It's difficult to write something on the town where you grew up. How do you encourage other people to cherish the place as you do - to get to know its people, to appreciate its history and to miss it when they leave?
It would be impossible for me to list all the reasons why Cradock, my hometown, has such a sweet spot in my heart. And it would take years for any traveller or bypasser to feel the same way as I do about the Jacaranda trees in Bree Street in summer, or the cliff hanging over the Fish River where we used to jump from as kids, or the dreadful August wind for that matter.
The best I can do is to give an insider's view on where to find glimpses of the essence of Cradock in case the N10 or R61 ever leads you there.
First, you need a bit of background.
Cradock is formed around the banks of the Great Fish River, and life in town orbits around the river. It creates a stream of life through the heart of the usually barren Karoo.
Over the years, a couple of family ‘dynasties’ - names including the Michaus, the Jordaans, the Calatas and the Goniwes have established themselves here.
Today still, within their different spheres, these community pillars are still actively involved in keeping Cradock alive and well, whether it be through farming, business, politics or community and charity.
From my vantage point in Cape Town in recent years, it has also been refreshing to see a slow but constant amalgamation of these community pillars. People are starting to work together with the single aim of making Cradock an inclusive and integrated place - something not all Karoo dorpies can easily boast about.
If you ever find yourself in my hometown, here are a few things I can recommend. And oh, please say hello to my mom...
Where to eat
When it comes to eating in Cradock, I'm biased. But also not. Ask anyone and they'll tell you that some of the best cooks in town are the Lombards. True Living in Cradock's main street belongs to my family - and it's a place where you can experience the full circle of Karoo food, where you can trace back every bite to its origin.
Not only the origin of the food and ingredients, but also the origin of the recipes. True Living's lemonade, for example, was first made by my great-grandfather - one Graham Douglas White.
Oupa Graham used to own the Hubbly Bubbly cooldrink factory in Cradock before Coca-Cola bought up all the smaller producers. The lemonade recipe is from him. And we still have the recipe written in his own handwriting. Food of origin.
This is the case with all the food we prepare - from the family recipe sosaties to the farm style pies, the venison sausage and the roosterkoek.
Enough of the Lombards.
Your foodie experience in Cradock isn't complete without a taste of Victoria Manor's traditional Karoo dinner served in the hotel’s beautiful dining room, Albert Restaurant, with its old school bar.
This is traditional boerekos in its purest form. Marrow bones on toast. Sweet pumpkin fritters. Slow-roasted leg of lamb, baked potatoes and malva pudding with homemade custard - the good stuff.
The whole town is actually a very vibey foodie spot. Cradock hosts an annual Karoo Food Festival, where eager foodies can learn the tricks of Karoo cooking themselves. During this festival, formidable cooks like Heila Meyer, Elsje Taljaard and my own Ouma Delene Lombard are headline acts, teaching festival-goers to make traditional Karoo food classics in their own homes.
Cradock also has a monthly Farmers' Market at the Top Shed on Orange Grove farm, which takes place every last Sunday of the month. The market is a get-together for all locals and visitors, offering up delicious, top-quality hand-made goods. You can enjoy a lazy Sunday lunch under the Pepper trees, while getting to know the local folk.
The market is very family-orientated. Kids get to meet Milly the goat, pet the friendly donkeys and feed all the other farm animals meandering about. Check out the official Facebook page for more details.
What to do
The Karoo Food Festival
As mentioned, Cradock is quite the Karoo foodie hub. And the Karoo Food Festival is certainly a top thing to attend in town.
The festival is held every year in winter, so be sure to keep your eye on the Facebook page to see 2017's dates.
The Olive Schreiner Karoo Writers Festival
Apart from the food festival, Cradock also hosts the Olive Schreiner Karoo Writers Festival, an event that brings together the greatest Karoo-based or -inspired authors of both bygone eras and now.
The Fish River Canoe Marathon
The Fish River Canoe Marathon draws thousands of travellers to the Cradock district annually. This year's festival will take place from 7 to 10 October.
The Cradock Four Memorial Sculpture
Here you are able to 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.
The sculpture is situated in the centre of town, in a lovely park with tall trees, a tennis court and braai facilities.
The Mountain Zebra National Park
The park lies just outside Cradock and offers a serene escape to nature. Wildlife is obviously the main attraction in the Mountain Zebra National Park, which provides a unique opportunity of tracking a wild cheetah to observe these cats in their natural habitat.
Also, the park's first litter of cubs from a pride of newly introduced lions were born recently, offering the cutest attraction for wildlife lovers.
SEE: PICS: Roar! First pitter-patter of lion cub paws in Mountain Zebra National Park
There are also great 4x4 trails in the MZNP, but a guided walk with a qualified and knowledgeable guide provides the ideal opportunity to get to know the park up close and personal.
There are two short walking trails within the fenced rest camp that can be self-hiked. The Black Eagle Trail (2.5km) is a mb to the top of the rocky outcrop with spectacular views over the Park while the Imbila Trail (1km) is an easy, flat trail.
The area is also great for extreme mountain biking. If you're interested in joining a group of local bikers, check out the Swaershoek MTB group.
NOTE: Don't miss the annual Swaershoek MTB Challenge, held every year in conjunction with the Karoo Food Festival.
The New River Company
I know I said we were done with talking about my family, but you simply cannot pass through Cradock without checking out the True Living sister shop, The New River Company. It's essentially a window into the community, reflecting the people, the farmers and the soul of area.
Plus, it's the official new visitor's centre in town, so if you need any info about what to do, where to sleep or where to eat, it's best to drop in here.
The old Victorian house in the main road has been restored to its former glory, and the little rooms inside are all dedicated to showcasing and selling different, relevant products from Cradock and surrounds.
The Mohair Shop in the building, for example, sells those iconic mohair blankets, scarves and carpets. It represents the farmers in and around town, many of whom farm with Angora goats.
Other than that, the New River Company stocks top-class John Deere clothing and gear and farm kidswear, Melville and Moon safari equipment and fine handmade leather products that are designed for working farmers and craftspeople.
Where to stay
Cathy's House - click here to search dates
This is the perfect stay in town. The property has a beautiful outdoor pool and braai area, and guests can also enjoy the on-site restaurant. For families, there's a large self-catering suite for four available.
There is a shared lounge at the property, and all guests have free private parking.
Albert House B&B - click here to search dates
These Victorian Rooms are all located in the historical Albert House building, a stately double-story homestead built in 1843.
The antique furniture, period paintings and period fireplaces set the tone for a luxury stay.
Victoria Manor & Die Tuishuise
Die Tuishuise consist of 30 beautiful Victorian-inspired Karoo style cottages. These unique Karoo houses and the Victoria Manor have been restored to their former splendour, recreating the gracious bygone era of the 1840's.
Guests can indulge in the old-school charm, not losing grip of the historically rich and important surroundings. Die Tuishuise have been awarded the coveted "Simon van der Stel" Gold Medal for restoration.
What to read next on Traveller24:
- PICS: New 4-star cottages planned for Mountain Zebra National Park
- MAP: Mountain Zebra-Camdeboo National Parks get NEW protection corridor
- PICS: Roar! First pitter-patter of lion cub paws in Mountain Zebra National Park