Beaufort West, often called the “Capital of the Karoo”, was established in 1820. It was originally named Beaufort, after the Duke of Beaufort, the father of the then Governor of the Cape, Lord Charles Somerset. “West” was added later to distinguish the town from the other Cape towns of Fort Beaufort and Port Beaufort. The town is the hub of a rich farming district, famous for its merino sheep. This breed of sheep was first brought to the area from Holland in 1789 and there are now more than 35 million sheep grazing on a diet of shrubs and herbs. The sheep’s diet has made their meat a much sought-after item on the menu of those people who have developed a taste for the distinctive flavour of Karoo lamb and mutton. The area’s dry winter climate also brings many tourists here during the colder months.
Adventure And Sport
Four-by-four, mountain-biking: Many adventure activities are available, such as mountain-biking and 4×4 drives.
Hiking: There is a wide selection of hiking trails in the area, such as the Aardvark Trails, the Springbok Hike in the Karoo National Park and the Wilgebosch Kloof Trails.
Archaeology And Palaeontology
Stone Age sites: Set aside some time to explore the Beaufort West area as it lies at the centre of a large plateau that is considered to be one of the world’s richest Stone Age sites. There are several sites of archaeological interest to be visited and the adventure also gives you an opportunity to explore the countryside.
San Rock Art: These works of art can be seen at Nelspoort, just off National Road N1, about 40 km north-east of Beaufort West, but permission has to be obtained to visit the site.
Culture / Community Tourism
Kwa-Mandlenkosi: This is one destination that should not be missed! On this township tour, visitors will come into contact with traditional healers and the residents of the townships. Local Xhosa food and hospitality can also be enjoyed. Contact a registered tour guide and make your arrangements in advance.
Fauna And Flora
Karoo National Park: Among the animals living in the approximately 3 300-ha park are limited numbers of springbok, gemsbok and hartebeest. Two of South Africa’s most endangered species have been resettled here, namely the riverine rabbit and black rhinoceros. The quagga, a zebra-type creature, which was once extinct, has been recreated and once again roams the park. Smaller predators such as lynxes, black-backed jackals and wild cats can also be glimpsed. A feature that is definitely unique to the park is the great concentration of tortoises, ranging from the largest, the leopard tortoise weighing 45 kg, to the smallest ( only 100 mm long and 150 g in weight ). Spring, when the area is covered with wild flowers, is a good time to attempt the Springbok Hiking Trail, a demanding 27-km journey that takes over three days. To get in touch with prehistory, wander along the Fossil Path, where the fossils are over 50 million years old. The path is suitable for the blind and for wheelchair users.
Meiringspoort: This spectacular 20-km-long river gorge, approximately 120 to 140 km south of Beaufort West, is the beautiful home of many plants, animals and birds.
History And Architecture
Blockhouse: The blockhouse, situated next to the railway bridge, was built by British troops in 1901 during the Anglo-Boer War to guard the bridge.
Old Jacob’s House: Dating back to the 1820s, this is the oldest residence in the town.
Old Mission Church: The church was built in 1872 and is an important part of the town’s history.
Old Town Hall: The hall dates back to 1867 and exhibitions inside the building focus on the town’s history and on the heart-transplant pioneer Prof. Chris Barnard.
Parsonage/Barnard House: This is the house where Prof. Chris Barnard, the heart-transplant pioneer, was born and spent his boyhood years.
Voortrekker Path: This path commemorates the residents of the town who embarked on the “Great Trek” into the interior.