Graaff-Reinet and the Valley of Desolation

After our adventures in Lesotho and the Drakensberg, it was time to tackle the 500 odd miles back to Cape Town ready for our last week with the family.

We headed back into the Transkei and spent a night at the Cock and Cat in Ugie after a tough five hours of hungover driving from the Drakensberg. A cute little place and after burgers in bed and a good nights sleep we woke up the next morning fully refreshed and ready to take on the next leg of the journey.

Having had quite enough of the N2 on the way out, we’d decided to take the more scenic R56 back through the Transkei and into the Karoo. We’ve already spoken about how deserted the longer roads are out here, but this was another level. The straightest road we’ve ever seen which seemed to go on and on for eternity. Luckily we’d already learnt to never let your petrol get below half out here as we went almost 200km without spotting a petrol station on this leg.


To give ourselves a day off driving, we’d planned a couple of nights stopover in Graaff-Reinet, a Dutch colonial town on the borders of the Camdeboo National Park in the Karoo.

A pretty little town with gorgeous white Dutch-style houses, wide, clean streets and stunning purple flowered jacaranda trees. (We learnt the hard way not to park underneath these and had to contend with a windscreen full of bird poo on our game drive the next day).


We spent a peaceful morning visiting the Anglo-Boer war museum, sipping iced coffee in the cute little Maria’s Café and strolling the streets to admire the churches and old houses.


The afternoon was dedicated to exploring the Camdeboo National Park, with another self-drive safari through the desert landscape of the Karoo.  A storm had been brewing all morning and after twenty minutes with the windows down, both us and the car were completely covered in red dust. While we were driving around there was also a huge hailstorm which felt quite surreal in the middle of a deserted national park.


Up to the aptly named Valley of Desolation for a short dusk hike along the Lizard’s Trail. Incredible views of the stone pillars with the flat valleys in the background and we could see almost all of the flat road we’d driven the previous day. This place has been named a Unesco sight of international significance for good reason. All you can hear is the soft thrum of the insects and the bird calls echoing up from the wide gorges below.


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A perfect spot for sunset on the last night of our road trip.

We found ourselves a secluded little spot overlooking one of the gorges and settled in with a couple of Castles. Just us and a group of swallows playing in the wind. Absolutely incredible to see them swooping, diving and twirling right in front of us, although it kept making us jump whenever they came speeding just above our heads.


An unexpectedly enjoyable stopover and a place well worth visiting in its own right.

One thought on “Graaff-Reinet and the Valley of Desolation

  1. I visited Kenya and Tanzania, two years ago. We had a guide drive us every where. I was lead to believe it was not safe to be without him. Extortion and muggings being rampant.

    I have driven all over north America and I would love to go drive around South Africa, I really want to see the Drakensberg mountains but tours are so expensive I fear I may never get there.


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