A little road trip to the Karoo.
We left Cape Town at 4am on a Friday morning and by 7am we stopped in Laingsburg for a roadside breakfast (the pre-packed sandwiches, hard-boiled egg, and filter coffee in flasks- type) just in time to catch the sunrise.
I’ve been to or through the greater Karoo area more times than I can remember and whilst this might be the part of the journey most would hope to sleep through, I love and always remain in awe of these seemingly endless landscapes. The world just seems so much bigger here and I find it hard to believe that vast open space like this still exist.
Now roughly five hours away from Cape Town, we arrive in Beaufort-West; the largest town in the Great Karoo region and also known as the capital of the Karoo. If you ever find yourself here (or just passing through as I think is most often the case) give Wimpy a skip and be sure to make a stop at Four Sheep Restaurant & Deli.
About 70km past Beaufort you’ll come across Travalia Guest Farm. Where we stopped for a quick walk-through the farm stall (that can’t be missed as it’s right next to the N1) offering homemade rusks, gifts and much more. I left with a selection of nuts and dried fruit from the snack section, it’s the perfect place to stock up on some road trip snacks. We didn't sit down, but I noticed the restaurant offering the traditional Karoo fare like burgers, Karoo meats, pies, and toasted sandwiches. For us veggies out there it’ll have to be a plate of chips or the go-to in these parts: avo on toast.
We arrived at our final destination in the Northern Cape, a little town called Richmond, just after lunchtime. You can expect the usual slow Karoo life from this settlement; warm smiles from the township locals, a wave from the tannie enjoying the sunshine on her stoep, and farmers greeting through their Hilux’s windows at familiar faces as they pass by.
What makes Richmond special though is the fact that it's officially been crowned as a booktown. Now what on Earth is a booktown?
The term was coined by a man called Richard Booth back in the sixties. His dream was to create the largest second-hand book selling center in the world. Which he managed to accomplish in his little town of Hay-on-Wye in Wales. Now there’s an official International Organization of Booktowns (I.O.B) and believe it or not, they've got a strong criteria before bestowing this achievement. A criteria Richmond just so happens to adhere to, making it the only official booktown in Africa
When it comes to looking for a place to stay you’re going to want to give locals Saag or Sumi a call. They run a bed and breakfast called A Karoo Manor-Marina's, offering all of the essentials and the most glorious claw-footed tub that I was happy to soak in as soon as the freezing Karoo evenings hit.
They're also the ones running the local pub, Die Krip. One of those write-on the-wall bars with horse riding saddles as bar chairs and old rugby jerseys hanging from the walls. Once again, the traditional Karoo selection of homemade pizzas, steaks, Karoo Lamb chops, and burgers (which they consider to be their specialty).
Another beautiful not-to-miss eatery is Vetmuis Plaaskombuis. Stock up on handmade gifts as everything in the shop is up for sale, and enjoy hearty meals (just like mama made it).
As you walk through the town you’ll notice the odd quote, sculpture or painted mural. This is the work of an organization known as M.A.P. (Modern Art Projects South Africa), a registered non-profit company with the aim to promote and support contemporary art.
M.A.P. originated in 2005 from the impulse to combine the works of established and emerging artists and to show such works in unexpected spaces outside
Currently, they have installations or activations in Cullinan (Gauteng), Dullstroom (Mpumalanga), Graskop (Mpumalanga), and Richmond.
Karoo evenings are absolutely beautiful and we headed up the little koppie behind the church to see the sun go down on our first night. A word of warning though, I don’t care how warm it is when you set out TAKE SOMETHING WARM for when that sun sets.
About 20km outside of Richmond you’ll see a bright red shed, which used to be an old sheep shearing shed but today it’s known as The Karoo Padstal. A farm-to-table stop sourcing wholesome country produce from the surrounding Karoo region. With beautiful aesthetics, the friendliest owners, delicious coffee and a kitchen that caters to vegans (yup folks, you read that correctly, they even stock kombucha) it’s officially been added to my must-stop list.
The trip back home included much of the same, with one or two roadside stops for a caffeine boost or just to stretch our legs and take in the vast open spaces.
I always return home from Karoo trips with a sense of calm, after experiencing the real slow-life (and a newfound appreciation for wifi, almond milk, and fresh fruit). But all jokes aside, these towns and stops hold such a special place in my heart and I encourage you to treat these countryside destinations as exactly that, instead of just seeing them as rest stops or pass-throughs. You’ll find some gems, guaranteed.