There is a lot more than what meets the eye when it comes to the Great Karoo. Yes, it is a dry part of the country, possibly considered arid too, with not a helluva lot going on if you whizz up the N1 towards Jozi. But dotted across the Karoo are historical small towns with a lot of individual character that are surprisingly appealing, especially for city dwellers in need of a reminder what life in the slow lane is all about. It’s the towns with character like Prince Albert and Matjiesfontein that are totally worthy of an overnight sojourn.
One of these towns is Beaufort West, or should I say, the capital town of the Karoo. Founded in 1818 and holding the bragging rights as being the first municipality in South Africa and having the country’s first town hall, the 30 000 strong town is famous for being the hometown of world famous heart surgeon Dr Chris Barnard, local politico Patricia de Lille and a celebrated Apartheid-era freedom fighter known only as Mandlenkosi. Last, but definitely not least, this area is is renown for its Karoo lamb – the wonder meat that doesn’t need an introduction here.
While passing through Beaufort West, we stayed over at Olive Grove Guest Farm for the night, a lovely, three-star accommodation option that really gives visitors the best of the Karoo in one place. About 20 km as the crow flies outside Beaufort West lies the olive farm, with wildlife being in abundance here – as we discovered while driving in at night when a bontebok crossed our path. That was the same night we were treated to an authentic Karoo braai upon arrival at Olive Grove, complete with the famous lamb and olives from the area. The wine flowed as we sat around the fire, sitting in complete amazement at the highly defined Milky Way in the night sky above us.
The next morning it was a traditional farmhouse breakfast, served in the farmhouse for obvious reasons, done flawlessly with a bold cup of coffee. Shortly thereafter we left the olive groves and headed into town, more specifically Kwa Mandlenkosi township, where we embarked on a donkey cart ride. We met up with a traditional healer and several other local figures from Kwa Mandlenkosi, before tucking into an authentic African-inspired lunch of pap and vleis – washed down with a zamalek of course. We also got to visit the oldest house in the township, a 100-year old stone dwelling.
We spent only a day and a night in the Beaufort West area but I feel that this place has so much to offer the weary traveller, with its slow pace of life, rich history and hospitality in abundance.
Photography Ilse Zeitsman