Graaff-Reinet lies at the heart of a vast and beautiful region of the Great Karoo with the shimmering sun drenched plains of the Camdeboo to the south and the spectacular mountainous terrain of the Sneeuberge encircling the town to the north.
Quiet country roads and national highways fan out in all directions from Graaff-Reinet providing the perfect opportunity for leisurely exploration of the variety of smaller towns and villages scattered across the great open plains or hidden away in the surrounding mountains and hills. If you travel to the north along the N9 highway towards Middelburg or along the winding R63 towards Murraysburg you will traverse a number of mountain passes on your journey.
Travelling south out onto the great plains of the Camdeboo the vast open spaces bounded by the high escarpment of the Sneeuberge and other mountains will frame your vista of the surrounding countryside.
One of the most beautiful circular routes from Graaff-Reinet takes in the mountainous areas to the north including the secluded village of Nieu Bethesda. Travel out along the R63 through the Camdeboo National Park towards Murraysburg, ascending the Oudeberg Pass overshadowed by the 1710-metre high Ouberg, or Old Mountain, to the north.
Just beyond the summit of the mountain pass a gravel road turns north off the R63 towards Nieu Bethesda. The gravel road traverses a beautiful landscape with sweeping views across mountains and valleys. A junction is reached, both of which lead into Nieu Bethesda. The longer left hand branch leads through a long valley bounded to the east by the Rooiberg, or Red Mountain. Beyond the Rooiberg the road reaches another junction leading north out onto the high escarpment towards Richmond. The road towards Nieu Bethesda continues through a wide valley dominated by the bulk of the 2502-metre high Kompasberg, or Compass Mountain, the highest peak in the Cape Midlands.
The road enters a narrow valley descending into Nieu Bethesda where you can enjoy a leisurely lunch, or an excellent cappuccino at one of the many restaurants and coffee shops.
The return trip to Graaff-Reinet passes through a narrow defile known as Rubidge Kloof in the Voor Sneeuberge, or Front Snow Mountains, leading out into a broad valley where the road joins the N9 highway.
A full day trip from Graaff-Reinet takes in the remote village of Murraysburg returning to Graaff-Reinet via Aberdeen. Continue past the junction towards Nieu Bethesda beyond the summit of the Oudeberg Pass along the R63 towards Murraysburg.
The road continues to ascend, passing a gravel junction towards Richmond and onwards up a broad valley with the 1676-metre high Sneeuberghoogte, or Snow Mountain Heights, flanking the views to the south. The road winds through hills and valleys with beautiful vistas in all directions crossing the provincial boundary from the Eastern to the Western Cape.
The road continues past another junction to the north towards Richmond and ascends to an elevation of 1430-metres, crossing the somewhat unremarkable Voetpadhoogte before leading into the village of Murraysburg.
Take the time to explore the village and enjoy the vista across the town from the so-called Dokterskoppie, or Doctor’s Hill, before enjoying a light lunch. Continue out of town towards Victoria West before taking the gravel turnoff towards Nelspoort and Beaufort West. The gravel road skirts the southern slopes of Middelkop Mountain through beautiful Karoo countryside before reaching the junction to the south leading towards Aberdeen.
The road towards Aberdeen traverses the western slopes of the Onder Sneeuberge, or Under Snow Mountains, and the spectacular, jagged ramparts of the Camdeboo Mountains and the 1777-metre high Sleeping Giant.
This road is seldom travelled and it is quite likely that you will not encounter any other cars for its full length before reaching the junction with the R61 linking Beaufort West and Aberdeen.
The road is best travelled in the afternoon as the sun lights up the mountains to the east as it arcs towards the west across the vast plains towards distant Beaufort West. Turn towards Aberdeen returning to Graaff-Reinet via the N9 highway flanked to the north by the jagged Camdeboo Mountains.
Another half day excursion from Graaff-Reinet is an easy drive along the N9 highway to Aberdeen. Boasting one of the tallest, yet slightly skew, church steeples in South Africa, Aberdeen is resplendent with a wide variety of beautifully restored Victorian and Edwardian era residences thanks largely to the efforts of a very active local heritage association in the town.
