The Karoo Heartland Region, Eastern Cape

Often referred to as the ‘dry heart’ of South Africa, the Karoo Heartland is but a portion of the Karoo set on the eastern periphery of the central plateau.

The Karoo, regarded in the past by many as something of a desolate, barren backwater best driven through at breakneck speed, is a huge semi desert encompassing close to 150 000 square miles that manages to sit astride all three Cape provinces. The Karoo Heartland’s rugged and intense beauty is dominated by vast, flat plains, rocky mountains, and the biggest assortment of succulents in the world.

Did you know? Once you've booked your hotel or Karoo Heartland accommodation in the Eastern Cape, explore the town and destination pages below for info on attractions, activities and things to do when you explore the beautiful Karoo Heartland.

The Karoo Heartland lies at the heart of South Africa. Threatened with imminent fracking, this beautiful, water-strapped and desolate area is a series of mountains, vast plains, star studded skies, farmland, idiosyncratic little dorps reminiscent of yesteryear and space – lots of it.

This beautiful area, subject to red dust, thorny acacias, stunted vegetation, aloes, windmills, sheep and the odd Angora goat, boasts some of the quaintest towns in the country, authentic farmstays, the dramatic valley of Desolation, the Owl House and the Camdeboo National Park. Today the Karoo Heartland has been repackaged as an enviro-region that charms with its unusual and unpretentious characters, eccentricities and diversity of activities.

Did you know? One of South Africa’s best kept secrets, the Mountain Zebra National Park, roughly 12 km from Cradock, is surrounded by mountains, its grass filled plains alive with zebras (and other game).

South Africa’s outback, regarded in the past as good for little other than sheep, ostriches and whirlwinds, has become distinctly hip. And did we mention the skies? Some of the best star-gazing and sunsets in the country are available in this incredible vastness.

The Karoo Heartland has been sequestered by a group of artists, hoteliers, restaurateurs and other creative souls seeking a lifestyle other than that offered by the country’s cities. The boom of consequent galleries, guesthouses, restaurants and a resurging ostrich business have turned the Karoo into a place well worth visiting.

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Destinations in the Karoo Heartland Region

Aberdeen

Overnight? Aberdeen accommodation
Lying in amidst the Camdeboo Mountains (don't you just love the name Camdeboo - it comes from a Khoi word that means 'green hollow', which should give you an indication of the surrounds), Aberdeen is a small town just south west of the N1 where it leaves ...

Baviaanskloof

Overnight? Baviaanskloof accommodation
There is a gorge that lies in the valley, stretching for over 100 kilometres, between the Baviaanskloof Mountains to the north and the Kouga mountains to the south. Recently awarded World Heritage Site status this 192 000 hectare u-shaped reserve lies abo...

Cradock

Overnight? Cradock accommodation
Lying on the banks of the Great Fish River, on the site of what was intended as a Boer fort to contain the Xhosa who competed for grazing grounds for their cattle in this part of the Cape, is the historical town of Cradock - a serene but typical Karoo far...

Dordrecht

Overnight? Dordrecht accommodation
The little farming village of Dordrecht is situated in the heart of the Stormberg region, north west of Queenstown. The town lies in the shadow of the Stormberg or Western Drakensberg Mountains and is on the popular Route 56 between Durban and Middelburg,...

Gamtoos Valley

Overnight? Gamtoos Valley accommodation
The name Gamtoos catches in the back of the throat with a guttural stop so typical of the wonderfully descriptive Afrikaans language. The word probably originated from Dutch settlers, who called the Khoikhoi clan in the area ‘Gamtousch’, although others a...

Graaff Reinet

Overnight? Graaff Reinet accommodation
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. ...

Hofmeyr

The pretty little town of Hofmeyr lies in the shadow of the Bamboes Mountain Range in the Karoo. This beautiful mountain range that, depending on the time of day, ranges in colour from purple red in the mornings to a deep smoky blue in the late afternoons...

Indwe

Indwe is a little historical mining town. It lies between Dordrecht and Elliot, about 70 kilometres north-east of Queenstown, named for the Indwe (Xhosa for blue crane) River just east of it. Today few travellers do anything but pass through the tiny c...

Jansenville

Overnight? Jansenville accommodation
Lying north west of the upper reaches of the Addo Elephant National Park, Jansenville lies in the Eastern Cape's nature and conservation region, an area of roughly 438 000 hectares of managed nature reserves that are committed to protecting bio-diversity,...

Klipplaat

Not many towns in drought-stricken parts of the Eastern Cape can boast that the Queen once came to tea. Alright then, she did not have tea, but she did stop off in Klipplaat as part of the Royal Family's grand railroad tour of South Africa in 1947. Bac...

Middelburg

Overnight? Middelburg accommodation
Lying in the middle of the Karoo, surrounded by mountains in an area recognised for its prolific and naturally occurring herbal plant life, San rock art and a scenic beauty beyond description, Middelburg is and isn’t like other Karoo towns. In a way th...

Nieu-Bethesda

Overnight? Nieu-Bethesda accommodation
Some 60 km from Graaff-Reinet, Nieu-Bethesda is in essence completely isolated, with only two roads in and out of the village. Established in 1875 and named by the preacher Andrew Murray, Nieu-Bethesda was eclipsed by larger towns during the 1930s and ‘40...

Pearston

Head across the great expanse of the Camdeboo from Graaff-Reinet, along Route 63 in the direction of Somerset East, in company with the Karoo Mountains, and you reach the little Karoo village of Pearston. That its name is irrevocably linked to the pea...

Queenstown

Overnight? Queenstown accommodation
The commercial centre of a rather prosperous farming community, the attractive town of Queenstown, known for its roses, climate and amicable townsfolk, lies on the Komani River close enough to the Wild Coast and Karoo Heartland to make it a favoured stopo...

Sterkstroom

Not many people can claim they've visited Sterkstroom. That it occupies a space close to the towns of Molteno, Dordrecht and Queenstown - quite far inland of East London - is about the best description you can give anyone asking where it is. On close...

Tarkastad

Overnight? Tarkastad accommodation
Set against the dramatic Winterberg Mountains, between Cradock and Queenstown, only three hours from Port Elizabeth, Tarkastad is a typical Karoo town on the banks of the Tarka River, its streets lined with quaint historical buildings. Just outside the...

Wolwefontein

Overnight? Wolwefontein accommodation
The village of Wolwefontein lies on the southern edge of the Karoo. It is one of those sleepy, little villages to which one pays no heed, on the road between Jansenville and Uitenhage, north east of the Baviaanskloof. There is little in Wolwefontein,...

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