Set in a curl of the Sundays River, the Karoo town of Graaff-Reinet is the fourth oldest settlement in South Africa and has seen more than 2 centuries of travellers, adventurers and prospectors pass through its streets. Today it is a vibrant centre for tourism, game farming and traditional agriculture.
Graaff-Reinet has been a traveller's oasis in South Africa's semi-arid desert - the Karoo - for more than 2 centuries, since it was founded in 1786. It's a stylish town, with at least 200 historical buildings, restored pre-Victorian homes in almost every street and a collection of museums and galleries celebrating its past.
Tucked into a bend in the Sundays River, Graaff-Reinet is best viewed from the heights of the Camdeboo National Park. From here, you can also see the Valley of Desolation and get a good sense of the utter vastness of the Great Karoo.
This remarkable town lies on the western frontier of the Eastern Cape province. It has bred many famous people, like the charismatic and eloquent founder of the Pan Africanist Congress, Robert Sobukwe, who spent most of the 1960s detained by the apartheid government on Robben Island. Another son of Graaff-Reinet was Anton Rupert, the billionaire who helped restore and build the vibrant community of his home town.
Modern Graaff-Reinet is based on tourism, game farming and traditional stock like Merino sheep and 'white gold': angora goats, which give mohair. Holding sway in the centre of Graaff-Reinet is the magnificent Victorian Gothic Dutch Reformed mother church, which looks a lot like Britain's Salisbury Cathedral. A local farmer cut, prepared and donated all the stone for this great building.
Of interest to tipplers, military buffs and lovers of the bizarre is the Graaff-Reinet Club, which hosted the British Coldstream Regiment of Foot Guards during the South African War (formerly known as the Anglo-Boer War).
The story goes that at the end of this bloody colonial war, the Coldstreamers made for the club and partied so hard the bar was riddled with bullet-holes afterwards. Nevertheless, any past or present member of the Coldstream Guards is still welcome in the Graaff-Reinet Club.
How to get here
Graaff-Reinet lies on the N9 between Middelburg and Aberdeen in the Eastern Cape province.
Best time to visit
Autumn: April-May; Spring: September-October; deep winter for the aloes and the snow: June-July
Where to stay
The Graaff-Reinet Tourism office has all the options available in the area - check their website.
Tours to do
Karoo Connections will take you up to the Camdeboo National Park, on town tours and out to the Valley of Desolation.
DID YOU KNOW?
Graaff-Reinet is the only town in South Africa to be surrounded by a national park.