Walk the Victorian-era streets of Cradock, enter the local hotel and be transported right back to 1850, when adventurers and explorers rubbed shoulders at the long bar. Or come to Cradock in October and do friendly battle with the Great Fish River in one of South Africa’s premier kayak races.

Did you know?

Harry Potter lies buried in the Cradock cemetery – but this Harry Potter died a century ago.

The Great Fish River cuts through the little Karoo town of Cradock on its way to the Indian Ocean off the Eastern Cape coast.

Since 1975, Cradock has had the pleasure of a major river flowing past its downtown suburbs, filling up the Victorian furrows and bringing life to this part of the Grassy Karoo.

Cradock began life in the early 1800s as the last stop you made before you ventured into the dry hinterland on your way north. You fixed your wagon wheels here, you loaded up with victuals and you had the local blacksmith beat out a few necessary tools needed on such an epic journey.

Today, travellers still overnight in Cradock before heading for their coastal destinations. Many bus tours also have Cradock firmly on their cross-country itineraries and visitors love to walk its streets and marvel at the Victorian Karoo architecture.

Cradock also continues to serve the local farming population, who make up the backbone of the community. Meet them socially and you’ll hear the ‘old names’ of Cawood, Michau, Collett, Van Heerden and Marais. In the township of Lingelihle you’ll find Xhosa descendants of the Frontier Wars and elsewhere – especially on the surrounding farms – you’ll come across people with San (also known as Bushman) blood in their veins.

Today, central Cradock residential area is a rich mixture of South Africans of all backgrounds. Chinese and Lebanese traders have been here for more than a century. New arrivals from the city bring an urban flavour to its streets. Even the long-standing Silver Creek Mountain Band – an up-country bluegrass trio of musicians – has taken up residence in Cradock.

This normally blue-collar Karoo settlement comes alive when the Hansa Fish River Canoe Marathon happens in early October, and more than 3 000 fit, strong sportsmen and women and their friends hit town. It’s three days of fun on the water – and out of it – and there’s not a room to be had in Cradock during this time.

Cradock’s historic heroes are legendary. The indomitable Olive Schreiner, author of Story of an African Farm and an early women’s rights campaigner, spent many of her early years in the area. More recently Matthew Goniwe, the anti-apartheid activist and popular local teacher, made Cradock the national focus of the Struggle when he led rent and consumer boycotts locally. Tragically, he was murdered by the apartheid regime along with three other activists, who together are known as the 'Cradock Four'.

Today, the town is a peaceful haven with everyone just working at making a living, enjoying the fresh Karoo air and the cool waters of the Great Fish River.

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