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Country life and rock art at Ganora Guest Farm

Portfolio's custom publishing architect, Heather, and her family find plenty of must-see attractions on their way from Graaff-Reintet to Nieu-Bethesda during their road trip through the Karoo.


Moutain Zebra National Park to Nieu-Bethesda via Graaff-Reinet

After a delightful morning discovering Walter Battiss, we headed for the Mountain Zebra National Park., but I will save that story for another day.

After a lovely stay there, we set off for Graaff-Reinet. Our plan was to have a picnic lunch in the Camdeboo National Park overlooking the Valley of Desolation. It was a good drive ─ short, comparatively. We arrived at the park in lovely sunshine and followed the single road upwards. The view unfolded, first of the large Nqweba Dam (which looks really full to a drought-stricken Capetonian!), and then of the distinctive Dolomite capped peaks that the Valley is known for.

There is viewing deck at the end of the road with picnic tables. We soon had our lunch unpacked. This is also the perfect spot to see the site of the Giant Flag. This ambitious project is to create a huge South African flag made up of specially-grown succulents, solar panels and vegetable tunnels. It is a community project and Graaff-Reinet is already reaping the rewards as the townspeople work in the succulent nursery, on the solar energy and also with the cultivation and sale of vegetables. Everyone can share a piece of the action and adopt a succulent - go to www.giantflag.co.za to choose your own plant and know that you will always be part of this colourful part of South Africa. It will even be visible from space - who can resist that!

It was time to backtrack slightly and head for Nieu-Bethesda and our visit to Ganora Guest Farm. The pass to Nieu Bathesda is magnificent - sinuous with awesome views. Just before the village the tar peters out and the drive continues on gravel. Admittedly, this road could do with some grading. It was a bumpy ride! The village itself is predominantly a hub for the workers of the surrounding farms. It provides the most basic of services, but its simplicity and humbleness is appealing. It is famous for The Owl House, home of the reclusive artist Helen Martins. Ganora, however, is not in the village, but 9km outside. Back on the gravel road and off we went.

Ganora lies in a valley, and dropping down off the road and entering the farm gates transports you into a world where the seasons rule and where farm life dictates the rhythm. We were shown to our rooms in The Sheds. Once part of the working farm ─ and obviously once used for storage of everything from coal to chickens ─ they have been transformed into comfortable and warmly decorated rooms. I particularly liked the showers which had large Karoo stepping stones to stand on surrounded by smaller stones. It is a decorative stroke of genius.

We were all keen to explore and Hester suggested we find the labyrinth and also stroll along the Plane tree walk. The fresh air, setting sun, windmills and endless sky could not have been more perfect. Hester had told us that JP would be giving a talk about his fossil collection before dinner so we quickly got ourselves ready.

Fossil collection is an understatement, it is the envy of any self-respecting paleontologist. JP knows his stuff and we were blown away by what can be found lying underfoot in the Karoo. Dinner next to the fire was served at a long table. It gave us an opportunity to chat to other guests ─ for many this was a return trip to Ganora. Soup, game casserole and melting malva pudding finished us off nicely. We dashed to bed, knowing that the mercury was dropping fast.

The next morning we were not disappointed. Our car was covered in ice, even the waterbottle inside the car had frozen. Fortunately breakfast warmed us up. Hester had recommended that we try the San Rock Art guided walk. My kids learn all about the San in school history but had never seen rock art. Our guide, himself from San and Khoi descent, knowledgably showed us the 7 000 year old specimens and wove the Art into his stories of the farm, tales of the Boer War on the farm and we came away enraptured.

I think Ganora manages to weave the best of the Karoo into one destination - hospitality, adventure and history. A true Karoo heartbeat.