Port Elizabeth to Graaff-Reinet – the Back-Roads Route
Did you know?
After a historic gunfight in the local hotel, Wolwefontein was nicknamed Revolverfontein for a while.
Our two-night road trip from Port Elizabeth to Graaff-Reinet in the Eastern Cape Karoo Heartland begins with a Friday drive to the town of Addo in the Sundays River Valley.
We check in at the Elephant House, an elegant guest house only 8km from the entrance to the Addo Elephant National Park, and embark on a tour of South Africa’s ‘Citrus Central’.
Our guide takes us up to a lookout spot where pioneer-author Percy Fitzpatrick (who wrote the epic, Jock of the Bushveld) lies buried with his wife, Elizabeth.
The gravesite has a wonderful view of the Sundays River Valley, a scheme devised by Fitzpatrick who, according to legend, ‘imagined rain in the Karoo watering the oranges that would be served at an English breakfast table’. Much of South Africa’s annual citrus crop is exported.
After a drive into the ‘elephant thicket’ of Addo Elephant National Park, and a sundowner within sight of a massive herd of jumbo, our dinner awaits: beautifully presented country cuisine accompanied by a selection of wines from the Western Cape.
After breakfast the next morning, we pass through the little town of Kirkwood, which is bustling with Saturday morning shoppers. You should see Kirkwood at the end of June every year, when it stages its annual Wildlife Festival. More than 40 000 people come streaming in for this popular gourmet expo, which also features a string of national music stars.
After that we go a little ‘offbeat’ on the R75. The railway siding of Wolwefontein is our next stop, and you could be forgiven for mistaking it for a spaghetti Western movie set.
The Wolwefontein Hotel bar, you can just tell, is full of stories. Dozens upon dozens of caps hang from the ceiling. There’s a dusty python skin tacked to the wall. From the wall, an eland’s head smirks at the TV set, a cigarette drooping from its lips. It’s all delightfully quirky. We stop here for a pub lunch before moving on to Steytlerville.
Steytlerville is a typical Karoo town. It has wide streets and deep, shady porches. The main street (and this is exclusively Steytlerville) sports the family crests of most of its residents.
We spend the afternoon appreciating the peace, the space and the local humour out at Noorspoort Guest Farm, where we also learn about folded mountains and the carbon-credit value of spekboom (pork bush).
Tonight is a special treat. We’re checked in at the Karroo Theatrical Hotel and at dinner we are entertained by the owners, who stage a cabaret show that is both musical and hilarious.
On Sunday morning, we take a slow drive up the R338 past the Mount Stewart community church on the hill, through the Victorian-era village of Aberdeen and the Camdeboo Mountains, and into Graaff-Reinet, jewel of the Karoo.
And here we’re in the capable hands of David McNaughton of Karoo Connections, who reveals the secrets and surprises of this grand old town and its colourful history on a day tour that ends with drinks on the heights overlooking the Valley of Desolation.