Laingsburg, Karoo

A small, modern Karoo village, Laingsburg lies at the confluence of two rivers in one of the driest parts of the country, 280 km from Cape Town just off the N1 highway that travels through the Great Karoo.

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 an abnormal rainfall in the catchments of both the Buffels and Baviaans Rivers that come together in the town, claiming 104 lives and leaving only 21 buildings standing. Today high water marks line lamp posts and the Dutch Reformed Church, one of the few remaining buildings, to serve as a reminder, and the local library has a collection of photographs and press cuttings covering the disaster.

Laingsburg, initially called Buffelsrivier (Buffalo River), is considered something of a geological wonderland. Running alongside its main road are layers of fossilised mudstone and a yellow bank of volcanic ash purportedly blown across from South America 250 million years ago. There is also a distinguishing white quartz band that runs between Matjiesfontein and Laingsburg and on into the Eastern Cape Province, indicating continental drift - a similar layer is found in South America.

There is now a geological walk on the farm Geelbeksbrug 12 km north of Laingsburg to cater for the growing interest in the geology of the area. Known as the Blockhouse Route, because of its proximity to the Anglo-Boer War Blockhouse, the route takes in a number of fascinating rock formations.

The area also caters extensively for outdoor enthusiasts. There are a number of hiking trails, including the 24 km Klipkraal route along the crest of the Swartberg and the 16 km Verlorenhoek trail as well as a hike designed specially for bird fanatics at Kraankop farm. Then there’s the annual 80 km Karoo Marathon, which passes through some of the most beautiful parts of the area and is regarded as a rather gruelling ultra marathon. There are several easy mountain bike trails and a two-day guided horse trail.

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