Karoo Guide: 10 Annual festivals to explore

2016-09-17 12:30 - Ra-ees Moerat
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Cape Town - In a region of vast spaces, landscaped layouts of horizons, rocky mountain ranges and open sky space so wide that it makes you feel like you could touch the stars, you probably imagine this to be a deserted region where it hasn’t clicked to society to develop anything here… wrong!

This misconception or rather stereotype of the Karoo has long been smashed, since this region is becoming popular for being a prominent region to party!

Here you get to hear all about Loxton's nocturnal riverine rabbit that is said to be endangered, partake in the Nama Riel dance at the Williston Festival in the Upper Karoo, take a drive to Calvinia for the Hamtam Meat Festival or experience the seasonal display of spring daisies, which can easily be dubbed the biggest free flower show on Earth.

Over and above this, the Karoo plays host to a variety of prominent annual festivals. These attract thousands of visitors to the region as a result of the rich culture, providing festival-goers with authentic South African experiences.

Here is a list of the top ten, most well-known annual festivals in the Karoo:     

Klein Karoo Nasionale Kunstefees (KKNK)

The Klein Karoo Nasionale Kunstefees (KKNK) is an annual arts festival celebrating the Afrikaans language. The festival takes place in Oudtshoorn and comprises of visual and performing art. This festival is recognised by the South African government as a national arts festival as a result of the large number of guests who attend the festival… it is the biggest arts festival in the country… Klein Karoo … not so ‘klein’ after all!

A photo posted by KKNK (@kknkfees) on

AfrikaBurn in the Tankwa Karoo

AfrikaBurn is a prominent arts festival in the Tankwa Karoo that involves a community of people dressed in costumes, who gather to create a variety of art, deliver performances, play local music… and much, much more. The citizens of Tankwa have a ‘volunteer’ culture and through this trait, the festival is put together once a year.   

At the festival there are no items for sales besides, ice. You’ll see no advertising, branding banners or vendors… the festival is about giving and a not about capitalising. It seems like it could be a phenomenal experience, especially for someone who comes from the contemporary world where everything is based on making business.    

Pumpkin Festival Nieu-Bethesda

The Pumpkin Festival in Nieu-Bethesda is a once-a-year festival that’s got everything to do with…well… pumpkins! The primary objective of the festival is to collect as many pumpkins as possible that can later be contributed to care facilities for senior citizens in the area.

The festival is seen as a quirky pumpkin event by outsiders with the primary aim of contestants to obtain the title of having grown the sexiest pumpkin in the country.  

The festival takes place at De Toren Farmstall, which is situated on the most beautiful farm in the heart of the Karoo just around the corner of the famous Nieu-Bethesda town.

Find your accommodation in or around Nieu-Bethesda here.

A photo posted by bianca (@bianca_swarts) on

The Nieu-Bethesda Festival of Lights 

The Nieu-Bethesda Festival of Lights is an annual event that happens on every New Year’s Eve. The festival involves people gathering from all over South Africa to partake in a remarkable lantern festival. The festival usually starts with a performance delivered in the Centre’s Courtyard Theatre, followed by a tour through the township and then back to Centre where the night is celebrated with a feast and dancing, of course!

At the festival you can make your own lanterns at the Centre or you can choose a ready-made lantern. The festival comprises of a performance at the Centre’s outdoor theatre, random live-sized puppets, a lantern parade, braaing, an amazing live band and of course, dancing into the new year under the stars.

Calvinia Hamtam Meat Festival

The Hamtam Meat Festival is an annual event in the heart of the sheep hub in South Africa, Calvinia. The festival is indeed an authentic bundle of lamb chops, stews, curries, kebabs and braai. A ‘smiley’ may seem a bit foreign to those coming from other parts of the country, but the brave ones usually take a bite at the lamb’s head. It is called a ‘smiley’ as a result of the roasted lips of the lamb that retracts because of the heat, exposing the teeth to form a smiley shape. 

The festival was first held in 1989 and consists of a music concert, a street party, a vintage car rally and expo, a variety of activities and of course, the main event… the Miss Vleisfees beauty pageant that involves a gleaming affair followed by dinner and dancing.  

Find your accommodation in or around Calvinia here.

The Williston Winter Festival

The Williston Winter Festival delivers an exceptional, authentic South African cultural experience. The festival takes place every year at Williston Mall (which is not really a mall), in Dorp Street and comprises of  local performers such as  as Bianca en die Williston Stoftrappers and many other prominent local talents. 

At the festival you will find a range of stalls selling traditional Karoo food… but the highlight of the festival, have to be the citizens of the area who dance the Nama Riel, which is widely known as ‘the reel dance’. The elders of the town says, “, “As jy die Riel dans, moet die stof voor jou uitloop.” … this means, when you perform the Riel, the dust must rise before you! And for this reason, the dance floor is deliberately coated with soft sand.

Book your stay at Ark and Williston Mall here.

The Schreiner Karoo Writers Festival

To celebrate the works of Olive Schreiner, every year fans and lovers of Schreiner gather at the Schreiner Karoo Writers Festival in Cradock to listen to readings from prominent writers and poets in South Africa. 

Schreiner lived in Cradock for many years and dedicated his life to writing beautiful pieces of the distinct Karoo landscape and its interesting people… it just makes sense that there actually is a Karoo festival dedicated to this man. 

The festival comprises of an open microphone event where writers can deliver some of their writing pieces, the introduction of new books, a deli market and so much more!

Book your stay in or around Cradock here.

Karoo Food Festival

The idea behind the Karoo Food Festival is to bring the unique and genuine food of this area to travellers through the very people that cook, eat and produce the food daily. Farmers, housewives, coffee shop owners, entrepreneurs - people like the town's very best 'vetkoek' baker, coffee brewer, potjiekos maker and more - will teach their skills and share their iconic food with visitors. 

At the general festival ground, people set up stalls that sell some ripe local-grown pomegranates and delicious rubies... the festival-goers can get Karoo food for very cheap prices.  

The festival exposes South Africans from outside Cradock and the Karoo to the authentic food of the Karoo and this is what the festival aims to celebrate and enhance...Karoo food. 

It’s only fitting that this festival is held in Cradock, a town situated on the banks of the Great Fish River, as the farming community here – and food these farmers produce – is what gives life to Cradock in every sense of the word.  

ALSO SEE: Real food celebrated at the annual Karoo Food Festival

Eastern Cape Biltong Festival 

The Eastern Cape Biltong Festival is an annual celebration of one of SA’s most loved snacks…biltong! This year, biltong is a quarter of a century old and is the innovation of Willem de Klerk who was a farmer on Bedford farm. 

Every year the festival attracts a jolly crowd from all over the country, who loves food! Art and food are the primary aspects to the festival, made up of over 300 art and food stall… kudu wors, burgers and biltong serves as the staple foods at the festival.  The festival takes place at the Show Grounds in Somerset East.

Book your stay in or around Somerset East here.

Indie Karoo Film Festival

In 2015, filmmaker and Co-Owner of the Showroom Theatre, Johnny Breedt founded the Indie Karoo Film Festival. Even though this annual festival is only one year old, it has already become an event of note in the Karoo. 

Essentially, the festival serves as a platform for emerging filmmakers and script writers who produce great features, documentaries and short films to introduce their work to a variety of audiences… 

The festival takes place in Prince Albert every year and the films are screened over a period of three days at The Showroom Theatre. 

Book your stay in or around Prince Albert here.

Here is a map outlining the towns where annual festivals are held in the Karoo:

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