The Upper Karoo region ­ picturesque & hospitable

by Media Xpose

The Upper Karoo is famous for its wide open spaces and healthy climate. The seemingly arid Karoo region quickly transforms itself with the first summer rains into waving fields of grass with picturesque scenes of grazing sheep and spinning wind pumps. Visitors are enticed by its distinctive Karoo architecture, impressive churches and desolate valleys between flat-topped koppies (hills).

This region offers visitors the traditional warm hospitality of its people combined with superb hunting, hiking and game watching. This region features two routes.

Karoo Highlands Route

The Karoo Highlands Route is an area renowned for the hospitality of its farming community and whatever you decide to do here will be etched in your memory for a long time to come. Situated in the southern part of the Northern Cape, this route covers many small Karoo towns and forms the heart of the Great Karoo.

Niewoudtville is extremely popular during the wildflower season, and because of its location in the Bokkeveld, where the Hantam Karoo meets Cape Fynbos, it has a reputation as the bulb capital of the world. During spring, bulbs of every description bloom in the area around town.

To see and do

  • Neo-Gothic sandstone church – this forms the heart of the town with a garden usually filled with flowering bulbs.
  • Visit nearby farms during flower season – here farmers make their living from sheep, wheat and rooibos tea farming.
  • Nieuwoudtville waterfall – just outside the town, this waterfall is one of the most beautiful waterfalls in the country.
  • Hantam Botanical Garden – also just outside town, is well worth a visit both in season and out.
  • Quiver tree forest, local sandstone ruins, the Oorlogskloof Nature Reserve

Williston may be a small town, but this part of the Upper Karoo is home to natural beauty and magnificent landscapes.

To see and do

  • Church missions – these were once an important part of this town and now forms an important part of the history and heritage.
  • NG Church – built out of sandstone, this church dates back to 1913, and has been made a National Monument.

Loxton reveals itself after the road passes through a small cutting in a hill along the R63 towards the West Coast and Namaqualand. It is unexpected ­ thanks to far-seeing townsfolk who planted trees along all its streets over one hundred years ago. Along with a variety of lovely old Karoo architecture, and friendly people, it’s particularly appealing.

To see and do

  • Hiking – take to the hills to explore the ancient dolerite ‘koppies’ (hills).
  • Corbelled houses – built of local stone and shaped like old-fashioned beehives, you may see these on farms around the town.
  • Enjoy bird watching on and around farm dams after good rains.
  • Replica Dutch castle and windmill – these look like they’ve stepped straight out of a fairytale.

Victoria West is well worth a visit for its historical buildings and homes, most of which are either Cape Cottage or Victorian-house style.

To see and do

  • De Oude Pastorie – visit the oldest building in town. This dinky Anglican Church was built in 1869, restored in 2009, and boasts lovely stained glass windows.
  • Enjoy the views from the edge of town, including windmills, artistically restored homes and breathtaking vistas, particularly after a storm.

Calvinia is a quaint and eccentric small town that needs to be seen and experienced at least once in a lifetime.

To see and do

  • Calvinia Museum is housed in an old synagogue dating back to 1920 and documents the story of Calvinia.
  • Akkerendam Nature Reserve features a variety of hiking trails, game viewing and bird watching, including the rare Cinnamon-breasted Warbler and the rare Sterboom (star tree).
  • Calvinia Post Box, at 6 metres tall, is the largest post box in the world. Each letter posted from here receives a unique hand stamped flower as decoration.
  • Tankwa Karoo National Park is situated between Ceres, Calvinia and Sutherland. Hiking, birdwatching and stargazing.

Carnarvon is one of the oldest towns within the Northern Cape. It started off as a mission station in 1847, which evolved into the town of Carnarvon by 1874.

To see and do

  • Carnarvon Museum originally served as a community hall for the Dutch Reformed Church and is now the town museum.
  • Historic houses and town walk – apart from the typical Karoo houses, there are many fine examples of late Victorian and Edwardian era homes and buildings in Carnarvon.
  • The Square Kilometre Array near Carnarvon (SKA) – the SKA project is an international effort to build the world’s largest radio telescope, with eventually over a square kilometre (one million square metres) of collecting area. As one of the largest scientific endeavours in history, the SKA will bring together a wealth of the world’s finest scientists, engineers and policy makers to bring the project to fruition.

Colesburg is a traveller’s oasis on the national highway between Johannesburg and Cape Town.

To see and do

  • Town walking tour – visit the old horse-driven mill pub, the Anglican Church, The Kemper Museum and much more.
  • Anglo Boer War enthusiasts can visit the Grenadier Guard Rock, Memorial Hill and the military cemetery where more than 400 men from 20 regiments are buried.
  • Doornkloof Nature Reserve is located on the southern eastern banks of the Vanderkloof Dam and offers game viewing, hiking and mountain bike trails, fishing, camping and overnight chalets.

Fraserburg was founded in 1851 and named after a Scottish cleric and immigrant, Rev Colin Fraser, and a church elder, Meyburg.

To see and do

  • Old Parsonage Museum – built in 1856, it houses unique collections and an exhibition of fossils.
  • Town walking route – this will take you past the many Victorian era houses. A map can be purchased at the local museum.
  • Dinosaur Walk – on the farm Gansfontein, your walk will take you past the distinct footprints of a Bradysaurus dinosaur that passed this way approximately 190-million years ago. Other markings include water ripples, worm trails, and signs of fish marks.

Sutherland is a small Karoo town, famous for its warm hospitality, snowy winters, starlit nights, dramatic landscapes and the world’s best stargazing.

