One would think the semi-desert is a barren flatland that has nothing much to see, but don’t underestimate the Karoo. Immerse yourself in millennia of history, surrounded by stunning beauty and some of the finest lodgings our country has to offer.
It may surprise you to find that the Karoo is more than just farmlands and drive-through towns with hodgepodge padstals that serve mouth-watering roosterbrood. The paleontological basin used to be a vast sea 320 million years ago.
It only took 70 million years of tectonic plates shifting, and the great Gondwanaland split, to establish the flatlands that were later frequented by a whole manner of wildlife. And for hundreds of years, the Khoi and San called the region home. Eventually, the colonialists followed and dispossessed the Khoi and San of their land.
There has never been anything klein about the Karoo. Stretching itself across 395 000km² of land, encompassing a string of small cities from the border of the Eastern Cape until inland Western Cape, the Karoo region lays claim to a third of South African soil. So, when it comes to once in a lifetime luxury experiences, the unassuming options in the area cater for everyone.
Partake in Provenance
Initially built in the 1800s, the Drostdy Hotel in Graaff Reinet is steeped in local history and bursting with traditional charm. Affectionately named ‘The Great Dame of The Karoo,’ this slice of paradise has earned its spot in the top 10 hotels in the country because of its impressive list of amenities. Rows of multicoloured Georgian-style cottages house spacious rooms that have their own verandas where you can enjoy a morning coffee and rusk, alfresco-style.
When you’re not exploring the hundreds of heritage sites, including the war memorials and Robert Sobukwe Statue at the Graaff Reinet Educational centre, the Drostdy Hotel has two swimming pools for hotel guests to enjoy. Indulge in beauty treatments at the onsite spa, which comes complete with a sauna and steam room.
Dining at Drostdy is a dream. The menu is a brag of the best the Karoo has to offer. Think venison carpaccio and succulent lamb. Vegans and vegetarians needn’t worry as there is an impressive selection of flavourful foods for you to choose from, too. Oenophiles will have their fill in the wine library bursting with hundreds of enviable varietals sourced locally and further afield.
Manor living off the grid
There is something to be said about venturing off the beaten path. You can unplug from the proverbial mainframe and reconnect with nature. Mount Camdeboo will ensure that you do it in style and absolute comfort.
The private game reserve boasts two manor houses. The main house harks back to traditional Cape-Dutch architecture, with four magnificent ensuite rooms that each open out to a private veranda and the shared rose garden.
The courtyard manor house is equally as luxurious and generously stocked. Both are perfect for families travelling with children, as well as for hosting momentous events like birthdays, anniversaries or team building trips.
The recently opened geo dome has been erected in the heart of the game reserve, near an enclosure the rhinos and elephants roam through, while the pods lend themselves to guests wanting to live on the edge. Spending a night in the secluded rooms mean you might hear the tentative calls of pawed predators prowling the area for a bite at dinner time.
Mount Camdeboo’s two modern pods offer the best in high-end accommodation. You can rest assured that they’ve spared no expense to ensure each guest takes only memories, and leaves only footprints.
With a private boma to the left of your pod, a wood-fire hot tub to your right, and the budding flora and fauna stretching out as far as the eye can see, the Mount Camdeboo staff will be tearing you away when it’s time to check out.
The mission at Die Beloofde Land (“the promised land” in Afrikaans) is to get you off your phone and away from your laptop. That is why the Wi-Fi password translates to ‘talk to each other’ in Afrikaans.
Budding historians and art lovers alike are invited to hike up to the caves on the property and feast their eyes on the remnants of ancient Khoi art decorating the walls. Afterwards, spend your afternoons lounging by the private infinity pool or soaking in the wood-fired hot tub.
Die Beloofde Land is well suited to romantic getaways and corporate retreats, as you can have your pick of three accommodation options at this remote oasis.
Die Sonvanger (the sun catcher) gets its name from being the first of the self-catering units to receive the sun’s rays as they pierce through the grooves of the rolling mountain range. The two-bedroomed Pueblo-style villa is ideal for eco-conscious travellers, as it is completely solar-powered and comes complete with a functional windmill. You also have the option to take advantage of the outside shower that offers a 360-degree view of the valley.
If you found the cottage featured in Nancy Meyer’s The Holiday charming, Die Visserman (the fisherman) is perfect for you. The stone-built darling caters for two, in an open-plan living room and bedroom that opens out onto a veranda whose views are uninterrupted and treat you to hours of watching the local wildlife graze heartily.
Last, but certainly not least, Die Keurboom is situated at the edge of a cliff that overlooks the Keurboomsriver. The spacious unit sleeps four, with the main house, master bedroom and well-equipped kitchen found upstairs, while a private playroom, kitchenette and second ensuite bedroom on the same level as the pool and hot tub.
City folk looking to shift gear might need to ease into the ultimate relaxation with an afternoon of fishing at the on-site dam or donkey feeding.
Words by Inga Sibiya