The historical town of Graaff-Reinet offers a wholesome, country lifestyle to its small population.
Situated about 750m above sea level on the banks of the Sundays River inland, Graaff-Reinet is home to one of South Africa’s natural national monuments – the Valley of Desolation, a geological wonder.
A product of volcanic and erosive forces of nature over 100 million years, the valley, set in the vast plains of the Camdeboo National Park about 14km outside Graaff-Reinet, boasts sheer cliffs and precariously balanced columns of dolerite rising 120m from the valley floor.
And while the valley is one of the Karoo town’s biggest attractions, there’s something to do here for everyone, from outdoor adventures and sightseeing, to wining and dining at a variety of eateries.
Founded in 1786, Graaff-Reinet is the oldest town in the Eastern Cape and the fourth oldest in South Africa. The atmosphere is laid-back thanks, in part, to the friendly residents. Streets are free of litter and the many historical buildings are neat and well maintained. There is also a buzz thanks to travellers passing through this section of the Karoo as they traverse the country.
One of the stops on tourists’ visits to Graaff-Reinet is the massive Dutch Reformed Church which occupies pride of place, its 46m steeple visible across town. The church, which is open to the public, was built in 1887 and seats more than 1,200.
Homes here are older, many of them in the Cape Dutch style, and in other parts houses – spacious enough to accommodate the Karoo way of living, including kuiering – were built in the 1970s and renovated over the years. There are a handful of townhouse complexes.
The Karoo town, with a population of nearly 36,000 at last count in the 2011 census, was also home to several prominent South Africans including billionaire businessman Anton Rupert, author Dalene Mathee, political activists Beyers Naudé, Robert Sobukwe and Matthew Goniwe and popular television maths and science teacher William Smith whose father helped discover the coelacanth fish.
Hear from a local..
“I moved to Graaff-Reinet form the Western Cape about 20 years ago, married my husband and had kids. Every three months or so we go to Cape Town and do a bit of shopping and catch a show but after three days we come back because it’s too hectic. I love Graaff-Reinet because it’s wholesome living. My son can go ride his bicycle and I know that he will be safe.” - Anziska Kayster, resident.
Best in food:
Gordon’s Restaurant: run by chef and award-winning Veld to Fork author, Gordon Wright, whose philosophy is slow food cooked with local produce, this is a must-stop for an authentic Karoo food experience.
Polka: this is an historic house converted into a coffee shop and restaurant with an enclosed outdoor area shaded with trees and great decor, including a functioning windmill.
Coldstream Restaurant: the best seats in the house are on the open-air terrace that overlooks the church, which is magnificently illuminated by floodlights at night.
Take in the breathtaking views on top of the Valley of Desolation in Camdeboo National Park and watch the sun go down over the plains of Camdeboo.
Experience life as it was in the 1800s when you visit the historical Reinet House, Old Residency Museum, Urquhart House and the Military History Museum. The Black Acorn grapevine planted by Charles Murray in 1870 is still growing at Reinet House.
Take a 4x4 to the top of the mountain trail or set off hiking and mountain biking in the vast open landscapes to experience a sense of freedom, peacefulness and space.
Nearby tertiary education:
- SAPS Academy Graaff-Reinet
- Eastcape Midlands TVET College
- SACT Tracker Academy
This article originally appeared in Neighbourhood, Sunday Times.