Willowmore, Eastern Cape
Did you know?
Willowmore's Royal Hotel is South Africa's second-oldest Royal Hotel, after one in Ladismith.
As you head south on the N9 past Willowmore in the Eastern Cape Karoo, chances are you might spot some unorthodox golfing in the bushes to your left.
They're the Young Tigers of Willowmore, the northern gateway to the Baviaanskloof World Heritage site. Teeing off amidst the Acacia karroo trees, the local caddies have secured sponsorship for their clubs, cleared their own course on municipal ground and are set for greener fairways in the world of golfing.
And that's the kind of spirit you find in Willowmore, one of the Eastern Cape Karoo's most attractive, tourist-friendly villages. Pop in for coffee and a chat with Jane Zaayman from Baviaans Tourism, who will introduce you to the neighbourhood's characters and help you map out your Baviaanskloof adventure.
Over weekends, Willowmore often thrums to the massed growl of trans-Karoo bikers, who stop over at the Royal Hotel and share road stories.
You might also spot the hardy cyclists taking part in the mid-winter 1800km Freedom Challenge from the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands to a wine farm outside Cape Town, on their way through Willowmore to the hamlet of Prince Albert.
There's a raft of different accommodation available, from Karoo-style self-catering to upmarket guest houses offering memorable meals, to camping and farm stays.
History and architecture buffs enjoy the Karoo town's colourful past and stately streets, but the main attraction in these parts is the magnificent wilderness of the Baviaanskloof.
Shortly after leaving Willowmore, you turn onto a dirt road that winds into the Baviaanskloof. You plunge through a geological gateway and suddenly feel yourself in another world, enfolded and drenched in the other-planet beauty of the Cape Folded Mountains. The Baviaanskloof looks and feels like a Lost Valley, bisected by a broad river expanse, flanked by jagged mountain walls...
Travel tips & Planning info
Who to contact
Jane Zaayman, Baviaans Tourism
Tel: +27 (0)44 923 1702
Sophie's Choice Antiques and Coffee Shop
Tel: +27 (0)44 923 1117
The Willow Historical Guest House
Tel: +27 (0)44 923 1574
How to get here
Drive north from George on the N9, or south from Graaff-Reinet on the N9. Willowmore is 172 km from Graaff-Reinet and 150 km from George.
Best time to visit
Autumn (April and May) and Spring (August and September) are the best times. Midsummer can be sweltering and winter nights are icy.
Around the area
Bird watching at Baker's Dam and hiking trails through the Aasvoelberg.
Tours to do
There are a number of very good field guides registered with Baviaans Tourism - check with their offices in the main road.
If you're planning a Baviaanskloof adventure, then hire a 4X4 vehicle. If your destination is exclusively Willowmore, then a soft-shell self-drive is perfect.
What will it cost
Local self-caters are inexpensive, at around R250 per person. Guest houses offering full service cost more, but are generally lower-priced than up-country establishments.
Length of stay
Three days in Willowmore - four more days in the Baviaanskloof wilderness.
What to pack
Pack seasonal, sensible and informal. You're going to spend time in the outdoors of the Karoo.
Where to stay
The Willow Historical Guest House is a popular option.
What to eat
Karoo lamb dishes at The Willow Historical Guest House are legendary and the lunch menu at Sophie's Choice is extensive.
Sophie's Choice Antiques & Coffee Shop in the main road offers good country fare, excellent coffee and cakes and a chance to rootle about the furniture section for something precious.
Wire crafts from the Vondeling Optel Centre outside Willowmore.