The tallest church steeple in South Africa, a post office that should have been a magistrate’s court elsewhere, and at one time the site of the biggest privately owned zoo in the country – that’s the Karoo village of Aberdeen, where it is said nothing ever goes on but the passage of time ...

Did you know?

Aberdeen was established on a farm originally called 'Brakkefontein' ('brackish water'), that was owned by Jan and Betsy Vorster. The Dutch Reformed Church bought Brakkefontein in 1855 to build a church and a school and the town was founded the following year.

The village of Aberdeen lies within sight of the Camdeboo Mountains, 50km south of Graaff-Reinet in the Great Karoo.

This small Eastern Cape settlement has become synonymous with preserved Victorian architecture, wide streets and a relaxed pace of life.

It has become a haven for artists, ‘down-sizers’ and a generally lively creative group. And it also has delightful eccentricities …

Take the Dutch Reformed Church steeple, for instance. It’s said to be the tallest in South Africa. However, photographers shooting images of the church from a distance can easily spot the skewness of the high steeple – about 4,5cm off-beam at the top.

Then there’s a very ornate post office, complete with Eastern tiling and a brace of gargoyles glaring out over the rooftops.

Legend has it that this building was supposed to have been the magistrate’s court of Grahamstown. How it suddenly ended up in Aberdeen is anyone’s guess. By the time the mistake was discovered, it was well on its way to completion.

And Frank Wilke Jnr established what was then South Africa’s largest privately owned zoo in the town.

Bridal couples would pose with the resident lions for daring photographs. A thick pane of plate glass separated the lovebirds from the carnivores – but you couldn’t spot that in a carefully taken photograph.

Aberdeen’s history is rich. It was near here, in 1675, when Ensign Schrijver took delivery of a herd of cattle from the local Inqua Khoisan people.

And a wounded British soldier who was nursed back to health in Aberdeen during the South African War (also known as Anglo-Boer War) later went on to serve with Captain Robert Scott in the South Pole expedition of 1910.

He was Captain Lawrence Edward Oates, famous for giving up his life because his ill health was a threat to the survival of his colleagues by leaving the tent in a blizzard with the words: 'I am just going outside and may be some time.'

Travel tips & Planning info

Who to contact

Aberdeen Publicity Association
Tel: +27 (0)49 846 0014

Aberdeen SA

How to get here

Aberdeen lies 55km south of Graaff-Reinet on the N9, and about 250km north of the coastal town of George – also on the N9.

Best time to visit

Any time of the year is good, but bear in mind the Karoo has its weather extremes in both summer (November to February) and winter (June to August).

Around the area

You can make easy trips to Graaff-Reinet to the north and Willowmore to the south.

Tours to do

Valley of Desolation tour and trips into the Baviaanskloof Wilderness.

Get around

It's best to drive yourself around in the Karoo. Vehicles can be hired from any major centre on the coast. Overlanding through the Karoo is part of the fun.

What will it cost

Staying at an Aberdeen self-catering option or B&B ranges from R250 per couple to R400 per person per night.

Length of stay

In 2-3 days you could see the best of Aberdeen and some of its surrounds.

What to pack

Sturdy walking gear and warm clothes for the evenings.

Where to stay

Check the Aberdeen websites listed below for options.

What to eat

You're in lamb-chop country, where chicken is often mistaken for a vegetable. There are, however, always vegetarian options available.

What's happening

Check the Aberdeen sites for nearby events and festivals.

Best buys

Mohair products like blankets and scarves; also, sheepskin slippers.