LIVING MONUMENT: Graaff-Reinet has offered authentic Karoo adventure and hospitality since 1786

BY AMBER HARINGTON - AUGUST 4, 2014

While absorbing the view of dolerite pillars that tower 120m above the picturesque plains of the Karoo after over 100 million years of geological sculpturing, do not be ashamed if you quickly run out of adjectives to describe the breath-taking display that is the Valley of Desolation.

Our pilgrimage to ‘The Cathedral of the Mountains’, as its often called, was a fitting conclusion to an unforgettable two days of exploring Graaff-Reinet. The town is situated in the Karoo – the 5th Wonder of the Cacadu District in the Eastern Cape.

If we had visited earlier in 1786, we could have joined the ‘trekkers’ who established the town - the oldest in the Eastern Cape and the fourth oldest in South Africa. Even arriving late in the 1890’s, we could have had a front-row seat to the Anglo-Boer War.

The possibilities for historical adventure in the town, which has more than 240 national monuments - more than any other town in South Africa, were just too many for us to visit in a weekend!

We decided to start our adventure at Graaff-Reinet’s most famous landmark – the spectacular old Dutch Reformed Church in the centre of town. Built in 1886, it is widely considered a replica of the Salisbury Cathedral in England.

Later, we found our way to the Reinet House Museum. Dating back to 1812, the cultural museum was at one point a parsonage and has one of the world’s largest black acorn vines in in its garden, planted in 1870.

A great advantage about Graaff-Reinet is that the whole town can easily be explored on foot and every attraction easily found. Quaint antique and craft shops provide hours of treasure hunting while history enthusiasts have several historical, architectural and natural heritage attractions to visit.

The town itself is laid out like a huge horse-shoe in the middle of a magnificent nature reserve, the Camdeboo National Park, and is the best place to experience true Karoo hospitality.

Our stay included a night at the Andries Stockenstrom Guesthouse, owned by world-renowned chef Gordon Wright and his wife, Rose. Previously an old manor house, the guesthouse offered us spacious and comfortable accommodation following a day of travelling.

One of the must-see venues includes the Graaff-Reinet Club, recommended by Chef Gordon for its welcoming and hospitable hosts who shared with us the town’s history and folklores. The Club bar even contains bullet holes dating back to the Anglo Boer War.

Dinner was served at Gordon’s Restaurant – the first Slow Food restaurant in South Africa, where Chef Gordon is the head of the Slow Food Movement in the Karoo.

This movement supports local producers and believes that everyone has a right to good, wholesome food. It is also about biodiversity of food and food crops and ensuring that food is produced sustainably and with due care to the environment and those who are going to enjoy it.

Our dinner menu certainly achieved these goals. We enjoyed delicious curried sweet-potato soup, wild hare springrolls with a raisin and muscadell sauce, creamed morogo-stuffed chicken as well as a taste of Karoo venison. The vegetables served were home-grown by Chef Gordon himself – a testimony to Slow Food. Dessert came in the form of a nougat crème as well as a baked pancake roll served with homemade cinnamon ice cream and brandy and pear sauce – the perfect ending to a fabulous dinner.

Following a morning spent around this beautiful town, we checked in at our next stop, the Karoo Park Guest House, where we stayed in a room overlooking the beautiful garden. From here we had a view of the abundant birdlife in the area, which borders the Camdeboo National Park. Graaff-Reinet is the perfect setting for team building and conferences with venues such as Karoo Park Guest House offering personalized event services and facilities.

The Valley offers visitors a remarkable variety of local flora, wildlife and interesting paleontological sites. Nature and adventure enthusiasts will revel in the outdoor activities on offer such as paragliding, hang-gliding, quad-biking and even water sports at the nearby Van Ryneveld Pass Dam.

Annually, the park welcomes an estimated 100 000 visitors – testament to the Karoo’s stature as the 5th Wonder of our World. This truly is an adventure-filled, culturally-rich, family getaway destination.

To find out more about the World of 7 Wonders, visit www.travelcacadu.co.za