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.

Travel tips & Planning info

Who to contact

Cradock-Middelburg Tourism & Schreiner House, Cradock
Curator: Brian Wilmot
Tel: +27 (0)48 881 5251
Email: oschreiner@telkomsa.net

Die Tuishuise & Victoria Manor
Phone: +27 (0)48 881 1322
Email: info@tuishuise.co.za

Mountain Zebra National Park
Tel +27 (0)48 881 2427/3434
Email: mountainzebra@sanparks.org

How to get here

Cradock lies approx. 250km north of Port Elizabeth on the N10, and approx. 95km south-east of Middelburg – also on the N10. It lies 130km east of Graaff-Reinet.

Best time to visit

Springtime (September-October) and autumn (April-May) are good times to visit Cradock. But the Karoo midwinter snows in July are also special.

Around the area

The National Arts Festival in Grahamstown in July; the Karoo-Lus Festival in Graaff-Reinet in September.

Tours to do

Day drives to Nieu Bethesda, connect with Karoo Connections in Graaff-Reinet for trips to the Valley of Desolation; township tours of Lingelihle in Cradock can be organised via the Victoria Manor Hotel; a walking tour of Cradock is also very popular. A visit to the Schreiner House in Cross Street is highly recommended.

Get around

It's best to drive yourself, as this is a slightly offbeat destination. Also, it's likely you’ll want to visit the Mountain Zebra National Park outside the town.

What will it cost

Accommodation runs between R300 – R500 per person sharing per night, including breakfast.

Length of stay

Cradock is worth a 2-3 day visit, if you want to do the township tour, the day drives and the Mountain Zebra National Park.

What to pack

Pack for the season – but always include something warm for a sudden cold chill sweeping in from the coast.

Where to stay

Die Tuishuise and Victorian Manor in Market Street; park chalets at the Mountain Zebra National Park. There are many choices of b&b accommodation in Cradock itself.

What to eat

You can ‘dine Karoo’ at the Victoria Manor, which means a substantial helping of meats and vegetables from the buffet; or you can ‘dine Italian’ at Mila’s Restaurant in Durban Street, where pizzas, pasta dishes and steaks are the specialties.

What's happening

The Schreiner Festival in July; The Hansa Fish River Canoe Marathon in October.

Best buys

The little wire windmills sold on the Cradock–Port Elizabeth road under the sign of 'Karoo Art'.