12 Reasons to Holiday in the Karoo

Story and Pix by Chris Marais

matjiesfontein

East, West – the Karoo is best. Signpost outside the Lord Milner Hotel, Matjiesfontein.

Busy international airports, shocking exchange rates, snarky sidewalk touts, expensive hotels, the sheer volume of summertime tourists, moustachioed pickpockets and those eye-watering restaurant prices – that’s the dark side of world travel for South Africans today.

Money’s getting tighter, travel restrictions are piling up at every step of the journey, there’s less time for leisure and please, get that damn selfie-stick out of my face!

And as you stand in a mile-long queue for a brief glimpse of the Mona Lisa, the Crown Jewels, whatever tourist-trap bauble that’s on today’s itinerary, you have to wonder: is this experience really so special?

london eye

Ticket to the London Eye experience? Do you have R450 handy?

Cue the piano accordion intro. Add some wide open spaces. Catch the last-light on a whirring Climax windpump. Greet the friendly sheepdog as he welcomes you to your farmstay. Sniff the aroma of a lamb chop done just right on the braai. Have another glass of pinotage.

Here's the Karoo - on your doorstep.

Here’s the Karoo – on your doorstep.

Chill out. You’ve arrived at the Best Place on Earth: the Karoo.

It’s funny how sometimes the most beloved destination in your world can be right there, under your nose.

Here’s a short checklist of 12 reasons why you should be packing for the Karoo this summer. We’re all ready and waiting for you.

karoo

No long-haul flight to the Karoo for domestic travellers.

  1. It’s Accessible

Check your road map, your Google Earth or your GPS. Yes, we’re right there in the Middle Earth section of South Africa. We’re a day’s drive from just about anywhere in the country – and there’s no visa required. Just bring your good selves.

stuurmansfontein corbelled house

Sleep in a corbelled house at Stuurmansfontein outside Carnarvon.

  1. It’s Affordable

Nose around our Travel section on Karoo Space and Karoo Central and then move on to the websites of the Karoo destinations you choose, comparing the accommodation rates.

You will find the best deals in the world here. We specialise in true value-for-money holiday experiences. When last did you pay R500 for a lovely self-cater cottage for two?

karoo road

The space magic of the Karoo.

  1. It’s a Safe Base

As you enter the Karoo, you will feel the security of pure space and wide-open horizons.

williston mall

The Doppies Bar at the Williston Mall – an adventure all on its own.

  1. A Place of Adventure

Whether you like to pedal your mountain bike over rough terrain, ride a well-bred Karoo horse across the veld, do the 250km Tankwa Camino walk from Calvinia to Ceres or simply hitch a lift on the back of a farmer’s bakkie as he goes to check the stock, there’s no shortage of physical adventure out here.

There are even secret spots in the Karoo where you can fish for giant trout.

groenvlei farm

Shearing season at Groenvlei Guest Farm outside Nieu-Bethesda.

  1. It’s Authentic

This is not a place of glitzy casinos, cavernous shopping malls or cheap tourist traps. The Karoo specialises in “authentic”, from the donkey cart driver to the sheep-shearers hard at work in the shed to the blacksmith to the stockman who is pleased to share his fireside stories with you.

Karoo Food Festival

Bedford’s Marelise van Niekerk giving a great course on cooking with craft beer.

  1. There’s Good Food

Know one thing about the Karoo: we will feed you well. From the nationally-famous chefs on our farms and in our restaurants to our food festivals to simply finding a really great butchery for your braai meat, you will not go hungry.

williston winter festival

The Nama Riel at the Williston Winter Festival.

  1. Celebrate With Us

Once the Karoo wakes up in spring and moves into summer, it’s one giant party all over the place. We celebrate meat, books, the Nama Riel, custom-crafted wire cars, the first daisies of the season, agriculture and life in general at our festivals. It’s a great time to be in our neighbourhood.

route 62

Welcome to the Land of Slow Travel.

  1. The Karoo Road Trip – A Rite of Passage

Whether you’re young or a “silver fox”, whether you like to ride a motorcycle, drive an SUV or a classic old roadster, a Karoo Road Trip has to be on your bucket list.

karoo

Come to where it’s quiet – the Karoo.

  1. Escape the City

Rush hour in the Karoo means wide open streets, a bakkie in the distance, perhaps a lone truck on the horizon and a curious meerkat by the side of the road. This is where you turn off the TV news for a week and embrace the silence.

little karoo

Poultry-watching on Route 62 with the family.

10. The Family Bond

When last did you, the wife and the kids take a walk out into the veld together? The Karoo is designed for family time.

beaufort west

At the fireside with Oom Johannes Willemse of Theefontein Farm outside Beaufort West.

11. Learn a Few Things

From the ancient wisdom of locals to the cultural treasures in the small towns, from the viewpoints of a farmer who grew up in the Karoo to understanding pre-human life on this ancient sea-bed, there is a vast array of knowledge on offer here.

ganora farm

You will find your secret place in the Karoo – like Ganora Guest Farm outside Nieu-Bethesda.

12. Your Special Place

And once you’ve visited us a few times, you will have found your Karoo connection: the farm you love to stay on, the family you always have coffee with along the journey, your favourite national park, the friendly barman at that pub in the middle of nowhere and the padstal where you always pick up your biltong.

richmond, northern cape

Peter Baker of Booktown Richmond in the reading room of Die Richmond Supper Klub.

For Karoo Books (print) CLICK HERE

For Karoo Ebooks CLICK HERE

PS: And when sanity returns to the Rand-Dollar-Pound-Euro situation we can all traipse off to foreign climes and broaden our minds.

But here’s betting that after your globe-trotting, you’ll return once again to familiar faces and places out here in the Karoo…

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3 Responses to 12 Reasons to Holiday in the Karoo

  1. Pieter Reyneke September 18, 2015 at 6:54 am #

    After coming back after 3 weeks travelling in Belgium and the Netherlands, I fully agree! South Africa has so much more to offer travellers in terms of diversity and nature (and the weather!)! And besides, all the European cities look the same – you get out of the station, you see the Grote Markt with all the cafes, then you see the belfry and then the old beautiful old buildings with red rooftiles – definitely a trip to do to see where your ancestors are coming from, but we have a beautiful country, even with all its problems and useless (corrupt) government.

  2. Suki Viljoen December 11, 2015 at 3:34 pm #

    Thank you. Informative and an interesting read. I am sold on the idea of a crawl. Now just to put dreams into reality. Come on Fairy Godmother wherever you are!!

    Chuckled at no long haul & hoping mister tortoise got across safely.

    I was taken around a little by Eastern Cape photographer Steve Bailey – I can see why people love it.

  3. Leonie Whelan February 19, 2016 at 3:59 am #

    This is truly HOME…where the heart is. I have travelled through the Karoo many times as a child with my parents and now as an adult and I ALWAYS feel that feeling which is just so hard to describe….like I am in heaven seeing all the beautiful things, places, people and everything that to me is just plain beautiful. I always feel nostalgic and emotional and my heart is always so full of the best memories and at the same time, sad that some of my closest family who have passed away before me, are no longer with me to share this beautiful experience all over again. How I MISS them all:-(
    Thank you for all these beautiful photos and reminders of what really matters to me.

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