I am a city girl at heart, but with a yearning to own a spot in the Karoo - anywhere in the Karoo!
About four years ago this longing was fulfilled with the serendipitous acquisition of a real gem in the town of Venterstad. And thus began my exploration of the faces and places around the Gariep Route. I have to add that I am smitten! The Bo-Karoo has won my heart!
So what is there to do on a visit to this part of our beautiful country?
1. Visit the Oviston Nature Reserve. This small nature reserve belongs to the Eastern Cape Province and is superbly managed. It is 7 km from Venterstad and borders the mighty Gariep Dam. Mostly, we have the reserve to ourselves and hardly see any other cars. But we always are treated to herds of zebra, springbok, wildebeest, ostriches, gemsbok and other delightful creatures. The wonderful thing about the Oviston Reserve is that you can cycle along the paths, hike to the top of the koppies and get a magnificent view over the dam or take a slow drive.
2. Go fishing in the Gariep Dam. I am told that this is a favourite past time for the locals and, even so, you can choose a spot that suits you and not have anyone else nearby. Look out for yellowfish, tilapia and mudfish. Even if you don’t catch anything, the surroundings are worth it. Harry, from Venterstad, is the chairman of the Angling Club which meets once a month and awards a huge silver trophy to whoever lands the largest specimen. He assured me that I could join in and would not even have to bait my own hook if I was too squeamish.
3. Visit the Wild Hotel in Venterstad. If you are looking for a friendly bar or a surprisingly large menu, then this is the place. It is well worth a visit just to see the decor which has been personally attended to by the owner. She has an eye for detail and I love it all; from the individually decorated dining tables to each carefully appointed room.
4. See the Nguni cattle at Gelykfontein farm. Treat yourself to a night at Morning Glory Cottages on the old family farm. This well known race horse stud farm, was established in 1935 and the owners are the 4th generation of van der Walts on the farm.
Schalk took us on a tour of his Nguni herd and delighted us with the genealogy of each much loved animal. He introduced the first indigenous cattle back into the region, much to the initial scorn of his neighbours, who are now also converted to the enchanting speckled cattle.
5. Drive over the Bethulie Bridge. Get your camera ready to snap the elegant lines of this structure and also the wonderful views of the Orange/Gariep River. Take note that this is the longest road/rail bridge in both Africa and the southern hemisphere. It is an 1152m long concrete structure and spans the convergence of several rivers that drain into the Gariep.
6. Make a list of bird sightings. The bird life of Lake Gariep, the Orange River and the associated floodplains is unique and exceptional. In excess of 220 species have been recorded. In summer you can see the Blue Crane, the national bird of South Africa, dancing in the fields. Other unique species to the area include bald ibis, fish eagle, goliath heron and black eagle. I have even seen seagulls on the dam!
7. Visit the historical Anglo-Boer War sites. Okay, maybe this isn’t such a ‘fun’ thing to do. But it is a must-do. Concentration camps were set up along this route, the most notorious being in Bethulie. The memorial sites and cemeteries are fascinating and certainly made me feel more in touch with the history of these parts and its people.
8. Go river rafting. Give Bruce a call at Orange Valley Guest Farm and he will arrange a fun trip down-river for your group. Thrown into the package is a wealth of stories about what goes on up and down the river.
9. Take a tour of the Gariep Dam wall. You owe a visit to one of South Africa’s greatest civil engineering projects. A delightful local guide who works at the site impressed us with his knowledge and enthusiasm and gave us a thrill by opening the sluice gates while we were standing right next to them.
10. Make sure you catch a spectacular sunset over the lake – the best that the Karoo can present. Wait until after sunset for a display of stars that will make you shiver with delight.
Finally, be sure to give yourself more than one day.
In fact, you might just find that you keep coming back.
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