Couple Travel · Mountain Escapes · Travel Writing

Travel To: The Indescribable Desolation Valley

When one thinks of Graaff-Reinet the following words will come to mind – “cute”, “quaint” and simply “small”. But after my recent visit the only word I will ever associate this small town with is “awe-inspiring”. This is not due to their Karoo Lamb dishes being out of this world delicious, which they are, but due to the astonishing wonder that is The Desolation Valley.

The Dutch Reformed Church

Graaff-Reinet which is situated approximately 2 hours away from Port Elizabeth (in the province of Eastern Cape) was founded in 1786 and named after the governor at the time – ‘van der Graaf’ and his wife ‘Reinet’, it being an old town makes it a charming retreat. Graaff-Reinet isn’t the most popular stop over for road trips from Johannesburg to Cape Town (about a 14 hour, mostly boring commute) but it is now our favourite and frequented stop.

Spandau Kop overlooking Graaff-Reinet

Graaff-Reinet had always been on our list of places to visit and when we had a trip down to Cape Town a year ago it was the perfect opportunity to stop over at this historic and heartfelt town. Darren and I stayed at Beau and I, a lovely B&B with even lovelier hosts. The first thing that our host Imelda said to us was that we had to go and see The Desolation Valley. Being from Johannesburg we had no idea what awaited us and we could never even have imagined what it would be like.

Beau and I – Graaff-Reinet

We drove to the Camdeboo National Park, about a 15 minute drive from the centre of town, and then set off on our way in the direction of a very tall and considerable mountain. The road bends and twists all the way up the mountain giving you spectacular views of the town below.

Camdeboo National Park

We parked our car and excitedly walked up the path to the unknown, passed a sea of green and brown – typical Karoo flora, not really knowing what to expect. We got to the top and the most spectacular picture was formed in front of us.

The Toposcope has an amazing view of the quaint Graaff-Reinet below

A breath-taking sunset falling over a lush, tree-filled valley with massive dolerite rock pillars stretching more than 100 metres up towards the sky. Apart from the wind it is silent up there, so silent that you yourself don’t want to utter a single word, almost sacred. Sitting on the rocks, overlooking the valley below and basking in the last light of the sun makes time stop dead in its tracks. A bit of a welcome reprieve from the rat race that is Johannesburg.

There are no handrails, making you feel as close to the sun as possible

The valley which is said to have been formed over a 100 million year period first by volcanic activity and then worn down by erosion which then created the jagged pillars that compose the masterpiece that is The Desolation Valley.

The Desolation Valley during daytime, courtesy of SA Venues

Travelling back down the mountain after a good 2 hours of admiration, a lot of sighs and “wows” were quietly expelled from my mouth. After witnessing the splendour of the valley you know that you will come back time and time again.


Who would have thought such a small town could hold such a big and beautiful secret. No words can ever come close to describing the sight of The Desolation Valley painted with gold and orange hues, no other town will ever come close to the beauty that Graaff-Reinet holds; the only way to describe either is to experience it for yourself.

Have any awe-inspiring places, ones that hold a special place in your heart, that you have been to? Share them with us in the comments!




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