• Image of Reinet House in Graaff-Reinet, captured by Joag van Rooyen.

    Reinet House in Graaff-Reinet, captured by Joag van Rooyen.

Delve into the History of Graaff-Reinet

Posted on Wed June 21, 2023.

Graaff-Reinet, known as the ‘Gem of the Karoo’, has a long, often complex, history. Intertwined with multiple cultures and lifestyles, the area has had to endure great conflict to emerge as the peaceful haven it is known as today. Discover the history that carved out this beloved South African town and how it grew in popularity to the present day.

Early Beginnings Set The Stage

 Nestled at the very fringes of the old Cape Colony, Graaff-Reinet stands proud as the fourth oldest town in South Africa. Protected by dolerite pinnacles and a winding river, Graaff-Reinet boasts stunning vistas with its present-day population pursuing peaceful ways of living in harmony with their surroundings—but it wasn’t always that way. 

Originally established as a frontier settlement, the arrival of the trekboere (or nomadic farmers) first brought Western civilisation to the arid plains of the Camdeboo and Sneeuberg. 

Searching for fertile pastures for their cattle and sheep, these intrepid travellers left the restrictions of the Dutch East India Company in the Cape behind and headed for the wide-open spaces of the Karoo. 

Landdrost Mauritz Woeke was amongst the first Dutch settlers to arrive in the area from Cape Town. He named the settlement Graaff-Reinet, after the Dutch Governor Cornelis Jacob van de Graaff and his wife, Reynet. 

Sheep Kraal in the Karoo from the National Library of South Africa's Collection.

Sheep Kraal in the Karoo from the National Library of South Africa's Collection.

Discord and Development in the 18th and 19th Centuries

From the early 1770s, the trekboere settled the surrounding Karoo countryside, bringing with them a pastoral way of life. However, as is often the case when different cultures collide, conflict ensued. In this instance, the conflict arose between the newly settled farmers and the indigenous San and Khoi people who had called the land home for countless centuries. 

The San's hunter-gatherer lifestyle was at odds with the pastoral future that the farmers were hoping to cultivate. Conflict escalated as the San and Khoi were pushed further out of their traditional hunting grounds. Three centuries later, The San and Khoi Memorial sits atop a hill on Aberdeen Road, dedicated to the indigenous people who lost their lives during this turbid period in South Africa’s history. 

As time marched on, Graaff-Reinet’s significance in the South African landscape grew. The town's population expanded as skilled artisans lsuch as wagonwrights, saddlers, blacksmiths, carpenters and builders arrived and established their businesses. By the mid-nineteenth century, Graaff-Reinet had become a pivotal settlement north of Port Elizabeth. 

Rock paintings by the indigenous San people are still visible at Sneeuberg Nature Reserve in the Karoo.Many artefacts and ruins of old can be spotted across Sneeuberg and the vast Karoo region. 

A Present-Day Oasis of History, Culture and Natural Beauty

This settlement, once shrouded in conflict, has grown into one of South Africa’s most tranquil areas. Today, visitors flock to this enchanting town in search of an oasis of rest and relaxation shielded by the dolerite pinnacles. 

For curious travellers, there are many things to see and do within the area. This quaint town boasts stunning Cape Dutch architecture and scenic views that draw visitors from all over the world while historic artefacts can be found in the town’s museums, telling tales of the rich heritage and cultural tapestry of the region.

The timeless charm of Graaff-Reinet offers a variety of options to satisfy every taste and interest. Take a stroll through quiet streets, visit quaint cafes and shops, or relax in the beautiful guesthouse gardens such as the one at our Langhuis, admiring the stunning panoramas of nearby Spandau Kop. 

Langhuis, a refurbished luxury guesthouse in the heart of historic Graaff-Reinet.Our Langhuis, a refurbished luxury B & B in the heart of historic Graaff-Reinet, offers a tranquil stay with uninterrupted mountain views 

Unwind in the Quiet of this Historic Oasis

Despite its beginnings as a settlement for farmers, Graaff-Reinet has become a cultural destination in its own right, offering a unique blend of history, culture, and natural beauty.

If you’re searching for an authentic stay in the heart of this charming town, look no further than Langhuis, a historic townhouse transformed into a modern bed and breakfast.