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Many words describe Beaufort West; it’s the gateway to, or the capital of, and sometimes referred to as the jewel of, the Karoo. The Karoo is a great big semi-arid desert with huge clear skies and thousands of hardy succulents, some posing as stones to avoid detection. Beaufort West lies at the entrance to this unique ecosystem and travellers between Johannesburg and Cape Town pass through here or use the town as a brief rest stop. In their haste to reach their ultimate destination, they miss out on some of the most amazing landscapes and points of interest that Beaufort West has to offer.
Named after the Duke of Beaufort, Beaufort West was the first town in South Africa to become a municipality. Today, it’s a major distribution centre for wool and renowned for the premier horse stud farms bordering the town.
There is a mix of architectural styles in Beaufort West and noticeable in the town is the occasional donkey cart, the pear trees that line the streets and the welcoming residents, content to live a less-hurried life in the fresh clean air.
Top 6 reasons to visit Beaufort West
1. Collect a map from the tourism office and explore the town on foot. There are a number of Victorian, Cape Dutch and Georgian building styles on view and Beaufort West has a museum complex (closed over weekends) where a large section is devoted to Professor Chris Barnard and his lifework.
2. The Karoo is rich in fossils from the Age of Reptiles. Also in the area are several ancient San rock art sites, all of which can be seen on a guided hiking trip along various established routes. Get hiking trail details from the tourism office.
3. You are in horse country, travel to the Vale Karoo Farm for a 1 hour horseback ride through the bushveld. The proprietors have a miniature horse available for the younger ones to ride.
4. Who said olive trees only thrive in a Mediterranean climate? Take a tour of the olive groves at Olive Grove guest farm and sample the delightful olives, locally-pressed olive oils and olive preserves on sale at the farm shop.
5. Visit the 46000ha Karoo National Park on a game drive. The park has 64 recorded mammal species and a multitude of reptiles. Cross the Klipspringer Pass, built by hand, and a chance to see the dainty klipspringer antelope. A 4x4 vehicle is recommended.
6. The area is practically pollution free and at night the stars coat the town with natural light. Pull up a chair outside for a spot of stargazing. Ask your host to point out the Southern Cross.
Beaufort West has its own airport, the Karoo Gateway Airport (and guesthouse!) for chartered flights. The nearest national airport is George Airport, 240km away. Beaufort West is 450km from Cape Town International Airport. Car rental agencies are located at the airports, otherwise order a rental online and collect at a convenient location. A car rental is the best form of transport to enjoy Beaufort West.
Did you know?
Beaufort West has a truly amazing feature: the town’s prison is built on a busy traffic circle and with the high walls surrounding the circle, travellers passing through the town are blissfully unaware of its inner contents.
Professor Chris Barnard, the man who made history in 1967 by performing the world’s first heart transplant, was born and raised in Beaufort West. Ironically, as a young child he saw his sibling die of heart problems at the age of 5.