Monday, October 6, 2008

A Gem in the Karoo

The picturesque town of Graaff-Reinet is often referred to as the "Gem of the Karoo" - and I certainly think this term is spot-on.

Graaff-Reinet is situated amongst the foothills of the Sneeuberg mountain range in the Eastern Cape Province and is "tucked" into a horse-shoe bend of the Sundays River. It is said that this town contains more proclaimed national monuments than any other town in South Africa. It was established in 1786 as the most important trading centre in an otherwise barren and by then, still untamed country. To this day, Graaff-Reinet has retained much of the character of a a typical, 19th century, rural town.

The imposing Dutch Reformed Church is situated at the centre of the old town and was built in 1886 along similar lines to the Salisbury Cathedral (UK). I think it is the most attractive church building in our country.

The cottages in Stretch's Court were once occupied by emancipated slaves (after 1834). Once renovated, they now form part of the Drostdy Hotel complex.

A true gem and interesting example of Cape-Dutch architecture is Urquhart House with its unusual gable. It now forms part of the Reinet House period-museum- complex. It houses a collection of Victorian furniture and the peach-pip floor in the kitchen is rather unusual.

This old and enormous grapevine in the garden of the Reinet House museum complex was apparently planted in 1870 - and is still growing!

Also in this garden is an old water-wheel/mill next to the wagon house, still in a working condition.

Standing sentinel over the charming town is Spandau Kop - part of the Karoo Nature Reserve, which surrounds Graaff-Reinet.

Also in the Karoo Nature Reserve is one of Nature's wonders - the unique Valley of Desolation. The precariously balanced columns of rocks/formations originated during geological events occurring many millions of years ago.

Did you know that Karoo means "land of thirst"?

Many visitors specifically come to The Valley of Desolation with the specific goal to experience what the region (the Karoo in general) is also famous for - its magnificent sunsets. This photo of such a sunset is definitely one of my most "prized" photos.

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