Story & Pix by Chris Marais
Today – on the third leg of our Karoo Heartland road trip – we’re heading south from the Sneeuberg range
to Graaff-Reinet, winding through pass after pass, eventually coming to the Old Tequila Factory on the left.
Why that excellent facility has closed down is a long story. Suffice to say that in its day, the Karoo Agave (the official name, because no one but Mexico can really produce something officially called tequila) product was of export quality.
Graaff-Reinet is known as The Gem of the Karoo, and you can see why. The old Victorian architecture has been well preserved and the town has a graceful mien.
It also has good museums, lots of restaurants, shops and galleries. So here’s a town map and let’s meet up at McNaughton’s Bookshop at 3pm, shall we?
David McNaughton sells books. He also tells a damn good story, and is the Karoo Heartland’s premier historical guide.
So we drive into the Camdeboo National Park and up into the mountains with David, until we come to a car park and stroll to a nearby cliff edge.
Valley of Desolation
Yep. I can see you’re gobsmacked. That happened to me as well, the first time I looked down on the Valley of Desolation and the Plains of Camdeboo beyond.
It is, truly, one of the great South African landscapes.
And now we go to one of the great South African “foodscapes” with Gordon Wright of the Andries Stockenstrom Guest House.
He’s going to make a great fuss of us tonight. It could take the form of a springhare spring roll, an “earth soup” with beetroot, garlic and onion from Gordon’s garden and spiced medallions of springbok.
And if Gordon offers you the nougat crème, throw your Noakes out of the window for the evening and go for it.
Sometimes, even Real Meal Revolutions have to make a pit-stop for a good pudding.
Hi there. Sleep well? Tuck in at breakfast, because we’re going south on the N1, with Willowmore as today’s stop-over.
This little 150km road trip is Classic Karoo Flats, once you clear the Camdeboo range. You’re entering Mohair Country, and the herds of ringleted angora goats are everywhere.
So are the wind pumps. OK, now I know you have your Karoo Eyes on, because you’re requesting a photo stop at every wind pump sighting. That’s fine. Call them windmills – half the country does.
About 30 klicks south of Graaff-Reinet you’ll find a rusted bedstead standing out in the veld. It’s on your left, close to the turn-off to the Camdeboo Conservancy – which is on your right.
You drive while I look out for it.
Here it is. Now, according to legend that bedstead stands over the grave of a Voortrekker woman who took ill and died before she could see a doctor.
Her husband buried her here, with the bedstead-headstone as an intimate reminder of who lies here. Just another sad but interesting little Karoo roadside story.
Let’s divert into Aberdeen for a bit and stop outside the Mother Church in the centre of the village. If you look at the spire from a distance, you might see a slight “lean” to it.
Aberdeen Books & Crafts
Opposite the church is Aberdeen Books & Crafts, with more than 12 000 volumes on sale. So we’ll hunt down some coffee and possibly a couple of paperbacks before leaving this atmospheric village. And don’t miss the Red Karoo Gallery either.
We’ll just drive past Pagel House (a popular guest house) so I can show you some classic Karoo architecture.
What? You want to meet the owner? OK, here’s Lynn Dugmore – she’ll give you a card so you can book in here for your next Karoo visit.
Down at the Willow Historical Guest House in Willowmore, we check in and have a drink at the bar, which is festooned with interesting old signs.
We’re not staying long in Willowmore, but I’m sure you’re going to want to return and spend more time here. So let’s visit the Baviaans Tourism offices and pick up a bunch of brochures.
Today, we make a slight inland dog-leg to Jansenville, the World Capital of Mohair, where we visit the local museum, which is dedicated to the increasingly popular fibre. This is where we find out how angora fleece becomes mohair – as they say, from the “goat to the garment”.