Take the time to stroll along the streets radiating away from the imposing Dutch Reformed Church and enjoy a trip into a bygone era when the pace of life was definitely slower and somehow more meaningful.
Pop into the second hand book shop opposite the Dutch Reformed Church and enjoy a cup of coffee where no doubt one of the locals will strike up a conversation. A leisurely drive back to Graaff-Reinet will round off a very pleasant day.
Probably the most spectacular day trip from Graaff-Reinet is the circular drive via the N9 highway and R61 to Cradock returning via the R337 to Pearston and the R63 to Graaff-Reinet. This route takes in no less than four splendid mountain passes and boasts some of the most beautiful scenery that can be experienced anywhere in the Great Karoo. Travel north along the N9 highway towards Middelburg passing the main entrance to the Camdeboo National Park.
The highway strikes out across the flat land below the Noordhoekberge before ascending via Goliath’s Kraal Heights into another broad valley surrounded by mountains on all sides. The road continues past the junction leading to Nieu Bethesda before reaching the R61 turnoff towards Cradock.
Turning onto the Cradock road the R61 heads towards the broad sweep of the Sneeuberge, or Snow Mountains, ascending to the summit of the mountains via the Wapadsberg Mountain Pass at more than 1700-metres above sea level.
Take the time to stop at the summit and experience the tremendous views both towards the east and west of rolling mountains and vast landscapes stretching away into infinity. In the winter months the road is often closed due to snow falls and other than at the height of summer the air is always crisp and cool.
The road descends the eastern slopes of the Sneeuberge passing through some of the most beautiful hills and valleys in the Great Karoo. Just before reaching the N10 highway junction that leads into Cradock the R61 passes a turnoff to the Mountain Zebra National Park which protects the largest population of this endemic zebra in South Africa.
Enjoy an early lunch break in Cradock and take the time to explore this historic Karoo town situated on the banks of the Great Fish River. The return journey to Graaff-Reinet via the R337 will take at least double the time that the journey via the N9 and R61 took and therefore it is important to plan accordingly.
The entrance to the R337 is poorly signposted and is accessible from the west bank of the Great Fish River along the old main road linking Cradock and Cookhouse to the south. It may be necessary to ask directions to find the access road. The gravel R337 road, signposted Somerset East, departs Cradock following a deeply incised and wooded valley before ascending the spectacular Swaershoek Mountain Pass.
The road winds up the valley before ascending dramatically to the summit of the Swaershoek Mountains providing spectacular views back towards Cradock and beyond into a beautiful secluded valley ringed by mountains including the Gannahoek Mountains, Bloemfonteinberge and the 1813-metre high Doringbosberg, or Thorn Tree Mountain, at the southern end of the valley. To the west the 2012-metre high Bankberg Mountain is the highest peak standing sentinel above the valley.
The road descends the southern slopes of the Swaershoek Mountains before traversing the full length of the valley before exiting through a narrow fold in the surrounding mountains at the southern end of the valley. Beyond this fold in the mountains the road reaches a junction continuing onwards towards Somerset East with a right hand turn along the R337 towards Pearston.
The road towards Pearston crosses the Little Fish River and ascends in a westerly direction up a broad valley with the Groot Bruintjieshoogte Mountains and Coetzeesberge crowding the road to the south and north respectively.
At the western end of the valley the road plunges suddenly down a steep defile from the high escarpment via the precipitous Buffelshoek Mountain Pass to the open plains of the Camdeboo below.
The spectacular views from the Buffelshoek Pass take in the rim of the escarpment stretching for almost sixty kilometres west towards Graaff-Reinet encompassing the Coetzeesberge, Bouwershoekberge and Tandjiesberg.
At the base of the Buffelshoek Mountain Pass the road rounds a bend in the mountainside and enters the village of Pearston that stands astride the R63 linking Somerset East and Graaff-Reinet. The final leg of the circular route is a leisurely forty minute drive along the R63 from Pearston to Graaff-Reinet.