To see and do

  • Sutherland Planetarium offers unique star gazing and digital tours of the universe.
  • Walking town tour – your walk will take you past the home of the prominent Van Wyk Louw writing family’ s home and the Groote Kerk dating back to the 1870s.
  • Sterland Farm – just outside town there are fossil and botanical tours during the day and stargazing tours at night.
  • The South African Astronomical Observatory (SALT) is the largest optical telescope in the southern hemisphere. For day and night stargazing tours and tours of the facilities, contact: +27 (0)84 708 0218.

Karoo Oasis Route

This route offers travellers a great balance of history, adventure, nature, culture and traditional Karoo ‘slow food’. Typified by arid, semi-desert terrain dotted with flat-topped ‘koppies’ (hills) it is also a biodiversity hotspot that is home to 6 000 plant species (2 400 of which are endemic) and the critically endangered riverine rabbit.

Warrenton is principally an agricultural town and its history lies in diamonds with their discovery in the area in 1888. Warrenton played a pivotal role in the area’s economy until the mines closed in 1926. Now it serves as a major commercial centre for the surrounding farms.

To do and see

  • Visit the Old Sluice and waterwheel,
  • Look out for the character-rich, historical buildings in town
  • Visit the beautiful old steam locomotive outside the FNB.

Kimberley, the capital of the Northern Cape, is ‘the’ place for diamond mining. It not only has a history immersed in diamonds but the Big Hole – a huge circular pit right in the middle of town – is a huge crater dug almost entirely with picks and shovels in an effort to reach the stones.

To do and see

  • Kimberley’s Big Hole, measuring over a kilometre deep with a surface area of 17 hectares, formed part of the diamond rush of the 1870s where men, with little more than man-made tools, managed to remove three tons of diamonds and 22,5 million tons of earth in the process.
  • Kimberley Town Hall – when visiting Kimberley make sure you take a turn past the town hall. The architecture is magnificent. Constructed in 1899 prior to the Anglo-Boer War, Fergus Carstairs Rogers was the architect responsible for this outstanding workmanship. There is a tram that stops right outside the town hall, you can gather more information here and travel easily to other popular tourist attractions in Kimberley.
  • The Sol Plaatje Museum and Library – this was once the residential address of Solomon Tshekisho Plaatje, the first Secretary-General of the African National Congress. The Sol Plaatje Museum and Library celebrates this man, as well as his life as a journalist, author, and politician.

Hopetown is famed for the discovery of two of South Africa’s largest diamonds – the Eureka Diamond and the Star of Africa between 1867 and 1869.

To see and do

  • Hopetown Concentration Camp Cemetery – voted as one of the best Anglo War memorial sites, it and the museum are situated on the farm, Doornbult.
  • Anglo Boer War historical and archaeological sites such as Orange River Station, British Military Camps and a well-preserved Block House can be found in close proximity to the farm.

Britstown; the name seems both obvious and mundane. Until you learn that Brits accompanied David Livingstone, the explorer, on one of his journeys into the interior of the country. Probably en route, Hans Brits realised that the diamond boom happening in Kimberley would bring a lot of people to this part of the country hoping to strike it lucky (Kimberley is 250 km north east of Britstown). Hans was smart, and his town ended up right in the middle of the diamond route between Cape Town and Kimberley, functioning as a half-way station.

To see and do

  • Visit the Dutch Reformed Church, built in 1877, and the town’s museum in Raath Street, housed in what used to be the Holy Trinity Church.
  • Take the opportunity to star gaze.
  • Visit the local Khoisan rock art – in evidence on many of the local farms – and hike the surrounds.
  • A perfect overnight stop-over at the Transkaroo Country Lodge for typical Karoo slow food and hospitality.

De Aar is the third largest town in the Northern Cape and is centrally located on the main railway line between Johannesburg, Cape Town, Port Elizabeth and Namibia.

To see and do

  • The Garden of Remembrance – The Deelfontein Cemetery honours British troops who died during the Anglo Boer War.
  • Olive Schreiner’s house and restaurant – political activist, feminist and author of the world-renowned novel, The Story of an African Farm, Olive Schreiner lived in De Aar for a while, although her house has now been converted into a restaurant.
  • Other historical sites include St Paul’s Church, the Town Hall and Standard Bank.
  • Visit local artists and crafters such as Sam Mooi, Fundiswa Banto and Ruth Issel.

Hanover claims to be the country’s most central town. It is equidistant from Cape Town and Johannesburg, and centrally positioned between Cape Town, Durban, Port Elizabeth and Upington on the N1.

To see and do

  • View the Cenotaph Memorial commemorating WW2.
  • The town walking tour will take you past interesting historical buildings such as Camdeboo House, the Dutch Reformed Church, the Police Station and the Library in Darling Street.
  • Stock up on gifts at the Bear Lady, Joane Mallet’s Shop, uNpopi Dolls and Angora Crafts & Restaurant and visit Mrs Nellies electric collection of agricultural implements from yesteryear.

Richmond has recently been named South Africa’s first ‘Book Town’ and Africa’s only ‘Book Town’. It is situated on the N1 halfway between Johannesburg and Cape Town and the ideal stop over and destination for booklovers and authors alike.

To see and do

  • Bookshops – As a ‘Book Town’, there is a variety of interesting second-hand bookstores and antiquity book dealers to attract bibliophiles.
  • Boekbedonnerd Boek Festival – the town hosts the annual literary event which attracts book enthusiasts from far and wide.
  • Horse Museum – one of only two in the world, offers equine-related displays and quirky exhibits on fascinating things from days gone by!

For more information to explore the Northern Cape contact +27 (0)53 833 1434 or visit

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