rainfall gives rise to various microclimates that allow Karoo winemakers to produce a wide variety of quality wines from vines grown typically along the fertile river banks. Little villages and hamlets make intermittent appearances and towns like Calitzdorp, Ladismith, Van Wyksdorp and Uniondale give the visitor a good idea of a typical South African dorp or town.
The Cango Caves, just west of Oudtshoorn, were discovered by a young Hottentot looking for missing cattle and extend underground for over two kilometres.
Formed as a result of 20 million years of rainwater scouring and dissolving rock and limestone to form halls and passageways, the caves were declared a National Monument in 1938 and include the Wonder Cave that has some superb examples of drip stone formations and a resident bat population.
And last but not least, the Klein Karoo National Arts Festival at Oudtshoorn showcases South African art forms from serious drama to farce and includes music, fine arts, festive food, poetry, theatre for the little people and dancing. Some have described it as a ‘boere bazaar’ (farmers’ market) rather than an arts festival, but one is seriously spoiled for choice here when it comes to catching up on the local art scene.
Popular Towns in the Karoo
Amalienstein and Zoar
Overnight? Accommodation in Amalienstein
It is difficult to talk about Zoar or Amalienstein separately, so interwoven are these sister towns. They lie adjacent to one another on Route 62 at the entrance to the Sewe Weeks Poort (Amalienstein is the one with the beautiful yellow church...
More info and photographs: Amalienstein and Zoar Information
Overnight? Accommodation in Barrydale
The little town of Barrydale lies nestled at the foot of the beautiful Langeberge in the heart of the Tradouw Valley, close to where the northern exit of the Tradouw Pass winds through the mountains to meet Route 62, the longest wine route...
More info and photographs: Barrydale Information
Overnight? Accommodation in Beaufort West
Beaufort West lies between the Gamka and Kuils Rivers, just south of a ridge of hills and north of the Nuweveld Mountains in the Central Karoo, where rocks date back some 230 million years. Although for many South Africans, travelling on the...
More info and photographs: Beaufort West Information
Overnight? Accommodation in Calitzdorp
The typical little Karoo town of Calitzdorp lies on Route 62, about four hours drive from Cape Town and roughly half way to Port Elizabeth. Calitzdorp is renowned in its own right for a number of reasons, not least of which is its bona...
More info and photographs: Calitzdorp Information
Overnight? Accommodation in De Rust
The quaint little Victorian town of De Rust, on Route 62, is conveniently positioned at the southern entrance to Meiringspoort - a magnificent gorge through the Swartberg Mountain Range - and just a few kilometres from Oudtshoorn, the ostrich...
More info and photographs: De Rust Information
Overnight? Accommodation in Herold
Herold doesn’t need much by way of imaginative writing to inspire a visit. The little hamlet lies right on the Montagu Pass cradled by some of the most majestic mountain scenery in the country on the R62, (Route 62) one of South Africa’s newest...
More info and photographs: Herold Information
Overnight? Accommodation in Klaarstroom
The tiny hamlet of Klaarstroom, positioned at the foot of the Swartberg Mountains at the Great Karoo entrance to Meiringspoort, is the genuine article when it comes to Victorian working farm villages - little affected by time and change...
More info and photographs: Klaarstroom Information
Overnight? Accommodation in Ladismith
The pretty town of Ladismith is unique in a number of senses, not least of which is its unique ‘Ladismith’ style of architecture that has evolved from the hotchpotch mixture of several styles including Victorian, Neo-gothic, Edwardian, Cape...
More info and photographs: Ladismith Information
Overnight? Accommodation in Laingsburg
Despite its aridness, Laingsburg is well known for the freak flood that devastated the town in late January 1981. In a matter of hours the entire town was under water with only the roofs of houses visible. The traumatic event was due to...
More info and photographs: Laingsburg Information
Overnight? Accommodation in Matjiesfontein
Matjiesfontein is a gorgeous street really, rather than a town. The white-washed Victorian era houses, and seriously colonial looking hotel, known as the Lord Milner, line the road right up against the railway line. The town used to serve...
More info and photographs: Matjiesfontein Information
Overnight? Accommodation in Montagu
Lying between Cape Town and Oudtshoorn on Route 62 - South Africa’s version of America’s Route 66 blessed with scenery to take your breath away, some of the country’s finest wines and advertised as the longest wine route in the world...
More info and photographs: Montagu Information
Overnight? Accommodation in Murraysburg
Murraysburg barely qualifies as a Western Cape town, lying as it does on the very parameters of the province's borders with the Northern Cape Province in the Great Karoo. It's a beautiful little town nestled up against the Sneeuberg Mountain...
More info and photographs: Murraysburg Information
Overnight? Accommodation in Oudtshoorn
Visit Oudtshoorn, the principal town of the Little Karoo, where you will be welcomed with hospitality which has become synonymous with the people of the Klein Karoo. The Klein Karoo is an oasis-like setting in a fertile valley cupped by the...
More info and photographs: Oudtshoorn Information
Overnight? Accommodation in Prince Albert
Prince Albert had its origins in 1762 when a loan farm named Kweeckvalleij "the valley of cultivation and plenty" was established in a green and fertile valley at the foot of the awesome Swartberg Mountains. Today, the town is one...
More info and photographs: Prince Albert Information
Overnight? Accommodation in Rouxpos
Rouxpos lies in the shadow of the Swartberg Mountains just off the R323 that branches off the N1 at Laingsburg. It is one of two wee towns through which the Seweweekspoort, or Smugglers' Route, passes. It also lies on the famous Freedom Trail...
More info and photographs: Rouxpos Information
Overnight? Accommodation in Touws River
Touws River is set on the fringes of the Klein Karoo, basically a valley sandwiched between the Langeberg and the Outeniqua Mountains, which in turn separates the Little Karoo from the Garden Route’s coastal strip. The town, built on the...
More info and photographs: Touws River Information
Overnight? Accommodation in Uniondale
Uniondale lies adjacent to the Langkloof, which winds its way through the foothills of the of the Tsitsikamma Mountain range in an area renowned for its scenic drives. Uniondale came into being when the two towns of Hopedale and Lyon became one...
More info and photographs: Uniondale Information
Overnight? Accommodation in Van Wyksdorp
The little Karoo village of Van Wyksdorp lies on the R327 from Ladismith, just off the famous R62, in the foothills of the Rooiberg Mountains. It's the kind of town people describe as a typical Karoo 'dorp' - a rural town in essence...
More info and photographs: Van Wyksdorp Information