South Africans are quick to travel abroad but how many have truly experienced the wonders that are right on their doorstep? Experience an historical and educational adventure and discover places that you never knew existed.
Plan your holiday well ahead and book a cheap flight with Mango or Kulula, collect your comfortable, but cheap car hire Chevrolet Spark for as little as R663.00 each with four of you sharing for a whole 15 days!
Whether your interest lies in architecture, botany, astronomy or geology or if you’re just a pure nature lover, head for openness in the arid Karoo visiting towns and villages absorbed in history with a warm welcome from the locals.
Where To Go
Hire a GPS with your cheap car hire vehicle, get onto the N1 and just go where the road takes you. Stop off for a quick snack in the village of Matjiesfontein founded in 1884 by a Scottish railwayman and experience timelessness in a town that is a National Heritage Site in its entirety.
Then head on to Laingsburg, sadly remembered for the devastating floods in 1981, but the gateway to the Great Karoo and situated between vast plains and rugged hills where in the late 1700s, cattle farmers trekked inland from the Cape amid severe conditions. Drive through the low-lying mountain pass of ‘The Seven Weeks Poort’, with spectacular beauty that rambles on for 17km with views of the mountain rising up between 1500 and 2000m on either side taking you through to the Swartberg Range with sandstone layers, bizarre rock formations and cool mountain streams to quench your thirst while you explore. If you need more time stay at the ‘Laingsburg Country Hotel’ or camp out at the ‘Sit & Rus Caravan Park’.
Your next stop takes you off the N1 and onto the R407 to Prince Albert, founded in 1762 with well-preserved Cape Dutch, Karoo and Victorian buildings at the foot of the Swartberg mountain range and known for its fossil trails in surrounding areas. Soak in the ambience of Victorian times by staying at the ‘Swartberg Hotel’, a 3-star hotel established in 1864 and one of 19 national monuments in this quaint village, if fully booked, other options are ‘Days Inn’, ‘Ramada Prince Albert’, ‘Holiday Inn Express Hotel & Suites’, or the ‘Super 8 Motel’. Prince Albert is well known for its annual olive festival but also exports fruit, has sheep farms as well as an export mohair trade. The veld plants are a great attraction for botanists while there is also birding, hiking, cycling and star gazing and then spoil your taste buds with a meal of fine Karoo lamb or indulge in the Iberian delicacy of Spanish jamon.
While in the vicinity, a visit to the famous Cango Caves is a must and a further 60km east of Prince Albert you’ll find the village of Klaarstroom, virtually untouched since the days of Queen Victoria with a population of only 500 where in 1874 the first wool washery was opened. Visit a licensed witblitz still, declared a National Monument. Driving 45km north-west of Prince Albert Road you’ll come across the isolated community of Merweville, established in 1904 and still having that ‘old world’ charm about it.
Have a quick stop at Leeu-Gamka to stock up with refreshments for your drive to Beaufort West, founded in 1818 and known as the ‘Capital of the Karoo’ with its most famous son, Professor Christiaan Barnard, honoured in the local museum. Being the largest town in the Great Karoo region with approximately 34 000 inhabitants and the ‘Karoo National Park’ nearby where significant fossils were first found by David Baird way back in 1827. Visitors can enjoy hiking, horse riding or cycling while exploring and can either camp or stay in one of many old-fashioned chalets or book into the ‘SUN 1’ or ‘Royal Lodge’ hotel.
On an old section of the N1 highway, 50km north-east of Beaufort West is the town of Nelspoort where the San people were its original inhabitants leaving behind engravings and rock paintings still visible on stones in the surrounding hills. It has a seasonal wetland to the south caused by rainfall running down the Salt River from the Nuweveld Mountains.
Around 80km northeast of Beaufort West, you’ll clearly see the landmark of three, almost identical dolerite-topped koppies known as ‘The Three Sisters’ situated close to the N1 and N2 junction and proving a popular stopping place for travellers, resulted in the building of a Shell Ultra City. There’s a variety of wildlife in this area with many species having been relocated and you may just be lucky enough to see black rhino, buffalo, the Cape mountain zebra or a number of black eagles flying majestically up above.
Although there are no hotels in the area of The Three Sisters one can stay at the ‘GaMamadi Guest Farm’ and experience first-hand a fully operational Merino sheep and Mohair goat farm or just 4.6km from The Three Sisters you can find the ‘Travalia Guest Farm’ surrounded by lush trees and a garden full of colour, offering self catering accommodation with a swimming pool and restaurant. There are numerous other B&B’s and lodges in this area, all with a personal touch and many of which cater for large travelling groups.
On the long and winding road turn off the N1 and onto the R63 and visit the village of Murraysburg founded in 1856, with scenic beauty of the Sneeuberg Mountains and the Buffalo River and a large wealth of fossils. Visitors can try their patience at fly-fishing, hunting or bird watching.
Get onto the N9 with a break in Aberdeen with its rich heritage and a declared architectural conservation town with Victorian, Georgian, Karoo and German styled buildings. For couples in love, nothing can beat staying at ‘Cloud Cottage’ in Uniondale, secluded and tucked away in the side of the Outeniqua Mountains with views that are nothing less than spectacular of rugged mountains and flora, gentle streams, numerous rock pools, waterfalls and mystical music to the ears of nature.
You can get a return flight on Mango from George and if in need of relaxation, stay over in George with a choice of many hotels, ‘The Protea Hotel King George’, ‘Oakhurst Hotel’, ‘Protea Hotel Outenique’ or ‘17onWellington Suites’ or located less than seven minutes from George Airport, the luxury ‘5-Star Hyatt Regency Oubaai Resort and Spa’ for true pampering and comfort.