PICS: Jungles of cacti and never-ending valleys: Discover the magic of small town Karoo in Graaff-Reinet

2019-02-08 06:30 - Saara Mowlana
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graaff-reinet eastern cape

Why you ought to say cheers to the charm of this small Karoo town. (Photo: Saara Mowlana / Traveller24)

The sleepy town of Graaff-Reinet is unassuming at first glance.

Found a three-hour drive away from its bay city neighbour, Port Elizabeth, it's the kind of town you could so easily miss. But that would be missing out. 

But 'lil Graaffy is not one to simply gloss over as you drive on by or even just spend one night, as the little town holds more than you'd think.

Enclosed by a horse-shoe-like shaped river that drapes around it, the town houses many wonders within and just outside of its built up area.

READ: This company is looking for four people to spend 3 months in a dying Italian dorpie for FREE 

Historically noted as the fourth oldest town in SA - following, Cape Town, Swellendam and Stellenbosch - Graaff-Reinet is a blend of small town charm, a thrumming wine culture and natural beauty in the Klein Karoo region.

Walking through the quiet town some surprising elements you'll find yourself stumbling across, alongside streets lined in limewash and 'Graaff-Reinet' green homes and bookstores, include:

The Drostdy Hotel

A visit to Graaff-Reinet requires accommodation that is both central and inclusive in offerings. 

The Drostdy Hotel has been around nearly as long as the town itself and has duefully earned heritage status. However, the hotel is so much more than a quaint and cosy Dutch-styled place to rest.

The historic building has been shifting with the times and includes a few luxury and modern amenities and features. 

drostdy hotel graaff-reinet eastern cape

(Photo: Saara Mowlana / Traveller24) 

SEE PICS: Old-world charm meets contemporary luxury on this Stellenbosch farm 

Falling under Newmark Management, the hotel has been refurbished to include:

  • A luxury and kitted out spa
  • The decadent Coldsteam restaurant
  • An on site electric car charger
drostdy hotel graaff-reinet eastern cape

(Photo: Saara Mowlana / Traveller24) 

  • An Art Gallery 
  • Wine Shop
drostdy hotel graaff-reinet eastern cape

(Photo: Saara Mowlana / Traveller24) 

  • Conference rooms
drostdy hotel graaff-reinet eastern cape

(Photo: Saara Mowlana / Traveller24) 

  • Swimming pools
  • and more!

The Drostdy is also a popular wedding venue as it offers guests an intimate setting with scenic backdrops for any fairytale wedding.

drostdy hotel graaff-reinet eastern cape

(Photo: Saara Mowlana / Traveller24) 

The hotel also supports an initiative, led by the Peace Parks Foundation, which aims to support the drive towards equal opportunities for women in the workplace by offering a learning platform where graduates receive on-the-job training in hospitality over the period of a year. 

In addition to the daily guidance and teaching that the Drostdy Hotel provides these women with, the hotel directs all of its profits back to the SA College for Tourism.

drostdy hotel graaff-reinet eastern cape

(Photo: Saara Mowlana / Traveller24) 

CHECK OUT: Great Karoo road tripping: Farm stays to make you want to linger longer 

De Camdeboo National Park

Situated in the backdrop of Graaff-Reinet, the De Camdeboo National Park is not one to ignore.

Driving along the scenic mountain range you're bound to spot some cheeky wildlife like kudus, eland and baboons roaming about the bushy areas or sitting leisurely beside fishermen at the Dam.

You can also opt to enjoy sundowners on the deck below the iconic Valley of Desolation as you watch the sunset.

valley of desolation graaff-reinet eastern cape

(Photo: Saara Mowlana / Traveller24) 

The Valley of Desolation

Undoubtedly one of the main highlights of both De Camdeboo National Park and Graaff-Reinet, The Valley of Desolation is a magnificent sight to behold - with its cliffs and mountain ridges that plummet down a drop of about 120 metres.

From the peak, you can soak up the full glory of the little town of Graaff-Reinet encircled in the horizon beyond and also see Graaff-Reinet's version of Lion's Head - Spandau Kop.

valley of desolation graaff-reinet eastern cape

(Photo: Saara Mowlana / Traveller24)

valley of desolation graaff-reinet eastern cape

(Photo: Saara Mowlana / Traveller24) 

valley of desolation graaff-reinet eastern cape

(Photo: Saara Mowlana / Traveller24) 

ALSO READ: Wind your way through these Dorpies of the Eastern Cape: Storms River 

Nqweba Dam

It is important to note that at present Graaff-Reinet's Nqweba Dam is at 2% capacity and water saving practices and measures have been implemented across the town.

