The Eastern Cape is culturally rich, historically significant and naturally beautiful. It stands to reason that this vast and wild, understated part of our country somehow never fails to deliver as a tourist destination.
Whether road-tripping from coastline to Karoo, or hunkering down for an isolated getaway at a remote destination like Magic Hills Private Game Reserve, it can never hurt to be armed with a list of things to do in Graaff Reinet, and other small towns and communities – so rich is the offering, it would be a shame to miss out on, given the chance to explore.
Things to do in Graaff Reinet and surrounding areas
The wonderful thing about this gorgeous region is that there is quite literally something for everyone. If you’re artsy or outdoorsy, or interested in history or sports – Graaff Reinet and the surrounding towns like Aberdeen, Jansenville and Nieu Bethesda has plenty to offer.
#1 – Visit local church buildings
Bizarre as it may seem to begin this list with a ‘church tour’, some of these towns were founded parishes, like Jansenville and Nieu Bethesda, and their churches are architectural wonders in the middle of the Karoo wilderness. Graaff Reinet’s fourth church – completed in 1887 – is an imposing Victorian feat of grey stone, boasting a tall, dramatic steeple. The interiors are no less impressive, with a magnificent pipe organ behind the altar, traditional wooden pews and wooden buttressing overhead.
The Dutch Reformed Church in Jansenville is just as notable as the one in Graaff Reinet, embodying all the same striking qualities, including an unusual bell tower which is rung every day, to this day.
Step back in time at Nieu Bethesda, where the imposing white Dutch Reformed Church still serves its congregation every Sunday, as it has since 1905. The clock still chimes on the hour, and gothic overhead chandeliers are still lit by the original gas setup.
#2 Art Appreciation – Traditional to Tormented
As small-town stories go, the Hester Rupert Art Museum in Graaff Reinet occupies the sixth oldest church in South Africa, which was saved from being turned into a petrol filling station in the mid-’60s. The art collection launched with 90 iconic art pieces, and has grown to around 126 pieces, representative of the building’s salvation all those years ago. According to the town website “This collection should not be regarded as representative of 20th Century South African artists but rather as a small, focused collection, as which it remains highly significant.”
A short, scenic drive to nearby Nieu Bethesda is also recommended for those interested in the locally renowned Owl House, a collection of personal works by Helen Martins. From the interior of the house, which is filled with bright colours, trinkets and collectables and natural light, to the grim ghostly sculptural scenes in The Camel Yard, the late Ms Martins’ Owl House has been described as disturbing, but intriguing, and draws tourists from all over the country.
#3 – For the Whole Family: Recollection Village
Graaff Reinet’s Recollection Village is a family outing icon, frequented by locals and travellers alive. The little village features a quirky self-service dining room, a showroom of vintage cars, Ouma’s Country Store (for traditional desserts and preserves, cookies, deli products and old-fashioned trinkets), a children’s playground – and so much more. It’s a hearty home-away-from-home vintage village for the whole family, and not to be missed when passing through!
#5 – Gallivant the Greens – Graaff Reinet Golf Club
Nestled within a curve in the Sundays River, the Graaff Reinet Golf Club provides panoramic mountain views and fresh air – and a top 9-hole golf course, and brand-new driving range. Stretch your legs, and dust off your golf clubs for a leisurely amble around the course, or indulge in ice-cold refreshments and eats at the Clubhouse.
#6 – All the Stories – Museum Tour
Of all the things to do in Graaff Reinet, and the surrounding region, the obvious seems to be a tour of museums that tell the many stories of what is now known as the Sarah Baartman District. Going back to early settlers of the inhospitable land, our local museums lead you on a journey through hardship and determination, war and unrest, also delving into Anglo-Boer War narratives that shed light on how these towns took shape over the 19th and 20th centuries. There is no shortage of museums here:
- Reinet House, Graaff Reinet
- Old Library, Graaff Reinet
- Urquhart House, Graaff Reinet
- Military History Museum, Graaff Reinet
- Sid Fourie House, Jansenville
- Mohair Experience, Jansenville
- Kitching Fossil Exploration Centre, Nieu Bethesda
- Bushman Heritage Museum, Nieu Bethesda
- First People Centre, Nieu Bethesda
Things to Do at Magic Hills
As rich and vibrant as our surrounding communities are, guests of Magic Hills Private Collection don’t have to venture far to experience the best that the Great Karoo has to offer. There are plenty of things to do in the Eastern Cape, that can be done right here on our expansive reserve:
- Game Drives – amble over the rugged landscape, in search of the Big Five, a variety of other wild game and birdlife, and the many fascinating species of insects and butterflies that flit across the wilderness.
- Game Hikes – put your boots on, and take a guided tour on foot through the reserve, exploring rock formations and gorges, stopping to inspect nature’s wonders along the way. Paired with a packed picnic lunch, it’s the perfect excursion to go looking for wild rhino or cheetah families.
- Rock Art Breakfast – We’ve discovered six confirmed rock art sites around the Magic Hills Private Game Reserve, in unique, magnificent locations. Allow us to share these with you, followed by a fresh, decadent bush breakfast.
- 4×4 Trails – Unleash your inner adventurer! Bring your 4×4 vehicle and try your hand at traversing the rocky trails that weave through our piece of rugged nature.
- Spa Treatments – Revitalize your body and mind with our fresh air, Vitamin-D boosting sunshine… and our spa treatments.
Your adventure can start today – contact us about our accommodation options, and allow us to build the perfect itinerary for your stay!
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