If you’ve ever looked at a map of the Karoo (the Groot and Klein Karoo) you may have noticed that it occupies a huge chunk of central South Africa.
It stretches from Alexander Bay on the West Coast, encompassing the bulk of the Northern Cape, all the way to the Free State towns of Smithfield and Cookhouse on the Karoo’s eastern boundaries, whilst its southern borders are dotted with Route 62’s well-known towns from Robertson through to Uniondale.
With so many towns to choose from, just where in the Karoo does one go? In this, the first of a series of blogs on the Karoo, we bring you …
10 Far-Flung Karoo Towns For Fabulous Festivals
BEDFORD FOR ITS GARDEN FESTIVAL
Bedford lies in the Kaga Mountains that form the foothills of the Winterberg mountain range, partway between Cookhouse and Adelaide, north north east of the Addo Elephant National Park. It is quiet, its side streets not yet tarred.
At first glance it has little to offer other than the rosarium close to the river filled with heritage roses. These form the backdrop to the annual October Garden Festival that encourages thousands of butterflies, and people, as farm gardens open their gates to visitors.
CALITZDORP FOR ITS PORT & WINE FESTIVAL
Take a moment to drive down the side streets of Calitzdorp and you’ll fall in-love with the Georgian-style Karoo architecture, the surrounding red hills and the ease with which townies treat visitors. The local museum’s curator, Blackie Badenhorst, will entertain you to anecdotes and a whip through the town’s history, after which she’ll point out the better coffee shops and places of note.
But if you’re in town for the Calitzdorp Port & Wine festival (usually a week in winter) you’ll find out just why they’re known as the port-town of the Karoo.
CRADOCK FOR ITS FOOD & WRITERS’ FESTIVALS
This 200 year-old farming community sits bestride the Great Fish River, its flagship Market Street alive with historical Tuishuise cottages. It might make its money in the wool, beef, dairy, fruit and mohair industries, but Cradock also welcomes visitors all year round.
The town’s Karoo Food Festival (March) is a haven for slow food fundis, whilst the Schreiner Karoo Writers’ Festival attracts bibliophiles and writers who gather in the home town of one of the country’s literary icons, Olive Schreiner.
DE RUST’S ECO FESTIVAL
De Rust lies in amongst the red hills due west of Oudtshoorn, in the crook of the road before Meiringspoort. It won ‘small town of the year’ in 2011 for having the most intact Victorian architecture, and a walk around town feels like life on a film set. Travellers enjoy it as a stop either before, or after, they venture into the Groot Karoo.
The town’s Eco Festival started in 2012 as the ‘De Rust Flower Festival’, broadening to include a wider spectrum of plant life biodiversity in the Klein Karoo (2 000 plant species in three biodiversity hot spots, all represented on the De Rust koppie). Enjoy bird watching, field trips, gardening and star gazing.
MONTAGU FOR ITS LITERARY FESTIVAL
Montagu is no stranger to Route 62 fans. It sits ‘agter (behind) Cogmans Kloof’ at the start of the longest wine route in the world, its streets lined with character Cape Dutch and Georgian-style buildings set against a backdrop of mountains.
The annual Breyten Breytenbach Literary Festival, in winter, is a bilingual book fair celebrating Klein Karoo literature. Authors present works, read poetry, give talks and conduct interviews. But it isn’t the only festival. Every week something features in town. Other festivals include the Wacky Wine Weekend, the Makiti Festival, and the Rose Show.
NIEU-BETHESDA’S FESTIVAL OF LIGHTS
This little village, with its gravel roads and spring-fed water furrows, lies in the heart of the Sneeuberg Mountains; a picturesque town famed for its Owl House and Karoo hospitality (a cheese and brewery, a couple of excellent restaurants, various venues in which to overnight, and one of the country’s best fossil collections).
OUDTSHOORN’S KKNK & KKK
Oudtshoorn’s annual April Afrikaans cultural festival celebrates (KKNK) over 200 productions, 1 000 shows and over 135 000 people, making it a major attraction of the Klein Karoo. It is followed, in August, by the annual classical music, food and wine festival (Klein Karoo Klassique), a smaller but equally popular, festival.
PRINCE ALBERT’S OLIVE & FOOD MARKET
250 years old in 2012, Prince Albert is a exactly as its marketing suggests: a ‘balm for the soul’. The charming town’s streets are lined with Cape Dutch, Karoo and Victorian dwellings, its well documented history (pop into the Tourist Office)involving gold, ostrich feathers, mohair and the Gamkaskloof.
A visit is a heady mix of restaurants, dairy, museums and festivals: from the Olive & Food Market (May), and the IndieKaroo Film Festival (July), to the Prince Albert Leesfees (November).
RICHMOND’S LITERARY FESTIVAL
Book Town Richmond hosts an annual Boekbedonnerd literary festival. The otherwise sleepy village lies halfway between Jo’burg and Cape Town, where the N1 meets Route 398, its streets lined with enough bookshops to qualify as the Long Street of the Karoo (even without the festival the town is book crazy).
The list of visiting South African authors is a who’s who of the literary world – varied and diverse – warranting hundreds of visiting book and festival lovers.
WILLISTON’S WINTER FESTIVAL
Celebrating the onset of spring, and all things eccentric, the festival is an unforgettable cultural Karoo experience (where the Nama Riel, danced by locals accompanied by local musicians, steals the show) featuring well-known musicians (Radio Kalahari Orkes, Silver Creek Mountain Band, Boeta Gammies etc.), and stalls awash with simple Karoo food.