“Luxurious and spacious, the homesteads are set amidst mountains, rivers, natural bush and farmland, affording families a taste of farm living at its best.”
The great open spaces and clean air of the Karoo are well-known, but we often overlook its wealth of family friendly destinations. From famous tourist attractions to hidden wonders; tranquil farmsteads to thriving game reserves; historic towns to trendy restaurants; dramatic mountains to ever-extending plains – there is more diversity and nuance in this semi-desert than first meets the eye.
The Karoo National Park
The Karoo National Park is located within the central Karoo, just off the N1 highway, making it accessible as both a destination and a layover.
While game reserves may sometimes limit the freedom of children confining them to the fenced camps or cars during game drives, the same cannot be said for the Karoo National Park.
What the Karoo lacks in terms of rainfall and trees, it makes up in terms of space. At the main rest camp is a wonderful spacious network of paths and walking (or running and cycling) trails. There is also a fossil trail and exhibit, bird hide, waterhole in front of the restaurant, swimming pool and an informative interpretive centre.
Tasteful chalet accommodation and tranquil camping facilities make it accessible to all, and the rest camp is truly an oasis nestled against the impressive Nuweveld Mountains that stand out starkly from the Karoo plains.
The park has big game and as night falls the starry host is welcomed by the cacophony of night sounds, often including the bark of a jackal or the territorial roars of the lions.
The Karoo National Park is a wonderful family escape offering multiple opportunities for the increasingly illusive “family-time”. Whether it is stargazing, walking, or enjoying hot chocolate and rusks during a cold morning game drive, the park will get you and your family back in touch with nature. It sure did ours.
Travelling east across the great Karoo, we noticed a marked change in vegetation as we approached the historic town of Graaff-Reinet. This was most emphasised in the Camdeboo Conservancy located in the mountainous region west of the town. Wooded forests, green meadows and flowing rivers characterise this farming region.
Located high up in the conservancy, is the ideal family escape. Restored historic farm homesteads and cottages located on the operational Langfontein and Westbrook farms make for a true escape. Luxurious and spacious, the homesteads are set amidst mountains, rivers, natural bush and farmland.
The spacious landscape offered us the opportunity to go walking, running and mountain biking – but some of our best memories were from observing the farm animals, sitting around the fireplace (ideal for cold winter nights or the summer braai) and simply wandering around on the beautiful farmlands.
Langfontein also farms with sable and roan antelope, disease-free buffalo and lechwe, the latter of which are visible on the marked Lechwe Walk. With the freshly cut roses and lavender, the freshly baked bread served with butter, this is farm living at its best.
Karoo View Cottages, Prince Albert
The Town of Prince Albert itself is a country living experience perfect for the whole family. The main road is lined with historic buildings, farm stalls and coffee shops. Everything is in walking distance, so we embraced the countryside and walked the pretty streets. You can buy your cheese, milk and yogurt from Gay’s Guernsey Dairy, or walk to La de Dah for a breakfast and coffee.
The arid Karoo is broken by the flowing waters of the canal network that supply the Prince Albert homestead gardens, flowing out of the dramatic Swartberg Mountains two kilometers east of town. Time the visit right, and you can join the town community at their Saturday market.
The Karoo View cottages are located on the edge of town, and are ideally situated and designed to afford guests a luxurious and comfortable stay. Care and thought has gone into the design, finishing and equipping of the cottages, ensuring that guests have whatever they require to make the most of their stay.
A well-maintained vegetable garden is also available to guests to provide them with fresh produce in season – farm living in the Karoo.
Oudtshoorn, a family playground
In terms of activities and tourist attractions, the Klein Karoo town of Oudtshoorn is unparalleled in its abundance and diversity. Three full days of site seeing and activities is a minimum, with most activities catering for the whole family.
The Cango Caves is one of South Africa’s top three tourist attractions drawing 280,000 tourists per year, and is definitely a must visit. But there are a multitude of others that should not be missed, many of which provide experiences up-close with nature.
The Buffelsdrift Game Lodge is a beautiful destination where visitors can go on game drives, feed the rescue elephants Jabari, Mbulelo and Malaika, or simply enjoy a meal overlooking the dam with its resident hippos.
Oudtshoorn is also the ostrich capital of the world, and the iconic bird has played a large part in the development of the region and town.
The good value for money accommodation at Kleinplaas also provided us with the opportunity to feed the resident ostrich, while the Cango Ostrich Farm offered informative and interactive tours. Two other family favourites are the Wilgewandel Holiday Farm, with its various child friendly activities, and the Cango Wildlife Ranch where families can see and learn about a variety of animals, great and small.
For a fun-filled and action-packed holiday that will have your children out and about enjoying nature, Oudtshoorn is hard to beat.
Whether you pick your favourite, or do a road trip to enjoy them all, these four Karoo destinations have something for everyone. Who said the Karoo was boring?