That being said, a visit to the dam, situated in the De Camdeboo National Park, is a must for those looking to soak up the splendour of witnessing some large and beautiful eland and bucks that roam near to the water's edge for some fresh grub. 

Obesa Cacti Nursery

Tucked away unassuming in the midst of the town lies a neighbourhood where a few houses break away from shades of limewash and Graaffy's green and douse themselves instead in vibrant shades of orange and puce.

This colourful street is where you'll find one of Graaff-Reinet's quirkiest and most wondrous of attractions - the Obesa Cacti Nursery.

obesa cacti nursery graaff-reinet eastern cape

(Photo: Saara Mowlana / Traveller24) 

Walking through the thick of cacti of varying girths, lengths, colours and textures - you almost forget that you're in Graaff-Reinet - or even that you're in this realm. 

obesa cacti nursery graaff-reinet eastern cape

(Photo: Saara Mowlana / Traveller24) 

The experience is truly otherworldly as you meander your way through, dodging unforseen pricks and pokes from the inhabitants of this land, and spot random skulls, porcelain garden frogs and people and even a random dinosaur figure to set the scene.

obesa cacti nursery graaff-reinet eastern cape

(Photo: Saara Mowlana / Traveller24) 

ALSO SEE: The student pilgrimage to Bathurst and Port Alfred 

Imibala Art Gallery

For the travelling art enthusiasts, Graaff-Reinet has you covered too with its lovely and quaint museum that also sits on the Drostdy property. 

You'll find intriguing pieces from sculptures of clay and metal to detailed paintings that look like photographs.

imibala gallery graaff-reinet eastern cape

(Photo: Saara Mowlana / Traveller24) 

The Imibala Trust is a NPO which looks at uplifting communities through education, so while some of the payment goes toward the artist, most of the proceeds go toward providing scholarship opportunities and means to further advance learnership in the town.

imibala gallery graaff-reinet eastern cape

(Photo: Saara Mowlana / Traveller24) 

imibala gallery graaff-reinet eastern cape

(Photo: Saara Mowlana / Traveller24) 

The Graaff-Reinet Club

Erected on Church Square in 1880, the Graaff-Reinet Club was originally an exclusively male space, but these days the building has been split in two with one side being occupied by the Coldstream Restaurant and the other side still maintaining the club.

coldstream restaurant graaff-reinet eastern cape

(Photo: Saara Mowlana / Traveller24) 

The club is a favoured hang out spots for locals looking to kick back with a cold brew or other hard drinks.

The decor in the club is probably as 'macho manly as macho man can manly macho be' with an array of weapons artfully displayed on the wall behind the bar counter and memorabilia of a hippo skull and a preserved elephant foot that has been repurposed to hold your cool beverages.

graaff-reinet club graaff-reinet eastern cape

(Photo: Saara Mowlana / Traveller24) 

But aside from its intense decor preference, the club is a dimly lit vibe for those looking to kick back and talk smack over some buzzing bevs.

graaff-reinet club graaff-reinet eastern cape

(Photo: Saara Mowlana / Traveller24) 

ALSO CHECK OUT: Parys: The perfect small town weekend escape from Joburg 

Reinet House

A visit to Graaff-Reinet would be incomplete without a glimpse into the house behind its name.

The Reinet House museum is formerly a Dutch Reformed Church parsonage which was built at the expense of the Government in 1812 during the ministry of the Rev Kicherer. 

reinet house graaff-reinet eastern cape

(Photo: Saara Mowlana / Traveller24) 

Strolling through the house you get an insight into frozen moments in time as to what life in the house was like during its prime.

I must say, the kitchen aesthetic with authentic bronzed and metal pots and pans and jaffles all hung carefully near the classic oven was a feature that looked like it walked straight out of a Pinterest board.

reinet house graaff-reinet eastern cape

(Photo: Saara Mowlana / Traveller24) 

Groot Kerk

Also known as the 'Dutch Reformed Church', this sight is undeniably the tallest structure you'll find propped down near the centre of Graaff-Reinet.

With it's tall, Gothic-inspired spires and facade, the intricate church is definitely worth a visit - even if just to snap pictures.

groot kerk graaff-reinet eastern cape

(Photo: Saara Mowlana / Traveller24) 

Africology Spa

What better way to unwind from a day of exploring than at the luxury Africology Spa that sits comfortably on site at The Drostdy Hotel.

Visitors can select from a range of massage and other spa treatments and packages to help them de-stress and truly get into the peaceful flow of small town charm.

africology spa graaff-reinet eastern cape

(Photo: Saara Mowlana / Traveller24)

There is also an on-site sauna room with salt crystals constructing one wall to help you reap benefits while you sweat out the toxins of the day or your journey. 

africology spa graaff-reinet eastern cape

(Photo: Saara Mowlana / Traveller24)

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