Text and Photographs by Chris Marais
“I’d rather die an exciting death in Africa than live a boring life in Australia,” says Ros Turner, the Aussie-born woman who runs tourism in Somerset East.
Ros’ office is in the Walter Battiss Museum.
What a coup for Somerset East, I think, every time I stroll about the permanent exhibition of the King of Fook Island’s work.
Walter Battiss once told writer Jill Johnson:
“We lived in Somerset East – a small but very beautiful little town at the foot of a mountain. That is what made it beautiful, the mountain, always green, with a waterfall three hundred feet high – unusual for the Karoo.”
If you drive out a bit on the N10, there’s a turn-off to Kokskraal somewhere between Cookhouse and the Daggaboer’s Neck.
You pass the Mooi Melk Kooi Hotel and then you get to Kokskraal, where Liza Troskie runs a thriving craft project with a group of farm workers’ wives.
Kokskraal is where the extravagant explorer Francois le Vaillant first met the Xhosas in the late 18th Century.
Kokskraal is also where Le Vaillant decided to terminate his first journey (wisely, as it turned out, because all the in-fighting in the area at the time did not make it very tourist-friendly) and travel back to the Great Fish River.
What to do:
To plan your trips and accommodation (and to encounter the lovely Walter Battiss Art Museum), contact tourism officer Ros Turner at 042 243 1448 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Oddly enough for a Karoo town, this is a wonderful place for fishermen. Alan Hobson can take you to flyfish for trout, yellowfish or teach you how. See http://www.anglerandantelope.co.za, email email@example.com or call either 042 243 3440 or 082 375 4720.
Visit the Old Pastorie Museum to see how people lived centuries ago. Call 042 243 2079.
Find some fascinating African jewellery and fine beaded items at Kokskraal. Visit http://www.kokskraalhandcrafts.co.za or call 042 247 2500.
If you’re interested in sheep and shearing, go to Fairworld. Its museum is open to the public on request. Call Acton or Elize van Aardt on 042 247 1723 or 073 257 8048.
At the Boschberg Hub, you can have a light meal, coffee or cake, go birdwatching, hiking, look at crafts (including sophisticated papier mache and leatherwork), or go mountain-biking, call 042 243 3729.
Encounter wildlife (including elephants and buffalo) at Kuzuko, close to Somerset East. Visit http://www.kuzuko.com or call them on 042 235 1037. (They offer 4-star accommodation.)
Where to Eat:
For light meals, cakes and coffees, visit the Le Vaillant Restaurant at the Boschberg Hub (042 243 3775), the Nursery Tea Garden on Hare Street (042 243 1714) or The Coffee Shop on Nojoli Street (042 243 0407.
For a pub/restaurant experience, visit the Somerset on Main (042 243 1925), The Other Place (079 523 5525) or Steyn’s Kafee (042 243 0140).
Where to Stay:
Angler & Antelope Guesthouse (4 star) now also has a self-cater cottage for families. See http://www.anglerandantelope.co.za or call 082 375 4720.
Somerset House epitomises the graceful architecture and hospitality of the town (4 star). Call 042 243 1819 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Glen Avon offers a classic farmstay in lovely old cottages not far from town. Visit http://www.glenavonfarm.co.za or call 042 243 3628.
There is more beautiful farm accommodation at Wilton Guest Farm. Call them on 083 379 9231.
Archer Accommodation offers 3-star self-catering in town. Call them on 042 243 2794.
Visit the Karoo Space e-Bookstore