South Africa

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Graaff-Reinet, located in the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa. It is the fourth oldest town in South Africa, after Cape Town, Stellenbosch and Swellendam. The town, almost encircled by a bend in the Sundays river, was established in 1786, and was named after a Governor of the time, van der Graaff and his wife Reinet. It is one of only a few towns in the world to be surrounded by a game reserve.

The town, picturesquely situated among the foothills of the Sneeuberg mountains, was started as an outpost of white civilisation in a barren and untamed country, and by the middle of the 19th century had grown to be the most important trading centre in the interior. The area around the town is now famous for its sheep farming, and the quality of its wool and mutton are well known. Karoo Lamb has gained the reputation as being some of the finest in the world.

Graaff-Reinet has managed to retain much of the character of a typical 19th century rural town. There are more protected historic buildings here than any other town or city in the country, with more than fifty in Cradock Street alone. Although most of the historic buildings remain as private homes, well worth a visit is the pharmacy, a throwback to Victorian times with its gold inlaid stone jars.

A focal point in the town is the Dutch Reform Church. Built in 1886, it was modelled on Salisbury Cathedral in England. Built using local sandstone, it is considered to be one of the best examples of gothic architecture in the whole of South Africa.

The towns first residency was created to be the seat of the then Dutch authority of the Cape or "drostdy". Originally built in 1786, it was replaced in 1804 by the building we can see today. It underwent a major restoration in 1977 and is now the Drostdy Hotel. Part of today's hotel is Stretch's Court, a group of small houses that were built in the 19th century to house freed slaves.

Reinet House, a good example of Cape Dutch architecture, was originally a parsonage for the Dutch Reformed Church. Build between 1806 and 1812, in 1947 it was bought by the Graaff-Reinet Publicity Association with funds raised by public subscription, it was declared an historical monument in 1952 and opened as a museum in the form of a period home in 1956. In the 1970's the museum was extended to house more exhibits. In 1980 a fire badly damaged the rear of the building, fortunately, thanks mainly to public donations, the building has now been fully restored.

A few kilometres north west of Graaf-Reinet lies one of the prime attractions of the area, the Valley of Desolation. It can be reached via the R63 Murraysburg road, where once through the entrance gate, a narrow road leads to a small car park from which there are a number of marked walks that will lead you to any number of stunning views over the Camdeboo Plains and the Great Karoo. Dolerite crags rise up dramatically from the valley floor, and this is a good place to spot Black Eagles. The valley was formed by weathering over millions of years, causing the erosion of the earth and softer rocks leaving the harder rocks that we see today.

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