Small towns of the Northern Cape ~The Northern Cape is a vast expanse of country hugging the northerly reaches of South Africa up against the borders of Namibia and Botswana. It’s hot, dry and beautiful – something of a wilderness presided over by a merciless sun.
Scattered across this large semi-desert landscape are hundreds of little characterful towns, separated by kilometres of road. It’s a province made for road trips.
Whilst most of the traffic confines itself to the N1, N12 and N7 there are back routes linking towns through heartstopping scenery. It is these towns that deserve exploration for their idiosyncratic character, their hospitality and their flavour.
Here are 9 of the best small towns of the Northern Cape (in no particular order)
Sutherland is probably one of the best known of the Northern Cape’s small towns. It lies so close to the border with the Western Cape that Capetonians have annexed it as one of their weekend boltholes, not least because of the likelihood of snow in winter, but also because of its easy access and Karoo dorpie charm.
Its position 1500 metres above sea level translates into effortlessly clear skies, which is why Sutherland has cornered the market for stargazing. But the annual wildflower display is another trump card.
Overnight at Accommodation in Sutherland
The town with the largest collection of wind pumps in the country, Loeriesfontein lies along a dirt road from Nieuwoudtville seldom driven other than by those in pursuit of quiver tree forests (there is one en route) or unusual floral displays (during spring).
The Fred Turner Museum is a mass of wind pumps. Their blades creak in the wind like a collection of zimmer frames under strain, a testimony to the Northern Cape’s dry climate. Look out for the Turner & Haupt SPAR, 113 years old and run by Turner’s grandson.
Overnight at Accommodation in Loeriesfontein
This former nothing-doing town is now the home of the annual Williston Winter Festival, a deep-Karoo highlight that brings the semi-desert landscape alive with the performance of the Nama Riel, the main attraction, and a lot of genuine Karoo food.
The riel has been coined the ‘dusty jitterbug’ for the amount of dust that ends up in the air, as the result of a lot of kicking of legs and pummelling of arms. A variation of the riel has been performed for centuries by San and Khoi – South Africa’s first people.
Overnight at Accommodation in Williston
The main thing you need to know about Fraserburg is that you’ll need at least one spare tyre (two is better, especially if you’re travelling alone) if you’re intent on a visit. But don’t let that deter you, this is merely a precaution for the dirt road between Fraserburg and Loxton is full of local shale and the chances are that you’ll end up with a sharp piece in at least one of your tyres.
But rest assured KaRoux, the garage up on the hill on the edge of town, is used to travellers limping into town. Look out for the replica of a corbelled house, the Victorian and Edwardian architecture, and, if you hang around long enough, a couple of Goths who moved here from Cape Town to paint and work in silence.
Overnight at Accommodation in Fraserburg
All things books, is Richmond. This quaint little town has a main road lined with second-hand book stores in restored period homes, so don’t pull off the N1 unless you’ve time on your hands. And if possible, wait to visit until the annual Boekbedonnerd festival.
Richmond is known as a book town, the only one, in fact, on the African continent and, for its size, it packs a fairly big punch. Life is slow, but there is also Modern art projects (MAP), the NG church on Loop Street with the highest pulpit in the country, a museum and the Karoo’s first indigenous tree nursery on a farm outside town.
Overnight at Accommodation in Richmond
Vosburg is one of those ‘surprises’ in the middle of the Karoo. Its wide gravel roads are lined with some of the most beautiful historical homes, converted into tantalising attractions like the Karoo Country Inn and die Ketel Coffee Shop.
A remarkable number of imposing shady trees that make town exceptionally welcome in the heat, and a local ‘handelaar’ that was once an abattoir but is now a coffee shop cum arts and crafts shop that sells a mean cup of coffee, and still manages to double as the post office.
Overnight at Accommodation in Vosburg
It may interest you to hear that Deon Meyer, South Africa’s thriller novelist, has a house here and, since he writes full time, it is safe to assume he spends a lot of time in Loxton. I know I would if I wrote novels – the town is that conducive to juicing the creative flow. At its heart is a pretty town ‘square’ on which the local NG church stands.
Diagonally across from it is the Rooi Granaat, the restaurant that now doubles as the epicentre of Loxton. Expect 100 year-old trees, leiwater channels, fruit and vegetable gardens, donkey carts, vernacular Karoo architecture and the opportunity to stay in a corbelled house, on a farm outside of town.
Overnight at Accommodation in Loxton
What isn’t there to like about Victoria West? Whilst a bit of a detour off the N1, the drive from Loxton is a pretty one that brings you into the village along a road lined with Victorian-style architecture.
Despite its historical nature, the town still functions mainly as a farming community and the area is regarded as the ‘merino mecca’ of the country, producing some of the best quality wool and merino rams. This is a good part of the world to try lamb on the menu. The local vintage and antique shop is run by rugby legend Mannetjies Roux, who was born here.
Overnight at Accommodation in Victoria West
One of very few coastal Northern Cape towns, Hondeklipbaai, as it is also known, is a town that time forgot. There are old copper tracks down by the jetty and a legend about an old stone shaped like a dog, even if it no longer is.
Regardless of how the town got its name, you’ll want to stay here awhile, if only to walk the long beach and pass the harbour where once there was a crayfish processing factory, now fallen into disrepair.
Overnight at Accommodation in Hondeklip Bay