Graaff-Reinet: Under the Karoo’s Spell

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The closer you get to the historical town of Graaff-Reinet the more mysterious the Camdeboo plains’ whisper gets. If you listen closely you hear promises of life and hope, the echo of nature…

 There is something about the Karoo that is so secretive yet so open. Even before you set foot in the Karoo a certain excitement overwhelms you because you know that the stretches of the open road, a windmill squeaking under the scorching sun and the succulent flora possess a mysterious power to cast you under a spell – a secret spell of serenity and silence. The Karoo possesses a mysterious power to change you.


The one after the other farm stall welcome back into the arms of the Karoo. Shelves are filled with homemade jams, pickled and baked goodness. Friendly faces greet you like a long lost friend and you never leave empty handed.

The closer you get to the historical town of Graaff-Reinet the more mysterious the Camdeboo plains’ whisper gets. If you listen closely you hear promises of life and hope, the echo of nature and you see prehistoric stories beautifully painted across the multilayered mountains.

Graaff-Reinet, only 250 km from Port Elizabeth, is believed to be South Africa’s fourth oldest town and has been crowned the “Gem of the Karoo”. It is highly evident why this town got such a remarkable title if you stroll around the streets and stand in awe of the colonial architecture. Your head tilt from one house to another; the walls are plastered in stories that go back to hundreds of years ago and if you close your eyes for a second you are in the 1800s and you can hear the horses’ hooves on the gravel, the squeak of the wagon and the playful cheers of children in the distance. 


But the town is definitely not the gem; when it comes to Graaff-Reinet you have to know there is more than meets the eye.

Just a few kilometers out of town you enter the area of the Valley of Desolation and as you cruise up to the top, mouth-dropping views of the land below meet you around every corner. Once again you stand in awe of mesmerising architecture – godly architecture – and you get a bird’s eye view of Graaff-Reinet while stormy clouds brew a master concoction over town. A structure of piled dolerite columns, formed over a period of 100 million years by volcanic and erosive forces, give you a powerful stare; your voice echoes against this geological wonder and you feel like a tiny dot in the universe. It’s captivating and the more time you spend at the Valley of Desolation the stronger the mysterious power gets. Under the spell of serenity and silence the freedom gets louder, the clouds and Camdeboo plains hypnotise you into a state of tranquillity and you make your way down as big drops of rain meet the earth’s arid floor.

Valley of desolation, Graaff Reinet, Karoo

A day in the Karoo is never complete without a night in the Karoo. The Camdeboo National Park – home to a variety of animal and bird species – is the perfect cherry on Graaff-Reinet’s top and it is one more place to experience the mysterious power of the Karoo. North of the Nqweba Dam buffaloes and eland are going their way, ostriches are pecking around while eagles are spying on their prey down below. It’s the perfect hideaway and camping spot with the sunset’s rays peeking through the acacias; and as the day’s temperature of 42°C drops and the night sets in, the clouds disappear and a galaxy far far away appear in the sky. You fall under yet another spell of serenity and silence as the stars and planets fill the black cosmos above your head while the night sounds from the Camdeboo plains whisper, “We are still here”.

Kudu, Camdeboo, Graaff Reinet, Karoo

The Karoo is filled with secrets – these secrets lie in the stretches of the open road, the windmills and the succulent flora. These secrets are nestled in the architecture, the people, the animals and the valleys. These secrets are in the precious drops of rain, the bright rays of the sun and in the plains of Camdeboo. It is ever present and if you are lucky enough the heart of the Karoo opens up and you might just get a peek into that mysterious power behind every secret.

sunset graaff-reinet

What to do and see in Graaff-Reinet:

  • Get lost and stand in awe of the Valley of Desolation.
  • Go on a game drive in Camdeboo National Park.
  • Be amazed by the Dutch Reformed Church in town.
  • Go back in time and visit a few museums.
  • Visit the biggest cacti collection in the world at Obesa Nursery.
  • Stroll around town and sniff out a few antiques. 
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graaff-reinet valley of desolation
obesa nursery graaff-reinet

Where to eat in Graaff-Reinet:

Where to get your coffee fix in Graaff-Reinet:

  • Maria’s Roastery & Our Yard

Where to sleep:

Camdeboo National Park

(If you want high-end accommodation and don’t mind the drive, stay over at Samara Private Game Reserve or alternatively, visit Karoo Heartland’s website for more accommodation options).

graaff-reinetDid I miss something? Do you have any tips to share about Graaff-Reinet? Share your story and comment below!

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