Visual Essay

Karoo Roads: Faces, places and incredible spaces

By Chris Marais and Julienne du Toit 16 December 2020

Karoo Roads is a collector’s treasure box of trips and tales gathered from more than a decade of research and rubber-on-the-road experiences, penned and photographed by two award-winning travel writers — Chris Marais and Julienne du Toit. Here they give us a snippet of the loveliest, toughest, most creative and downright crazy characters, critters and cultures you will meet between its pages.

Chris Marais and Julienne du Toit

Aberdeen, Eastern Cape: Sagrys van Jaarsveld and Johanna van Wyk in their nifty bike and cart contraption. When we first met them in 2009, Sagrys used to pedal Johanna from Aberdeen to Graaff-Reinet and back for shopping – a trip of more than 110km.
Calvinia, Northern Cape: Steven Charles teaching the youngsters of Calvinia West to play golf on the speed humps with donated clubs and balls. In many small towns, Rastafarians help to educate children, rehabilitate criminals, and protect women.
Graaff-Reinet, Eastern Cape: Pieter Salman Bantom and Julie Hobson ride the rangelands at Elandskloof farm north of Graaff-Reinet. The farm, branded as Karoo Ranching, was once a sheep farm but is now frequently used as a film set, a wedding venue, an unusual place for corporate workshops, and a destination for horseback cattle drives.
Jagersfontein, southern Free State: There are unexpected architectural treasures in small Karoo towns, like these old Herbert Baker-inspired buildings in Jagersfontein. Overlooked in the bustle of daytime commerce, their elegant lines are best appreciated at first light.
Prince Albert, Western Cape: The Prince Albert Vastrappers dance the Riel, kicking up dust at the side of a road where they practise. The Riel is a dance that has been around in various forms for centuries, and nearly died out. It has slowly been revived and now the dance is a great source of pride among Karoo communities. The Prince Albert dance troupe dress up in patched garments as a tribute to the late Outa Lappies, aka The Patchman, aka Jan Schoeman, one of the great outsider artists of the Karoo.
Matjiesfontein, Western Cape: The Lord Milner Hotel at Matjiesfontein is one of the Karoo’s quirkiest tourism destinations, a Victorian confection in the middle of the biscuity veld, created by James Douglas Logan, an eccentric man whose legacy is still celebrated. We interviewed David Rawdon, his successor, the man they called the “Second Laird of Matjiesfontein”. This famous hotelier bought the village in 1968, restored the hotel and other buildings, created museums and put this unusual destination on the tourism map again.
Beaufort West, Western Cape: Oom Johannes Willemse and Antoinette Pienaar, who heal using the subtle strengths of Karoo bossies, on Theefontein farm near Beaufort West.
De Aar, Northern Cape: The Karoo was once a place where the old steam train drivers came to retire, still addicted to the wide veld and open horizons, the chuff and toot of the old engines, the sights and sounds of the footplate.
Fraserburg, Northern Cape: Gift of the Givers has been a lifeline for various drought-stricken parts of the Karoo. They have brought fodder to animals, food parcels for the hungry, and drilled boreholes for townspeople and farmers.
Klipplaat, Eastern Cape: Dr Gideon Groenewald and borehole rigman Pheello Mofokeng have a phenomenal 98% success rate when finding water. With Gift of the Givers, they help townspeople or farmers weather the worst of the drought – until the rains come again.
Steytlerville, Eastern Cape: Jacques Rabie and Mark Hinds of the Karroo Theatrical Hotel put together a fabulously eccentric Saturday Night Follies most weekends just outside the town of Steytlerville. 
Gallery

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  • What a treasure I have aty behest at my favourite reading spot. What a treasure I have to give cos I ordered more than one. Zuid afrika pure lieflikheid. Thank you for this.

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