The three towns of the Karoo Highlands offer an ancient, yet futuristic experience. This is a place where a huge telescope allows you to look back to the beginnings of our Universe 13 billion years, and where pre-dinosaurs roamed the Earth and the First People gazed up to the heavens.

Did you know?

The critically endangered riverine rabbit lives a nocturnal life along riverbanks in the Karoo Highlands.

‘Ah, the star place,' people often say when you mention Sutherland. Alongside its sister towns of Williston and Fraserburg, Sutherland is world-renowned for its star-strewn night skies.

The three towns form the triangle of the Karoo Highlands. Sutherland is the best known of the three. This is where you'll find the Southern African Large Telescope (SALT). Launched in November 2005, it is so sensitive and powerful that it can see deep into space and time, back to the earliest light, 13.5 billion years ago, when the first galaxies were still forming.

SALT is a global tourism drawcard, but Karoo highlands Tourism offers plenty of other things to do and see in this star town, including a visit to a tulip farm, the last active volcano south of the equator in Africa (it last erupted 66 million years ago), exquisite hiking trails and museums.

In Fraserburg, you can find 251 million year old pre-dinosaur footprints, embedded in the stone as clearly as if they had walked past yesterday. And the region also has corbelled houses, bee-hive shaped structures so built because there was (and is) no building materials except flat stones.

In nearby Williston you could follow the trail of Cornelius de Waal, a tall semi-literate giant of a man who earned a pittance carving gravestones decades ago. They are so exquisite they remain poignant examples of folk art. In fact you can go on a fascinating Gravestone Route to the cemetery and surrounding farms.

A new tourism route, Walking with the Ancestors, links Karoo Highlands attractions in the towns with stars, dinosaurs and proto-mammals and the first star observations 25 000 years ago.

Journeying in time between the three Karoo Highland towns gives you fresh perspective on life. One minute you're gazing at Saturn, the next you're buying candles from the general dealer.

Travel tips & Planning info

How to get here

The easiest would be to head to Sutherland from Cape Town, where there is an airport. Take the N1 and when you get to Matjiesfontein, turn left along a winding road. Williston and Fraserburg are fairly short drives away from Sutherland.

Best time to visit

Many South Africans make a point of coming here in winter to experience snow and the icy cold. But spring, when the bulbs flower, is beautiful. Summers are mild in this part of the world, and autumn is also pretty.

Tours to do

At Fraserburg, don't miss a tour to the dinosaur footprints left on a neighbouring farm. In any most other countries you'd have to queue up to see such an attraction. Tours are organised by the local museum.

Get around

Having your own (or hired) vehicle would offer you the most freedom. But drive carefully along the gravel roads.

Length of stay

Try to stay at least four nights in this region. The longer you stay, the more you'll uncover.

What to pack

Even if you're going in summer, take warm clothing. At night, the temperatures can drop quite dramatically. Bring along your camera for the scenic views.

Where to stay

There are guesthouses and delightful B&Bs in the towns, but try to set aside two nights for a farm stay to experience real Karoo hospitality.

What to eat

This area produces outstanding mutton and lamb. The herby bushes on which the sheep graze infuses the meat with delectable natural flavours.

Best buys

Have a look in Williston Museum. They sometimes sell colourful hand-crocheted knee blankets for very good prices.