Wind your way through these Dorpies of the Eastern Cape: Graaff Reinet

2018-08-30 16:30 - Ethan van Diemen
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From rolling hills and mountain peaks, elephant-filled national parks and picturesque coastlines and unspoilt beaches to Afromontane forests - the Eastern Cape offers travellers a virtually endless variety of experiences to enjoy.

The cities and towns of the Eastern Cape are also replete with amazing opportunity and experiences to be enjoyed.

It can be said with certainty that the Eastern Cape is one of South Africa’s most beautiful, adventure-filled and history-rich provinces. The average, relatively well-informed traveller is likely familiar with Port Elizabeth, Grahamstown, Port Alfred and other locations that see a fair amount of visitors, however, this is a guide to some of the places you’re likely not too familiar with.

So read on, start planning and get ready to wind your way through the dorpies of the Eastern Cape.

Graaff Reinet

 (Photo: iStock)

Make sure you check out Graaff Reinet. Graaff Reinet lies enclosed by a bend in the Sundays River, with the Sneeuberg Mountain in the Camdeboo National Park serving as a looming giant in the background.

Holding the auspicious title of being the oldest town in the Eastern Cape and the fourth oldest in the entire country, this is a dorpie for the history lovers. Over 200 of the buildings have been claimed as National Monuments and much of the town has been restored to preserve the historical value of the town, the result of which is a town that successfully retained its character as a 19th century South African settler town.

Often referred to as the ‘Gem of the Karoo’ this small dorpie has a rich history that can even be gleaned from its name. In 1786 governor Cornelius Jacob van de Graaff, and his wife Cornelia Reinet founded the town. The name Graaff Reinet is one of the many remnants of the past as the name is a mixture of the last names of the founder and his wife.

The governor’s wife had a parsonage built in her name but today serves as a museum with one of the largest living grape vines in the world in its garden that still bears fruit to this day.

Though located in the heart of the Karoo, with its flat and sparsely populated sandy plains it is ringed by the Camdeboo Park, which lends the area a break from the plain landscape with rich greens and mountains.

Thanks to this unique, biodiverse geography and historical character of the dorpie, Graaff Reinet and the surrounds offer travellers a wide variety of outdoor and town-based adventure, activities and experiences to enjoy.

Trout-fishing, horse riding, bird-watching to game-viewing to the cultural experiences on offer including rock art tours and township walkabouts, museum trips to Boer War monuments and everything in between - there are numerous reasons to head on down to Graaff Reinet.

SEE: Graaff-Reinet: Exploring the Drostdy legacy

Top things to do in Graaff Reinet: 

The Camdeboo National Park

 (Photo: iStock)

Having been formed over hundreds of millions of years ago, the Karoo is certainly one of the greatest natural wonders of the world, let alone, South Africa. There is almost no place better near Graaff Reinet for travellers to see this wonder for themselves than at the Camdeboo National Park. Offering visitors a glimpse of the unique landscape and ecosystem of the area, visitors to Graaf Reinet should not miss out.

Beyond offering breathtaking scenic spaces and unspoiled stargazing, Camdeboo National Park is home to six animal species that can’t be found in the legendary Kruger National Park. They include black wildebeest, berg kwagga, blesbuck, gemsbok and springbok.

For more information, follow this link

Valley of Desolation

 (Photo: iStock)

Also known as the Cathedral of the Mountains, this certainly must be evidence of nature just showing off what with its rugged, sheer cliff face and precariously balanced columns of Dolerite that rise 120 metres from the valley floor, against the backdrop of the vast Great Karoo plains. 

This is one of the greatest tourist attractions in the area with over 100 000 people visiting the area every year. Offering amazing views and scenic vistas of the surrounding landscape this is a location well-worth visiting for anyone in the vicinity of Graaff Reinet.

Nature and outdoor enthusiasts will love the space as it is endowed with an impressive amount of flora and fauna to be marvelled at. Make sure to get the most of the Valley of Desolation by taking a leisurely hike to the top to enjoy unrivalled panoramic views. 

For more information, follow this link.    

Township Tours

 (Photo: iStock)

A reality of Graaff Reinet, like with much of South Africa's smaller towns, is that of the stark difference in material conditions and lived experiences of people of colour in township locations. One way to experience this reality holistically, in a way that acknowledges the issues but also celebrates aspects of the culture that emanates from these living spaces is to take a township tour. 

Kroonvale and Umasizakhe are two of Graaff Reinet's townships and can be explored with a guide. Check out the house where Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe, the founder of the Pan African Congress, grew up. Visit and speak with locals as they extend to you the offer to buy their handmade goods and experience Xhosa culture.

For more information, follow this link.

The Dutch Reformed Church (Groot Kerk) and the town centre

 (Photo: iStock)

Found in the town's main square of the town, the Dutch Reformed Church is a replica of Salisbury Cathedral in England. This landmark 19th-century church, one of South Africa’s finest examples of Victorian Gothic architecture, was built using local sandstone and has beautiful stained-glass windows.

Interestingly, it was the fourth church to be erected on the same spot. The Dutch Reformed Church that today stands in the space was opened in 1887. The church maintains an active congregation and is also one of the many heritage sites in a town filled with them. The church also makes the perfect place to start off exploring the town centre.

With over 220 heritage sites and national monuments, there is plenty for visitors to see. From the history of the Anglo-Boer War to the fossils that have been found in the area - there is something for every kind of traveller to enjoy. Whether it's a trip into the recent or ancient past at Reinet House, the Military Museum, the Rock Art exhibition and Stone Age Collection, Mangaliso Robert Sobukwe Exhibition or even just the Drostdy Hotel - get out and get exploring.

For more information, follow this link.

Obesa Cacti Nursery

For something especially unique, check out the cacti labyrinth at Obesa Nursery. Founded in 1970, the nursery stocks over 7000 different species of plants and stocks well over 2 million individual plants. 

An absolute treat that must be explored and enjoyed is the labyrinth at the heart of the nursery. Walk among the succulents that can, and do, reach up to 10 metres tall. Only a short distance from the town proper, this is a must-see for plant-lovers and those interested in the novel. Find Obesa at 49 Murray Street. 

For more information, follow this link.


SEE: #WinterEscape: Road-tripping to Graaff-Reinet

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