Seven small towns worth exploring

2013-02-20 08:57

While South Africa's cities may sparkle, it's really the small towns dotted along the vast countryside that gives it that special flavour. We take a look at seven of the most intriguing to visit on your next road trip.

Sutherland

Famous for its subzero winter temperatures and brilliant star gazing, the Karoo town of Sutherland draws hundreds of peace-and-quiet-seekers to its humble shores every year. It's located 350km from Cape Town.

Highlights: Doing a tour at the local observatory would definitely count as one of the highlights for visitors to explore. Tours take place from Monday to Saturday between 10:30 and 14:30 and cost R20 per person.

However, hanging out with locals at the quaint coffee shops and restaurants also comes highly recommended. As the Discover Sutherland website points out: "Stick around long enough and you'll get to know the locals by their nicknames. There's a story - often hilarious - to each one."

Where to stay: Kambrokind guest house is a cozy, pretty and affordable 4-star guesthouse in the heart of Sutherland. Their current rate is R350 per person sharing or R450 single. Contact: 023-5711405

Barrydale


Barrydale is the very first town you come across when heading along the popular and scenic Route 62 from Cape Town. Because the road doesn't go right through, but rather almost skirts the town, it's quite easy to pass it by. However, next time you head in that direction, make sure you take a sho't left and explore.

Highlights: Even if you're not much of a brandy fan, going for a tasting session at Barrydale Cellars is an absolute must! You get to taste the favourite "harde hout" of many-a South African in various stages of distillation and what's more, pair them with different types of chocolate. It's delicious!

If you're after something a little more hearty and wholesome, head to the Barrydale Waterfront's Blue Cow for the best milkshakes in the world and ginormous cake slices. Just a heads up - don't expect a V&A type set-up. Let's just say expect a pond, some ducks and a delightful wooden deck. All their milkshakes are made with farm fresh milk, giving it that special taste. Also be sure to pop into the second hand bookstore next door!

Where to stay: Tradouw Guesthouse is one of Barrydale's oldest historical buildings dating back to the late 1800's is a little gem conveniently located just off the now famous, scenic Route 62. Their current rates are R320 per person per night sharing Bed and Breakfast and R375 Single per night Bed and Breakfast. Contact details: 028 572 1434

Richmond

Situated almost exactly halfway between Cape Town and Johannesburg on the N1, Richmond is a perfect spot to stop-over on your next cross-country expedition. The town was established in 1843 to meet the religious needs of a growing farming community, but has since developed into a surprisingly intriguing entity of its own.

Highlights: Richmond's latest and greatest claim to fame is its abundance of book stores. Yup, this little hamlet right in the middle of the dusty Karoo is probably your best bet in finding that rare, collector's tome. It has even been dubbed South Africa's first and only official Booktown and plays host to a variety of literary events, with Boekbedonnerd being the most famous. Apart from books, the town offers visitors a delightful schmorgasboard of beautiful old buildings and antique dealers.

Where to stay: Klein Vetmuis is a beautifully renovated little cottage situated in Richmond, with old world charm and real nostalgia. Breakfast may be arranged at Vetmuis plaaskombuis as well as all other meals, or you may make use of the self catering option. Current rates are R200 - R250 per person sharing. Contact details: 082-878-2753

Port Edward

Hundreds of Gauteng locals flock to the shores of the KZN south coast every year, pitching tents and parking caravans in the camp sites of Margate and the like. However, just a little further south, on the border of the old Transkei, lies a quaint village that provides a much less crowded alternative: Port Edward.

Highlights: Situated neatly between the wild Indian Ocean and the Umtamvuna river, Port Edward is a paradise for outdoor and water sport enthusiasts. Another, slightly surprising attraction, is the Beaver Creek Coffee Farm, where lovers of rich, dark brews can indulge all their senses.

Where to stay: Treat yourself to a tropical-feeling break at the Umtamvuna River Lodge. Located right next to the beautiful Umtamvuna River and surrounded by lush vegetation, it's the perfect spot to just break away from it all. Current rates are around R400 per person sharing. Contact details: 039 311 3583

Willowmore


Located on the N9, the main route between the Eastern Cape coast and the pastoral interior, Willowmore is often overlooked as nothing more than a good place to take a quick pit stop, maybe stay over for the night. However, this super cute village has a lot more to offer than you may expect.

Highlights: For starters, just taking an early morning stroll around the streets will already give you great insight into the daily life and history. The sweet sink roof houses with their large porches and broekie lace trimmings provide beautiful fodder for photographic enthusiasts. However, the town is also a great base from which to explore the vast surrounding Karoo.

Head to Aasvoelberg for a bit of a 4x4 or paragliding adventure, and be sure to check out Willowmore's very own Wonderboom. This "wonder tree" has three stems coming up out of the ground. Two of the stems have joined together, forming an "eye of a needle" and a third stem has grown through the eye, forming the "thread."

Accommodation: The Willow Historic Guest House is a family-owned and run bed and breakfast that gives visitors the chance to experience good, old fashioned Karoo hospitality. You have a choice of staying in the main building - a traditional manor house - or across the road in a humbler self-catering unit. Contact details: (044) 923 2061

Sabie

With a catchphrase like "Source of surprises," it really shouldn't come as a shock that Sabie was named town of the year by Rapport and Kwela last year. With fragrant pine plantations, waterfalls and close proximity to the Kruger National Park, it's like a powerful batch of dynamite in a pleasantly small package.

Highlights: Checking out one of the many hiking trails around the town is an absolute must-do for any visitor in the area. They range from light strolls to rather challenging climbs, making it an activity option for all fitness levels and ages. Try the Secretary Bird 3km route which starts at Mac Mac Pools or alternatively the Forest Falls Nature Walk which is a circular 4.5km route. Other than this, spend some time browsing around the quaint restaurants and bright shops that make the town so attractive.

Accommodation: Centrally situated in a peaceful part of Sabie, opposite the Sabie Gorge, and far from the noisy Logging Route, Wayfarers Guesthouse is the ideal location from which to explore. Current rates are R390 per person sharing. Public Holidays R425 per person sharing. Contact: 013 764 2081

Nottingham road

Nottingham Road is known as the 'heart' of the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands Meander due to its second-to-none hospitality in truly beautiful surroundings. Located about 130km from Durban, it's also an easy distance for a day drive.

Highlights: Whether you're an outdoor type, a shopper or a foodie, Nottingham Road has something for each and every taste. Head to Kleinbosch Estate for fly fishing, horse riding and even wine tasting! Yes, wine tasting! If beer is more your thing, you're also in luck, as the village boasts a whole brewery of its own. Finally, get your shopping fix at the delightful Fusion Studio which stocks a stunning range of clothes, beautiful crockery, a select range of serving utensils, indulgent body lotions and bath salts.

Accommodation: Go all out and spend a night or two at the Nottingham Road Hotel, affectionately known as Notties. The hotel combines the best of old school charm and modern comfort... and if you're lucky, you may even meet Charlotte, their local ghostly resident. Contact: 033 266 6151

 
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