Transforming a street of dilapidated old houses to their former Victorian glory wasn’t easy – and maintaining them even more of a challenge. Sandra Antrobus and her tuishuise ('town houses') in Cradock have become national treasures – and a prime stop-over in the Eastern Cape's Karoo.

Did you know?

Die Tuishuise in Cradock and the buildings in the small town of Matjiesfontein in the Western Cape are the best examples of Victorian restorations in the Karoo.

Should you find yourself in Market Street in the Eastern Cape Karoo town of Cradock, you might be forgiven if you had a sudden Victorian-era flashback.

Die Tuishuise – more than 30 Victorian cottages – line either side of the street in a charming display of candy-coloured roofs and porches where visitors to the Karoo indulge in the local habit of ‘stoep-sitting’ (sitting on the porch).

These cottages used to belong to the town’s crafters, smiths and artisans nearly 200 years ago. For many wagon trains heading north into the South African hinterland, Cradock was the last place you could fix your wheels, replace saddles, and stock up with food and ammunition.

It became a town of 'Mr Fixits', and they mostly lived on Market Street. Over the decades, however, the street slumped into disrepair. And then came Sandra Antrobus, a renovating force of nature and a Karoo farmer’s wife, to boot.

Sandra Antrobus of Longacre Farm is dedicated to the past. Hardly a day goes by where she’s not haggling for a discarded item of Victoriana, or restoring parts of a building, be it a farmhouse, her landmark Victoria Manor Hotel or one of the 30-odd guest houses and cottages on Market Street.

And every time you book into a tuishuis ('town house' in Afrikaans, so named because they were often the town houses of farmers who lived in the area), it’s a different experience. Some are restored in the old Boer manner, with hides and hunting prints, others have a distinctly Victorian feel about them, speaking to the memories of the early settlers of the area.

A number of the Tuishuise are also named after famous Karoo writers, both living and dead, like Olive Schreiner, Iris Vaughn, Guy Butler and Etienne van Heerden.

‘We will always remain what we are,’ she says in her letter of welcome to guests, ‘an old street in a small Karoo town with country folk only too happy to serve you, our special guest. So please relax and enjoy your stay with us, because we will enjoy meeting you.’

Travel tips & Planning info

Who to contact

Die Tuishuise
Tel: +27 (0) 48 881 1322

How to get here

Cradock lies on the N10 between Middelburg and Cookhouse, about 250km north of Port Elizabeth. Die Tuishuise are in Market Street, one block south of the Dutch Reformed Mother Church, the most visible structure in Cradock.

Best time to visit

Cradock's crisp, cold winters are attractive, so are its shoulder seasons: autumn in April/May and September/October. January and February are its hottest months.

Around the area

The Mountain Zebra National Park is close by and is well worth a visit.

Tours to do

The Mountain Zebra National Park, Grahamstown, Bedford, Middelburg, Nieu Bethesda and Graaff-Reinet are all nearby.

Get around

Once you're staying in Die Tuishuise, most town spots are accessible on foot.

What will it cost

Rates vary from R330 to R500 per person sharing.Karoo buffet dinners cost R140 per person. There are also specials on all the time, so check their website.

Length of stay

A two-night visit to Die Tuishuise is recommended.

What to pack

You'll want to dress informally, but very warmly in winter.

What to eat

Die Tuishuise offer suppers and breakfasts at the Victoria Manor Hotel right next to the cottages. Here, hearty fare in the true Karoo style is the order of the day.

What's happening

Cradock has a number of sporting events and festivals, as do its neighbouring towns. Check all the town websites for details. The premier Cradock event is the Fish River Canoe Marathon, taking place in October.

Best buys

The traditional Karoo windmills made from wire.