In the heart of the Great Karoo in South Africa lies the small town of Graaff-Reinet, which is insanely hot in summer and bitterly cold in winter. Like a quote I read said, “The Karoo is not for sissies!” After the 40°C (104°F) heat I suffered through, I discovered that I am a sissy! Bear in mind, that unlike countries in the northern hemisphere, homes in S.A. don’t come standard with aircons. And is there anything worse when a sissy is melting from the heat, than also being under constant attack from mosquitoes! I think this quaint little town of Graaff-Reinet was trying to kill me. No, really! I’ll explain later.
Nestled under a small mountain with the prominent Spandau Koppie (koppie = Afrikaans for ‘hill’) keeping a watchful eye over the town, Graaff-Reinet paints a pretty picture.
When you first drive into this town, you are immediately struck by the focal point of the town – the gorgeous Gothic-inspired Dutch Reformed Church. You can’t help but say ‘wow’ when it first appears before you standing tall and proud. It is a beautiful church and said to be one of the best examples of early Gothic-style architecture in South Africa.
Next you notice the iconic Cape Dutch architecture everywhere. Graaff-Reinet is the fourth oldest town in South Africa, rich in history and plenty of Cape Dutch architecture, characterised by its bright white exterior and green roofs and window shutters. For the rest of my life when I hear the name Graaff-Reinet white and green houses will flash before my eyes.
The biggest tourist attraction is the Camdeboo National Park where you can stand in awe at the Valley of Desolation – a truly breathtaking view!
Two other must-see attractions that I highly recommend are:
Noah’s Arc Animal Interaction Centre
Owners Guy and Marlene van Zyl are animal enthusiasts and started the farm in 2011 initially to breed exotic parrots. It wasn’t long before all sorts of other animals arrived. From zebras (Americans take note – that’s pronounced ZEBra not ZEEbra!) to donkeys; pot-belly pigs to orphaned lambs; springbok to snakes. Plus a bird section teeming with all sorts of breeds and varieties of feathered friends! Being a huge animal-lover myself, this place was right up my alley! It’s also great fun for kids and you will learn a thing or two from the very knowledgeable Marlene as she walks you around.
Obesa Nursery or the ‘cactus farm’ as many locals refer to it
Golly gee! This place will blow your mind. I have never in my life seen that many cacti of all shapes and sizes in one place. And it just seems to go on forever. As my friend calls it – Jurassic Park. Seriously, you’ll expect a pre-historic animal to jump out at you any minute! Owner, Mr C.J Bouwer, cuts a wonderful and slightly quirky character as he puffs on his tobacco pipe. With a supreme passion for cacti, he has over 3000 different varieties, some of which he bred himself. What started as a hobby has turned into a full-time job and even garnered international attention. Amazing what passion can create!
So why then was this sweet and slow-paced town trying to kill me?
* Because when you sweat that much you become dehydrated and eventually die.
* Because all of a sudden after three straight days of killer 40°C heat, the temperature drops and suddenly you’re cold! WTF!
* Because I think the town knew I am a bug magnet and all the mossies descended upon me. And you know what that means. Mossies suck blood. When you lose all your blood, what happens? That’s right – you die.
* Because there’s a limited selection of shops and on Sundays hardly anything is open and those that are close at midday. Oh come on Graaffies, you killing me here!
So visit the town of Graaff-Reinet at your own risk, and please remember:
- The Karoo is not for sissies.
- The writer of this article shall not be held responsible if Tyrannosaurus Rex jumps out at you at the Cacti Jurassic Park.