Established in 1786, Graaff-Reinet was named after Governor van der Graaff and his wife Reinet and was the fourth district in the Cape colony to be granted a Drostdy or seat of local government thus making it the fourth oldest town in South Africa. Being the outpost of white civilisation in a barren and untamed country, it became the most important trading centre with the interior by the middle of the last century. Picturesquely situated among the foothills of the Sneeuberg mountain range, Graaff-Reinet has retained much of the character of a typical 19th century rural town.
Why is it unique?
The old town tucked into the horse-shoe bend of the Sundays River contains more proclaimed national monuments than any other town in South Africa.
Graaff-Reinet lies in the centre of the 15 000 ha Camdeboo National Park in which one of nature’s wonders, the Valley of Desolation, is situated. A conservation policy is practised to ensure that many splendid examples of architecture, ranging from simple Karoo-style houses to stately Cape Dutch buildings, are retained.
With all its historical associations, monuments and restored buildings, Graaff-Reinet is virtually a living museum.
What does it offer the tourist?
* Game viewing in the nature reserve (8km from town) with more than 100 Cape Buffalos, Kudu, Black Wildebeest, Gemsbok, Springbok and many more.
* A tranquil holiday during which to explore the town and its outstanding museums, and to enjoy the peacefulness of the Karoo Nature Reserve.
* A very convenient stop-over for motorists traveling from the Eastern to the Western Cape or from the northern parts of the country to the Southern or Western Cape.
* A very healthy climate.
* Hiking trails in the Camdeboo National Park and in the Sneeuberg mountains.
The Dutch Reformed Church
Built in 1886, this is the third church to be erected on this spot. Designed on lines similar to those of Salisbury Cathedral in England, it is one of the best examples of gothic architecture in South Africa and was built using local sandstone. The ecclesiastical silver in use at the church is exceptionally valuable.
The Valley of Desolation
Sheer cliffs and precariously balanced columns of dolerite rise 120 metres from the valley floor, against the timeless backdrop of the vast plains of the Camdeboo. This is the product of volcanic and erosive forces of nature over 100 million years.
This breathtaking site is a short 14 km drive from the town. Any visitor to the reserve will be surprised to discover the diversity of fauna and flora. There are over 220 recorded species of birdlife, 336 plants and 43 mammals. Catch a glimpse of the endangered Cape Mountain Zebra, plenty of Kudu, Buffalo, the majestic Black Eagle and the Kori Bustard, the heaviest flying bird in the world.
You have a choice of scenic picnic sites in the reserve, and for those a little more energetic, there are three walking trails which range from 1 hour in duration to overnight hikes – be sure to bring your camera!
The charming village of Nieu-Bethesda is set in a fertile valley of the Sneeuberg mountains beneath the Compassberg (2502m), which dominates the northern skyline. Traffic was once so infrequent that certain streets were allowed to be used for growing potatoes and lucerne. Through it’s isolation, the village has retained a rare historical & architectural integrity. Popular as a retreat for artists, the unique appeal of the village, and the allure of the Owl House make this a place that no visitor should miss.
Helen Martins, or “Miss Helen” as she was known to the locals, spent the latter part of her life in the house where she was born. Regarded as an eccentric and deeply interested in Eastern philosopy, she lived a hermit-like existence, devoting her life to her beloved owl statues, and “the search for light and brightness”.
From the moment you step into the house you are enveloped by a 360 degree canvas of colour, where the walls, ceilings and even the doors are decorated with finely-ground glass of various hues.
In the “Camel Yard” at the back of the house, trapped by a stone wall and high chicken-wire, are hundreds of figures, camels and sphinxes, made of cement and glass, all paying homage to the East. The story of Helen Martins life was the inspiration for Athol Fugard’s book “The Road to Mecca”.