Graaff-Reinet was founded in 1786 as a trading post on the Great Karoo region of South Africa. The arid upland plateau of the Western Cape province is situated between 450 – 750 meters (1476 – 2460 feet) above sea level. Graaf-Reinet was established on the banks of Sundays River by a Dutch East India Company governor. This Karoo town figured significantly in The Great Trek of 1836, which was led by Dutch-speaking Voortrekkers (pioneering pathfinders). The seminal mass migration out of British dominions led to the establishment of autonomous Boer communities in the country. Today, Graaff-Reinet is an important source of mohair (yarn from Angora goat), ostrich, sheep, and fresh produce. Its national monuments are excellent starting points to learn about the region’s culture and history. Check out our top things to do in Graaff-Reinet, South Africa.
1. Visit the imposing Great Church
The Dutch Reformed Church or Afrikaans Nederduitse Gereformeerde Kerk (NGK) in South Africa traces its roots to the Protestant Reformation. The Dutch Reformed Church NGK was integral to Afrikaner nationalism. Known to locals as Groot Kerk/Grotekerk, this handsome building is hard to miss. It stands at the center of town on manicured grounds shaped like a cross. On the site once stood older buildings that served the religious since 1792. The current building, which was inaugurated in 1887, was inspired by Salisbury Cathedral in England and built using local stone. Groot Kerk is an important Graaff-Reinet landmark for travelers to visit.
2. Find relics of the past at Reinet House
Reinet House used to be a Dutch Reformed Church parsonage. It was built in 1812, and a cobblestone courtyard was added later on. In 1906, it was renamed “Reinet House” to serve as a boarding establishment for women training as teachers. It was also renovated to match the Victorian style. From 1952 to 1956, the building had undergone further restoration. It was rebuilt after a fire incident in 1980. Since 1956, the building has served as Graaff-Reinet Museum with various exhibits such as a blacksmith collection, haberdashery, clothing collection, period furniture, medical-dental collection, and a doll collection. Reinet House one of the museums in town you should not miss.
3. Behold the karoo in Camdeboo National Park
The Karoo region is a semi-desert area densely populated by low scrub bushes and succulents. The karoo plains define the lay of the land in Camdeboo National Park. A section dubbed “The Valley of Desolation” is a picturesque complex of hexagonal dolerite columns. These are cooled molten rocks towering over the plains. The tallest formations soar to as high as 120 meters (394 feet). Since 1935, the park has been a national monument. Its panoramic views always make a lasting impression. The national park is also home to a diverse population of plants and animals. Camdeboo has picnic areas and scenic trails, as well as dedicated spots for birding and game-viewing. A driving trail that leads up to the top takes about three hours to complete and is popular among tourists.
4. Marvel at the majestic Valley of Desolation
Valley of Desolation, also called Cathedral of the Mountains, is incomparable in its magnificence. The dolerite cliffs were formed by volcanic forces and shaped by millions of years of weathering and erosion. The stark beauty of Valley of Desolation is a key feature of Camdeboo National Park. Schoolchildren visit the valley by busload to learn about the dolerite columns and how they were formed. It is an integral part of the academic curriculum. Valley of Desolation is located at a distance of 14 kilometers (9 miles) from the town center of Graaff-Reinet.
5. Take up fishing or canoeing at Nqweba Dam
Nqweba Dam is not only an awesome feat of engineering but also a perfect spot for tourists who like to observe wildlife. On a regular day, you will see springbok, wildebeest, zebra, and buffalo grazing the land. The earth-fill type dam is a favorite local destination for boating, canoeing, fishing, and even windsurfing. While some say you should visit Nqweba Dam early to catch the sunrise, others insist you go there by day’s end to watch the sunset. Dam Day in March is a grand celebration for locals. The highlight of this festive event is a competition called “Anything that Floats”, in which participants can bring any floating device with them. It would be stupendous if your visit to Graaff-Reinet coincides with Camdeboo’s Dam Day.
6. Buy rare plants at Obesa Cactus Nursery
Obese Cactus Nursery houses around 5,500 species of plants. This 21-year-old nursery is owned by Anton and Claudette Bouwer. They share a passion for growing cacti and succulents. The pair decided to go into horticulture wholesale to cater to both local and international clients. They are proud of their hard-grown specimens, some of which are 20 years of age! The privately-owned nursery has some of the tallest and healthiest cacti you will ever see. The owners are passionate about the conservation and propagation of endangered plants. They also enjoy seeing these plants grow in a suitable environment. While some plants are in their collection and are not on offer, many others are for sale.
7. Discover local art at Hester Rupert Art Museum
Hester Rupert Art Museum is one of the oldest buildings in the town of Graaff-Reinet. It was built as a Dutch Reformed Church building with a cruciform layout. Later on, it was converted into a museum housing works of art. The restoration assured the building’s continued existence, and 90 paintings and sculptures were exhibited within its walls. The focused collection has grown through the years and now the museum is proud to display the work of more than 100 artists. The museum was named after the mother of Dr. Anton Rupert, the chairman of the private company that saved the building from demolition in 1965.
8. Take a seat, see a show at John Rupert Theatre
John Rupert Theatre is the only theater in town and once served as an art gallery. It was donated by the same family who established Hester Rupert Art Museum. The theater was named after the family patriarch. This local landmark has served as a suitable venue for plays and live performances since the 1980s. Volunteers take charge of social activities, which include film shows, musicals and plays, comedy shows, and dance recitals. Touring companies coming to Graaff-Reinet are welcome to use the facilities for their shows. Indeed, “Little Theater” is the cultural heart of Graaff-Reinet.
9. View historical curiosities in Urquhart House
Some travelers are introduced to Graaff-Reinet’s rich history with a tour of Urquhart House. The building at Market Square is a small museum, but the exact date of construction and design inspiration is unknown. The museum bears the name of a former town mayor who owned the property in the early part of the 20th century. The estate transferred ownership after being the Urquhart family residence for half a century. Visit the museum and see Victorian furniture in prime condition. Other points of interest in the museum are genealogical records, a collection of rifles, the kitchen’s peach-pit floor, and a stone water- filtration system.
10. Experience the Buccara Wildlife Reserve Karoo lifestyle
Baccara Wildlife Reserve Karoo is a champion of peaceful coexistence, ecological awareness, and wildlife conservation. The reserve is located 20 km (12.43 miles) outside Graaff-Reinet town proper. It offers the comforts of a high-end estate with opportunities to commune within the wild karoo. You can book a homestead furnished with all modern amenities for short or extended stays. Excellent culinary choices are available to guests. You can join excursions to a secluded luxury beach. You can sign up for high-adrenaline activities such as shark diving and bungee jumping. Book an elevated adventure at Buccara Wildlife Reserve Karoo!