What makes exploring the Karoo so special? There is more than enough space for each and every local and visitor to have their own piece of Karoo to enjoy, without being disturbed by anything other than a grazing sheep or a tiny bush ruffling in the breeze. The towns in the Karoo are far apart, but each is worth a visit and its own character, style, histories, and ghost stories. The locals have usually been living in these towns for most of their lives, and the food that they make is often more authentic than any five-star restaurant in Cape Town or Johannesburg. Here are five towns and five out of town spots to let you know just how special the Karoo truly is.
Prince Albert is the home of the olive. If you can’t make the annual Olive Festival, there are many other spots along the main road where you can buy some of the country’s best olives. Don’t forget to make a turn at the beautifully looked after Art Deco cinema and perhaps even stop for an afternoon show.
Half the beauty of getting to Oudsthoorn is the drive here from Prince Albert. You’ll pass over the imposing Swartberg Mountain range where the road still hasn’t been tarred in order to preserve the area’s natural appeal. Oudtshoorn is the country’s ostrich capital, so if you’ve been looking for a great ostrich steak, you can find it here. The KKNK (Klein Karoo National Arts Festival) also takes place in these streets annually.
It’s almost too small to be called a town, but the mohair town of Matjiesfontein is definitely worth a visit. It hasn’t ever been much more than a train station, but today, the station is a museum and the historic buildings lining the town square are its most attractive feature, especially the iconic Lord Milner Hotel.
Sitting at the foot of the Sneeuberge (Snow Mountains), Nieu Bethesda is an unpretentious Karoo village where stone water furrows still line the wide, dusty streets. It’s the sort of town where you book a room in a farmhouse and spend long hours on your front porch, reading a book, or simply watching village life go by. Don’t forget to visit the Owl House, some say it’s one of the country’s best examples of outdoor art.
Best enjoyed in the thick of winter when the town is covered in white powdery snow, Sutherland is the coldest town in South Africa and the best place in the country to go stargazing. It’s also home to the Southern African Large Telescope. This 10-metre glass optical telescope is the largest single optical telescope in the southern hemisphere and among the largest in the world.
Fish River Canoe Marathon
One of the biggest annual events in the Karoo, the Fish River Canoe Marathon might be the best way to explore the Karoo by water. The race lasts two days and covers a distance of 82km and a stretch of land north of Cradock.
Snyderskloof is an excellent sheep farm just outside Matjiesfontein with accommodation options if you want to experience life on the farm. The single stone cottage sleeps four people and has no electricity, but that doesn’t mean that the facilities are basic. Gas powers the stove and fridge, and there’s magic in evenings spent drinking wine by candlelight.
Karoo National Park
The most significant fossils of prehistoric life on earth were found in the Karoo, and you can see these ancient rocks and animal bones in the Karoo National Park. Enjoy lazy drives spotting antelope that graze between the bushes or go for a hike to explore the scenic hills and vast landscapes of this isolated national park.
Another brilliant option for spending a few nights on a working farm, Langfontein will have you curled up in front of the fireplace or sprawled out on the lawns with a good book for days. The farm has the very rare roan and sable antelopes, so you might even get a chance to see these delicate creatures during feeding time.
If you’re looking for a place to stay that’s not in a town, but not too far away either, then Finchley is a go-to choice. Situated 3km outside the characterful town of Willowmore, this quaint green and white cottage dates back to the 1800s. The farm offers visitors hiking, 4×4 trails, and mountain biking, making it the perfect place to get active in the Karoo.