Trekking to the Klein Karoo of Prince Albert
In a town situated in the middle of an endless expanse of dry barren as far as the eye can see, this seemingly sleepy little town will most certainly surprise you.
The drive from Kirkwood to Prince Albert sounded really exciting on paper. Who wouldn’t want to add a Klein Karoo town to a lengthy road trip? It made sense for any traveler wanting to explore the dry terrain landscape for the first time but what didn’t make sense was thinking that we could be there in under four and a half hours.
“No, we’ll be there at 15:00pm”, when our next host called to ask what time she can expect us.
With the trusted directions from a respected travel blogger whose done this route a million times, we set off onto the many diverse routes like the arid plains of the R336, the R75 overlooking worldly landscapes; passing sitting baboons, swerving pass a 3 meter lizard laying in the road and, letting tortoises have right of way. Two hours have passed, trekking in the smothering heat we turned onto the R329 passing through Wolwefontein housing no less than 20 structures.
Gosh, we genuinely in the midst of nowhere.
146km later, we reached a little gem town known as Steytlerville to stop for gas. Anje warned me it’s a town I would want to explore. She didn’t lie. However, just marking two hours in our car, we decided to dine in Willowmore – 90.4km to go.
Back on the adventure trail along the bumpy tarred road, far ahead we knew what we were about to approach; a one-way lane made up of concrete slabs and cracks. A lane that required you to move once an oncoming car came near.
‘Welcome to Willowmore’, stopping at a nearby restaurant to eat and recline. It’s now one o’clock. We’ve got to eat fast to make it before dawn.
So we hit the N9 making our way back into the Western Cape.
“I bet you we going to get a stop and go the minute we cross the border”, Courtney said.
“I don’t believe they work on Sunday’s, Courtney”.
“Welcome to the Western Cape” – We made it! But welcome to something else 3 kms away.
Laughter hit the roof! Oh man, did I miss this province. You won’t get a Stop and Go as much as this region!
But the journey is far from over despite that great stomach muscle workout. The sun is now in it’s peak and Courtney is beginning to get more and more tired and restless. I don’t blame him. This route is tough and long but the vast landscape offers a wonderful panorama of South Africa before reaching the dramatic gorge of Meiringspoort. The orange formation in the rock is a sight to behold. We had to stop, stare and listening to the splash sounds of the waterfall.
Take me to the Karoo
With the last stretch ahead; an hour away, we just couldn’t wait to get there. It’s been nearly seven exhausting hours, chasing the sun casting shadows over bushy hill tops.
Entering the charming little town dating back from 1762 when a loan farm named Kweeckvalleij “the valley of cultivation and plenty” was established in a fertile valley of the Swartberg Mountains. Besides the town’s rich cultural heritage, at least thirteen of its beautifully preserved Cape Dutch, Victorian and typically Karoo-style buildings have been declared as National Monuments.
After struggling to find our accommodation, our host graciously booked us a table at the infamous Swartberg Hotel for dinner. So we quickly changed our smelly and sweaty attires and set off down Church Street while the glistening light tucked itself slowly away.
Stepping inside, we felt very underdressed with tables all decked in candles and flowers. Doing romantic dining isn’t something we do often so we felt a tad bit awkward as the soft music played in the background. The hotel has been in use for the last 150 years and is one of the buildings listed as a heritage site.
Starving for a decent cooked meal, tired out of the typical braai scenario, there’s nothing I wanted more than a delicious beef fillet, plated with potato wedges and hot vegetables, giving off amazing flavours. Courtney went for a lamb shank drizzled with some sort of sauce – I did ask him for a piece. What kind of lady would I be if I didn’t?
Even though I could barely get up from my chair, I decided I would like to end my night off with dessert; Ice Cream with wafer sticks topped with Amarula chocolate sauce. Yummy, indeed!
Remember, this is farmland so being woken up by a chicken came as no surprise. Eagerly wanting to explore the town a bit more before we hit the road once more, we ate breakfast, packed our bags for the millionth time and dashed down Church Street to Lah-di-dah – a farmstall offering local jams, preserves, olive oils, sweets and rusks. Gifts filled the shelves while people sat at the tables to have their morning breakfast. (Opening times: Weekdays 08:00 – 16:00, Sat/Sun 08:00 – 15:00. Closed on Tuesdays).
Purchasing all the goodies we bringing home to family, the best way to explore any town is by foot; leisure walking along the main road, nodding to everyone you walk by.
Lazy Lizard, owned by Caryn and Juan seems packed. Let’s just grab a quick coffee and see what’s inside. Did you know that Lazy Lizard started as a bus terminal? Now it offers delicious bakery treats and it has a health and fitness centre. (Trading hours: Mon-Sat 07:00 – 17:00, Sun 07:00 – 16:00).
Further down, you’ll find the architectural beauty Dutch Reformed Church, founded in 1824 in what is currently the Synod of the Western and Southern Cape. The centerpiece of the town.
One structure you can’t miss is The Showroom Theatre featuring films and music attracting top performers all around the country. There was a show on the night before but with us arriving so late, we had to miss out! Make sure to see if there will be any events on the day of your arrival.
Every few meters or so, you’ll find creatively designed dustbins that’s painted in signs and sayings of the history of Prince Albert. This incredible project started in 2012, making Prince Albert on of the cleanest towns in the country. We definitely can learn a thing or two back home.
Still have an hour or two to spare? Why not get lost in the streets and admire the architectural beauty in the buildings, looking at odd collectables all rustic in peoples gardens or have a chat over red wine with the locals. They always have the best tales to recount!
Upon leaving Prince Albert on another long journey, you’ve got to truly admire the dryness and dust filtering the air. We even got to view our first mini sand tornado. Instead of snapping an image, we watched in awe. What a way to end off!
Besides the few activities we participated in, you might be interested in trying these listed things to see and do:
Ghost Walk: Ailsa Tudhope is an accredited tour guide that will tell tales about all the characters that resided in the town and of the ghosts who have never left. Starts: Oct – March 18:30, April – Sept 18:00 at R60.00 per adult and R30.00 per scholar.
Hiking: The “Koppie” trail has wonderful views of the village; situated just behind the town. Best times to hike – April to May and, September to October.
The Real Food Company: A new specialty food shop and deli and a tapas bar in Church Street.
Kredouw Olive Farm: At the foot of Kredouw Pass, the farm sells and produces various olive products as well as offer olive picking. Call them on 023 541 1105 for more information.
Swartberg Pass: A must visit and is known as the finest mountain passes in the world, Unfortunately, due to a horrible flood that hit the town, the pass is currently under construction.
Saturday Market: Every Saturday from 08:00 – 12:00, the locals set up stalls and sell interesting local produce. Definitely a market to go too.
Getting there: From Cape Town, the N1 is the only route to go on. It’s about 43km that can take about 4 1/2 hours. We came from Kirkwood, Eastern Cape and, it took nearly 7 hours to arrive.
When to go: Anytime of the year is suitable.
Websites to visit: Prince Albert Information website provides an extensive layout of everything to do and see in the town.
Until the next adventure.