Situated on the banks of the Great Fish River, the Karoo town of Cradock brings to mind the biblical metaphor of a flourishing tree planted by streams of water.
Life in town, and on the many farms around Cradock, orbits around the river.
The river creates a stream of life through the heart of the usually barren Karoo, allowing farmers to grow massive irrigation crops with high annual yields.
The terrain higher up from the Fish River is more mountainous and creates the perfect farming conditions for small livestock like angora goats and the now iconic Karoo lamb of the area.
The mountains, with its many valleys, also make the area excellent for game farming and hunting - a business which has earned the area plenty of credit.
Apart from Cradock and the surrounds being an ideal farming location for all sorts of agriculture and animal husbandry, the townspeople and the town in itself also reflect the liveliness of the Great Fish River that flows through it.
Established farming ‘dynasties’ have been living in Cradock since its formation in 1814. These ‘famous’ families include the Michaus, the Jordaans, the Calatas and the Goniwes.
The latter heroes’ family names are held in extreme high regard by the entire town, as Fort Calata and Matthew Goniwe were Struggle heroes who fought and achieved plenty for equality in South Africa.
Their families are still actively involved in charities in Cradock and the wife of the late Goniwe is still a prominent and respected leader in the Cradock community.
Situated right in the heart of the Midlands Karoo, Cradock is a halfway stop for travellers from Johannesburg driving to the Sunshine Coast, as well as the Tsitikamma, Garden Route and Cape Town via the scenic N2.
What to see and do in Cradock
Float down the Great Fish River on tubes
This is an old and much-loved summer activity in Cradock. Residents have no choice but to take to the river, really, as temperatures as high as 50 degrees Celsius have been recorded!
Die Windpompverkopers (The windmill sellers)
These guys have taken a true Karoo symbol and created a meme that people from all over South Africa now associate with Cradock. Skilled wire artists sit along the N10 towards Port Elizabeth, making and selling small windmill replicas - true Cradock souvenirs.
The Moederkerk (Dutch Reformed Church)
This stunning sandstone church is an exact replica of the London church, St Martins in the fields, which stands in Trafalgar Square.
Schreiner Grave & Bookshop
Olive Schreiner is Cradock's own literary icon, and every year a writers festival is held in her honour. Her grave is situated atop a mountain on a farm just outside of town, and the hike there is truly breathtaking. If you're after a slightly less active approach in exploring Cradock's history, you can rather opt to browse the well-stocked Scheiner bookshop, where you'll find plenty of canonical pieces and writing related to the Karoo.
Cradock Four Memorial Sculpture
See a tangible memoir of the beginning of the end of Apartheid. The sculpture commemorates Cradock teachers Matthew Goniwe and Fort Calata, railway activist Sparrow Mkonto and activist Sicelo Mhlauli, who were murdered under the cruel regime. Goniwe's death was a turning point in the struggle as President PW Botha declared a State of Emergency on the day of the funeral of the Cradock Four. It was the beginning of the end; within five years, Nelson Mandela would walk free and lead the country to liberty.
Mountain Zebra Park
This national park was originally proclaimed in 1937 to save the dwindling Cape mountain zebra population. Now, at over 28 000 hectares, the park boasts a conservation success story, protecting over 700 zebra as well as wildlife such as endangered black rhino and cheetah. For the best views and animal sightings, opt for a late afternoon drive through the park, and this is the best time to see the cheetah hunt, and the animals drink at the water holes.
Jurie Lombard Water Mill
Mr Jurie Lombaard of the farm 'Lombardsrus' donated this historical old watermill to be exhibited in town. His great-grandfather, Hendrik Petrus Lombard, bought the yellowood with which the old mill was built. The wood was bought when the old Dutch Reformed Church was demolished in 1863, and the wooden cross was left over.
The mill was originally driven by water from a weir in the river which was channeled to the mill. The strength of the flow governed the speed of the grinding. The wheat was ground to an unsifted texture which could then be hand-sifted to flour.
National Monument trees of Dundas street
Dundas street is one of the most beautiful Karoo streets in South Africa. The trees growing here, in the first street from the Great Fish River, is a declared national monument. These Quercus Ilex Oak trees were planted in 1850 and are said to be some of the oldest in the world.
Stop over in Cradock when you’re on the road again, and be sure to list these important Cradock events in your travel diary to have them coincide with your next roadtrip.
Karoo Food Festival
What: Karoo food lovers and icons come together to celebrate true food and food production. Whole food is celebrated in all its beauty and glory and festival goers feast under the Karoo skies in Cradock.
When: 19 – 22 March
Schreiner’s Writer Festival
What: The Karoo is an established setting in South African writing, and many famous South African writers, like the famous Olive Schreiner, hail from the humble Karoo. Olive Schreiner is best remembered today for her novel The Story of an African Farm. At Cradock’s festival, works and authors such as these are celebrated along with good food and wine.
When: Dates are still to be announced
HANSA Fish River Canoe Marathon
What: Held on the Great Fish River, this is one of the most important canoe races in South Africa. The event cause for much excitement every year in Cradock, when thousands of canoeing enthusiasts flock to Cradock to race and enjoy a fully fledged music festival on the banks of the Great Fish River.
When: 9 - 11 October
Cradock Agricultural show
What: Enjoy old-school horse showing and top quality livestock auctions at one of the oldest Agricultural shows in the country that are still up and running and celebrated in full flair.
When: 29 - 31 October
Swaershoek MTB Challenge
What: It's been long overdue, but this year marks the inaugural mountain bike challenge in these daunting mountains. The stunning Karoo surroundings, unspoiled landscape and fresh air would make this a MTB event to be dated in every cyclists' diary.
When: 18 April 2015
Where to Eat in Cradock
Where: 44 JA Calata street (Main Street)
What to eat: Freshly baked artisinal breads, locally produced venison products and homemade lemonade
U & Me
Where: 67 Beeren Street
What to eat: A scrambled egg and bacon croissant or a hamburger
Where: 69 Beeren Street
What to eat: Afternoon tea
Schreiner Tea Room
Where: 36 Market Street
What to eat: Venison or lamb pies
Where: Off the R61, just outside Cradock
What to eat: A Steak and chips with monkey gland sauce
Where: 27 Durban Street
What to eat: The best pizza and pasta in town
De Wilge Butchery
Where: 42 JA Calata Street
What to eat: The best biltong, droëwors, Karoo lamb and local steaks (keep in mind it's a butchery, and not a restaurant, so lamb and beef products won't be cooked on the premises. Biltong and droëwors are for immediate consumption.)
What to buy in Cradock:
- Mohair Products
- Venison produce
- Real Karoo Lamb
Where to Stay in Cradock:
- Victoria Manor Hotel
- Albert House
- Cradock House
- Oude Pastorie
- Heritage House
- Annie’s Guest House
- Lowlands Country House
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