The month of April sees South Africans going into somewhat of a holiday spirit with the Easter and Freedom day public holidays all falling inside of April. Freedom day on the 27th of April celebrates and commemorates the first free and fair democratic elections that were held in South Africa on this date back in 1994.
After the freedom struggle that lasted almost 50 years all South Africans no matter the colour of their skin could now vote in the general election for their chosen government representatives. Freedom day this year falls on a Sunday and thus the public holiday moves on to the Monday which gives us the opportunity to take a little long weekend break to a local destination. South Africa is blessed with many beautiful and unique destinations but I cannot think of a better place to go visit this weekend where you can experience true freedom and a sense of escape, which links with the theme of freedom over this weekend, than the Karoo.
In the Karoo one can truly escape and experience a real sense of freedom with vast open spaces and landscapes that seem to have been untouched by the human hand. The Karoo is a large semi-desert region situated in the Central to South Western part of South Africa. The area is mostly uninhabited because of its remoteness and lack of surface water which makes it difficult for large communities to establish themselves in the region. Remoteness and the lack of large populations however is what makes the Karoo such a sought after tourist destination.
Karoo by railway
Matjiesfontein is a small town on the southern tip of the Karoo about 250 kilometres from Cape Town. The small town owes its existence to the railway that heads north to the diamond fields of Kimberley. Originally a small farm outpost Matjiesfontein was later developed into a town which served as a well needed pit stop for diamond delvers seeking their fortune to the north.
The town’s architecture is dominated by British influence because of the British occupation of South Africa in the early 1800’s to the early 1900’s. The Lord Milner Hotel is arguably the most popular attraction in town. The hotel has 58 guest rooms and has been in operation for over 150 years with service only being interrupted during wartime to be used as a command post for the British army. This town can be explored by hopping on the Old London Bus hopping on and off at either the Transport or Victoriana museums to soak up some history or one can go for field walks, hikes or mountain bike rides in the outskirts of the Karoo which is on the doorstep of Matjiesfontein.
Because Matjiesfontein was founded and built around the railway it is only fitting that one has to come and visit here by train. The 5 hour train ride from Cape Town is well worth it and at a price of only R150 pp it certainly is a cheaper alternative than driving. Matjiesfontein is a great Karoo getaway where true relaxation and freedom can be experienced.
The underground of the Karoo
The Karoo has a vast network of fresh underground water from the ancient dried up lakes and deltas that use to scatter this landscape many, many years ago. The water that flows through the underground has carved out the limestone and created beautiful caves just outside of the Karoo town of Oudtshoorn, these caves are known as the Congo Caves.
The caves are an elaborate maze of carved out limestone passageways that has been beautifully crafted by Mother Nature. The caves can be explored by joining daily tours presented by a local guide where one can choose between a standard or adventure tour to explore the caves. The standard tour takes one through all of the big “halls” and “rooms” showing you all of the big formations while the adventure tour consists of crawling through small holes and passageways and climbing up rock formations.
Prince Albert is the perfect base for you to stay at to explore the Congo Caves and the surrounding area. The town is a quint essential Karoo town with beautiful old churches and old Victorian style buildings. Despite being such a small town Prince Albert has a large variety of accommodation from Guest houses, B&B’s to Luxury Cottages. Every year the Olive Festival is hosted by the community of Prince Albert around the same time as the Freedom Day celebration. The olive has traditionally been a symbol of peace and sticking with our theme of freedom in the Karoo the olive festival is a great symbolic celebration of our peace and freedom during freedom day, a good reason to visit this hidden gem of the Karoo.
The Karoo wilderness
At the heart of the Karoo and its main attraction is its vast open landscapes with unique and diverse fauna and flora. Experiencing the vast open areas of the Karoo is a truly humble experience and one has to look close to find its treasures like the Black Eagle or the endangered Black Rhino and Riverine rabbit.
The Karoo National park is situated in the middle of the Karoo landscape. The park offers visitors the opportunity to experience the vast and beautiful Karoo landscape while spotting wildlife that is unique to the area and in some cases are on the critically endangered list. The Karoo National Park has a wide variety of endemic wildlife and plants. Many species like the brown hyena, lion and zebra have been relocated here to their former ranges after they were forced off by human settlements.
The only accommodation inside the park is run by the national parks board. One has a choice between camping, Cape Dutch style family units and recently renovated cottages. The nearest town is Beaufort West about 6km from the main gate of the park. Here you can stay in guesthouses game lodges or B&B’s in budget or luxury accommodation. Your next local long weekend breakaway should be to no other place but the Karoo where the stars in the sky shine brighter than anywhere else in South Africa.
Book your next weekend breakaway to the Karoo through us at FlightSite.