Northern Cape: Karoo Highlands Route

May 24, 2017  — 
(Image: Jacques Marais)

Vast expanses of rugged terrain and fascinating cultural heritage sites and relics make the Karoo Highlands Route a great spot to relax, recharge and reflect.

The route, in the southern part of the Northern Cape, is dotted with small Karoo towns such as Calvinia, Nieuwoudtville, Sutherland, Fraserburg, Williston, Carnarvon, Loxton and Victoria West.

Hit the road.

Hit the road.  (Image: Ingrid Schöfmann )

Squeeze in a stopover at the South African Astronomical Observatory just outside Sutherland. The region’s open planes and clear skies make it the ideal location for the Southern African Large Telescope, the biggest single-optical telescope in the southern hemisphere and one of the largest in the world.

See beyond the sky.

See beyond the sky.  (Image: South Africans Portugal)

If you are interested in military history, note that the route is littered with Anglo-Boer War museums and relics. Keen on a taste of Karoo life in years gone by? Spend a night or two in a corbelled house, built entirely of stone.

These small, yet highly effective dwellings are scattered along the route and in other parts of the province. The houses can be compared with Syrian “beehive” houses, whose thick walls were designed for a severe desert climate.

Step back in time.

Step back in time.  (Image: Harvey-Sherrill Wilson)

The Northern Cape’s original corbelled houses were mostly built by roaming farmers migrating from the south into the Karoo in the early 1800s. With little wood available, but plenty of rocks, settlers depended on stone to build their dwellings. The stone walls were excellent insulators against the extreme summer heat.

Today, many of the corbelled homes on farms in the Fraserburg, Williston and Carnarvon areas have been revamped as guest houses. Visit the Carnarvon Museum, which is right next to a corbelled house, to learn more about this age-old architectural style.