The Coldest Town in South Africa: Sutherland

Let’s cut to the chase: Sutherland is and will be the coldest place in South Africa!

It’s known as the “Gateway to the Universe” because of its high altitude, clear skies, and cleanest air. No wonder temperatures can go up to -20 degrees Celsius.

Tourists storm to Sutherland in winter (their busiest season) to get a glimpse of snow. This is the main reason why I had to visit the town but more importantly, to get a peek at the largest single optical telescope in the southern hemisphere.

A good four-hour drive from Cape Town, the R354 is the only tar road from the N1 and merely a left turn at Matjiesfontein. The road is windy with loads of bumpy patches as we reach the Verlatenkloof Pass with dramatic landscapes of the karoo arriving in Sutherland at 18:00.

The town is misty with spots of rain with the wind blowing chilling air to the point that you can’t feel your fingers. It shows zero degrees Celsius in our car.

It feels like a winter wonderland as we drive to our self-catering accommodation in Sarel Cilliers Street. Every human being on the street is clinging to their thick jackets and beanies. There’s no exaggeration about it being the coldest place in the country. Make sure to pack warmly.

Our accommodation, Die Heks se Huis is what I call a typical Karoo style establishment with its rustic decor and old-charm flare. It’s a black building with a white wooden door and old wood window shutters – modern yet karoo quirky with its mismatch furnishings and antique finds. I admire towns who keep to their unique characteristics.

We scumble to get our belongings out of the car and search for someplace to eat. It’s too wet and cold to be braaiing in such extreme weather. Our host suggests we dine at The Blue Moon for a hearty, local cuisine.

The Blue Moon recently separated their restaurant from their Guest House from Primrose Street into Piet Retief Street in an old white building. Opening the crackly door, the coziness of the room fills with warmth and, I’m immediately glad they have a table for the two of us. After indulging in a whole bowl of lamb curry with basmati rice, I was ready for bed.

The sun rose early with -4 degree temperatures. It’s chilly but that’s Sutherland for you so I open the door with a cup of coffee in hand; appreciating the serenity. With three tops, a woolly jersey, a bomber jacket, 3 pairs of socks, a scarf, and beanie, we set for breakfast at The Blue Moon, again.

After a great meal, we do a little sightseeing down Piet Retief Street; admiring the old Victorian architecture with verandas and corrugated iron roofs. There seem to be remains of stone walls and other stone buildings around the town which tell you a story dating back to its origins from the 1800s.

“Sutherland Mall”. It’s a given to look inside. There are tons of Sutherland souvenirs, items of clothing, and lekker produce to take back home. We ended up with a bag full of wool for my mom.

Our main reason for visiting Sutherland was to view SALT. With the pandemic, SAAO (South African Astronomical Observatory ) no longer does day tours. We take our chances and drive 15km along the R356; desolate with huge open plains covered with low lying scrub vegetation and sheep in the distance to see Africa’s Giant Eye.

Fortunately, SAAO is offering self-drives for an R150 per vehicle that you can book online. The guide leads us to the telescopes where we park our vehicles, step out; practicing social distancing while the tour guide gives an informative talk before slow driving to the actual telescope.

The Giant Eye consists of 91 individual hexagonal mirrors, each costing $1 million. With social distancing, walking through the facility is not permitted yet we all marvel at the spectacular building; taking a few images before getting back into our vehicles to go home.

The silence and it’s remoteness is the thing we notice the most when we bring the chairs outside to soak in the little rays of the sun. I now understand why residents stay. It’s a magical place to call home.

The sky is slowly turning gray and that’s our queue to get ready for dinner before our stargazing show at the Planetarium. We opt to walk to the restaurant taking in the stark beauty of the town.

We sit wherever there’s an open table. We’ve become regulars at The Blue Moon. Tonight, I’m getting the Oxtail stew – Courtney orders the smokey ribs. My phone rings. The Planetarium has to cancel the showing because the sky is too foggy to view the stars.

Since it’s our last night, we stay even longer at the restaurant; ordering the infamous malva pudding with custard – heading home on foot.

Stepping outside the next morning, we sit on the veranda and soak in the glorious sun. Since our arrival, it’s the first time we receiving proper sunshine. We pack our bags and head off for our last meal at The Blue Moon.

The slow pace of travel seems to be working. I’m already making plans to come back again. Sutherland pulls on your heartstrings and there’s something special about this Karoo society. It feels like home and like you never left.

Where to Stay

With tourists flocking to Sutherland year after year, the town has about 40 establishments for you to stay at.

If you searching for the real, Sutherland karoo scenery then book yourself at Die Heks se Huis. We stayed at Gaea Cottage which is concreated with a built-in fireplace because Sutherland is cold.

All the modern comforts are available from an electric blanket to firewood and even a corrugated shower. The cottage as a fully equipped kitchen with a dining area to eat at. The en-suite bathroom has quirky elements like the toilet holder being a metal bowl.

There is no TV nor WIFI. The idea is to lounge on the wicker chairs in front of the fire and listen to the rain falling on the roof with a glass of red wine.

What to do in Sutherland

There is plenty of outdoor activities for families, couples, and children. The main attraction will most likely be SALT and to do stargazing at the Planetarium.

Sutherland offers some beautiful scenic drives like the Ouberg pass and the Roggeveld Mountains. There were only two restaurants operating; The Blue Moon and The Whitehouse Inn. There’s the Sutherland Mall, an OK Foods and a Slaghuis.

There’s the town’s only museum, the Louw Huis or Louw House that houses artifacts belonging to the family Louw. You can do horseback riding, 4×4 trails, and mountain biking.


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Till the next small town.

Stephanie Marthinus Blog