Calvinia: A Karoo Treasure

There’s a town in the Northern Cape where sheep roam the lands, where the sparse landscape is something out of a travel magazine and, it’s a town that’s worth more than a night’s stay.

We’ve been to Calvinia before. Back in 2019 for the famous Calvinia Vleisfees. Due to its popularity, we did not manage to find accommodation so we stayed in the neighbouring town of Williston.

Leaving Cape Town bright and early, driving along the N7 via Vanrynsdorp Pass, and witnessing the wildflowers blooming in the town of Nieuwoudtville, the 4.5-hour drive is pretty worth it.

Some might dislike sitting in a car for that long but there’s this nostalgia feeling about watching the scenery change from lush greenery to barren views.

The openness of the sky makes the vastness of the province appear insignificant. This is why the region keeps luring me back.

The town is situated by the high ramparts of the Hantam Mountains. It reminded me a lot of Springbok’s location; surrounded by koppies. The town is bustling for a Thursday afternoon as we make our way to find our Airbnb.

Driving through the community, it’s sad to see how many businesses have closed their doors. Once swarming with restaurants, there’s only about 4 still operating.

We arrived at our stay for the night. Die Lemoenhuis is a 4-sleeper establishment and the view is impeccable. There’s a windmill in the far distance, sheep drifting about, and a backdrop that says harsh but forgiving.

Our host, Liz welcomes us while her three labradors sniff me right up till under my dress. She shows us around whilst chatting about our travel plans, the reality of the Hantam Vleisfees never happening again and, if we made any reservations to dine somewhere.

I never thought I would have to do that since it was Thursday afternoon but South Africa is in Level 3 Lockdown, and restaurants can only fill their place to 50% so the eatery she recommended, Die Blou Nartjie is already at capacity. Nevertheless, we book ourselves at the Calvinia Hotel.

As the afternoon turns into evening, the sky turns ochre illuminating the stark features of the barrenness landscape of Calvinia.

Courtney and I get into our car and we off to dinner. If you are in a town like Calvinia, it’s only right to order traditional cuisines. So naturally, I order a lamb shank with sweet potatoes and hot veggies. The Hotel is a big part of the heritage and, it’s evident in the cracky floors and wonky tables.

It’s -1 degree the next day but the sun rising from behind the hills at 6:45 am makes you leap out of bed, switch on the kettle and stand on the stoep to watch the sun appear. It’s a magical sight to watch the sun come alive in the Karoo.

Because we have a long journey to our next destination, we drink our coffees, pack our belongings and say goodbye to our accommodation but not before we chat with Liz’s husband who asks us where we heading next.

Breakfast is essential before we hit the road so Liz told us Die Hantam Huis serves the best melkkoffie in town and, who can say no to that?

Bought by Dr. Erwin and Alta Coetzee in 1983, Die Hantam Huis has a fascinating history. Walking through the restaurant and guesthouse, you can tell that a lot of restoration work has been done since the charm is still unique to the town itself.

I’m glad the placemats on the table give us a brief rundown of the history of Die Hantam Huis while waiting for our coffees and lekker breakfast to be served.

As people walk in and out of the tiny breakfast area, we strike up a conversation with a young couple who are on their way to Cape Town. In that short amount of time, we had a good laugh at the crazy adventures we encountered over the years. Even though I don’t recall asking their names, it’s always wonderful to hear other peoples’ travel stories.

Before heading to Loxton, another small village in the Northern Cape, we admire the giant red post box which was converted from a water tower in 1995. You really can’t miss it when you driving on the main road.

Even though we didn’t do much adventuring, Calvinia is still a special town I know we will come back to.

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Till the next small town.

Stephanie Marthinus Blog