Graaff-Reinet, also known as “the gem of the Karoo”, is the oldest town in the Eastern Cape and the fourth oldest town in South Africa. It started as the site for a “Trek Boer” (migrating farmer) magistracy and was named after Governor Cornelius Jacob van de Graaff and his wife Reynet. The town has a unique setting – it is surrounded by a nature reserve! Graaff-Reinet has shown a strong commitment to preserving its historical, architectural and natural heritage. It has more than 240 national monuments and beautifully preserved rows of Victorian, typical Karoo and Cape Dutch houses and buildings that line the streets.
Adventure And Sport
Hiking: The Graaff-Reinet area has many hiking trails. These include nature walks in the Valley of Desolation area, the Eerstefontein day walk that starts and ends at Spandau Kop and the Drie Koppe Hiking Trail, an overnight trail through the mountains.
Paragliding and hang-gliding: Paragliding and hang-gliding from the hills outside the town and from a point near The Valley of Desolation is regarded as the ultimate adventure. Graaff-Reinet is one of the country’s most popular paragliding spots, because the thermal air currents take gliders up higher and keep them up longer than anywhere else in the country.
The self-drive R63 Blue Crane Tourism Route: This route goes from Graaff-Reinet to the small town of Pearston and on to Somerset East, the picturesque town at the foot of the Bosberg Mountain Range, near the Bosberg Mountain Reserve.
The self-drive R75 Mohair Route: This route starts in Graaff-Reinet, the centre of mohair (silky fleece of the Angora goat) farming area, crosses the Sundays River to Jansenville and goes on to Uitenhage, passing the Greater Addo Elephant National Park and the renowned Groendal Wilderness area.
The self-drive R61 Mountain Zebra/Wapadsberg Tourism Route: This route links Graaff-Reinet and Cradock, passes through lovely mountainous areas with sweeping views and past the Mountain Zebra National Park.
The self-drive Owl Route: This 50-km scenic route starts 28 km outside Graaff-Reinet on the N9 towards Middelburg and passes through the tiny village of Nieu-Bethesda, about 20km off the N9. Ganora farm, 7 km from the village, has some good examples of San rock art, engravings dating back to the Anglo-Boer War and a fossil walk.
Water sport: Visit the Van Ryneveld Pass Dam for sailing, canoeing, skiing, rowing, board-sailing and angling. The dam is in the Karoo Nature Reserve.
Archaeology And Palaeontology
Fossils: Millions of years ago, mammal-like reptiles roamed the Karoo marshlands that only very much later evolved into the arid region it is today. As the animals died their remains settled into the sand and mud of this swampy basin that gradually hardened into stone, filling the basin with layer upon layer of fossil-bearing sandstone and shale, several thousand metres deep. Today, 200 million years later, the fossilised bones of these early inhabitants of the Karoo marshlands can be found on the slopes of the hills to the west of Graaff Reinet.
Kalkkop Crater: A confirmed impact crater is found near Kendrew, approximately 48 km from Graaff-Reinet. This crater, a nearly circular 640-m diameter depression filled with crater sediment (limestone), is the third to be recognised in Southern Africa and is noted for its scientific value.
Art And Crafts
Hester Rupert Art Museum: The museum is situated in a former activity centre, school and mission church dating back to 1821 that was saved by the Rembrandt Corporation in 1965 from demolition. The museum was named after the mother of Dr Anton Rupert, head of the Corporation. The cruciform building houses an amazing collection of contemporary South African art, the work of some 106 artists.
Jan Rupert Centre: The centre comprises a cottage industry that concentrates on the spinning, knitting and weaving of locally-produced wool.
History And Architecture
Robert Sobukwe Display: The Old Library Museum houses a display commemorating the role that Robert Sobukwe, who was born in Graaff-Reinet, played in establishing the Black Consciousness Movement in the 1970s.
Fauna And Flora
Van Ryneveld Pass Dam: The dam is in the Karoo Nature Reserve, site of the Valley of Desolation, and is famed for its many feathered inhabitants such as ducks, cormorants and flamingos.
Karoo Nature Reserve: The reserve consists of 16 000 ha of land, divided into four distinct sections: the west with the renowned and awe-inspiring Valley of Desolation; a specially designed game-viewing area that is home to an abundant population of indigenous Karoo game species, the Van Ryneveld Pass Dam area and the mountainous, eastern area.
History And Architecture
The town has nearly 300 national monuments, more than any other town in South Africa. Although only a few are mentioned here, all are worthy of appreciation.
Andries Pretorius Monument: The monument was built in honour of the eminent Voortrekker leader, Andries Pretorius.
Anglo-Boer War Monument: The monument is dedicated to those who fought in this tragic war.
Clock Tower: The clock tower of the College of Education was made in Liverpool so that it could produce Westminster chimes. The building is constructed in the late Victorian/early Edwardian style.
Dutch Reformed Church: The 1886 Dutch Reformed Church with its neo-Gothic lines strongly resembles England’s Salisbury Cathedral. The vault of the church houses a priceless collection of Cape Dutch silver.
Graaff-Reinet Pharmacy: The Graaff-Reinet Pharmacy is a prime example of a Victorian pharmacy. The old-world atmosphere is enhanced by the beautifully preserved original interior and exterior fittings.
Huguenot Monument: Possibly the best-known monument in Graaff-Reinet, it commemorates the arrival of the French Huguenots in South Africa in 1688.
Karoo architecture: The streets of Graaff-Reinet are lined with excellent examples of Karoo architecture. Some of the original coach houses built by Graaff-Reinet’s first wealthy inhabitants are an integral part of this heritage.
Old Library Museum: The museum houses the Rykie Pretorius costume collection, R Townley Johnson’s reproductions of San artwork, the Rembrandt Van Rijn Art Foundation Exhibit, the William Roe photographic collection and the Lex Bremner fossil collection. It also possesses a unique collection of fossilised Karoo reptiles, the only remains of the 200 million-year-old inhabitants of the area. The life of Robert Sobukwe (1924 to 1978), founder of the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) is chronicled in one of the galleries.
Reinet House: One of the country’s best examples of an H-shaped, six-gabled Cape Dutch building is Reinet House, where the Reverend Andrew Murray once lived. The building was completed in 1812 and fully restored in 1947 to serve as a cultural history museum. The interior includes a superb collection of yellowwood and stinkwood furniture. The largest black acorn vine in the world, planted in 1870 and covering over 120 square metres, grows in the garden.
The Drostdy: The building was designed by Louis Thibault and completed in 1806. It used to be the home of the landdrost (magistrate) and is a hotel today.
Town Hall: Graaff-Reinet’s Town hall was constructed in the Victorian style to commemorate Queen Victoria’s reign.
Spandau Kop: This imposing 1 400 metre mountain guards the town’s southern entrance.
The Valley of Desolation: Situated within the boundaries of the Karoo Nature Reserve, the Valley of Desolation is a geological phenomenon characterised by sheer cliffs of what looks like perilously balanced dolerite pillars, some 120 m high, rising from the valley floor. These pillars, exposed by millions of years of erosion and powerful geological processes are set high on a hill overlooking Graaff-Reinet. The barren and desolate valley with its distinctive rock formations also offers some remarkable local flora, wildlife and interesting palaeontological sites. A toposcope, mounted at the lookout point, gives visitors a panoramic view of Graaff-Reinet and the surrounding countryside.