What is the first thing you think of if I had to ask you to name one thing to see or do if you visited the Karoo Heartland town of Graaff-Reinet? I don't know about you, but my answer would be the Valley of Desolation in the Camdeboo National Park. For some reason every time I spend the night in Graaff-Reinet I end up visiting the Valley of Desolation and that reason is that the Valley is one of the Eastern Cape's most iconic must see scenic attractions.
This time around I didn't make my way up to the Valley by myself but was hooked up on a tour led by Oom Buks Marais of Karoo Park Guesthouse in town. Karoo Park offers tours up to the Valley, historic walks around town as well as night drives in the Camdeboo National Park. Unfortunately this time around I only had time for one of them though. Once in the park the road climbs quite drastically up to the escarpment with great views back over the town and adjacent Nqweba Dam before Spandau Kop and ultimately the Valley of Desolation itself is seen.
Once at the parking spot it's about a 200 meter walk to the first of the lookout points with paths and trails taking you further along for to a couple more view sites. One of the things to keep in mind is to always wear comfortable shoes even if you're only going as far as the first viewpoint. The path isn't a boardwalk or properly paved path so trying to do it in heals may just lead to a broken ankle.
At the top of the path the Valley of Desolation lies right in front of you. It's more a gorge than a valley, but not sure if the name Gorge of Desolation would have worked. The Valley of Desolation consist of sheer cliffs and precariously balanced columns of Dolerite rising 120 metres up from the valley floor below. These are the product of volcanic and erosive forces of nature over 100 million years and stands against the backdrop of the vast plains of the Camdeboo which makes for a stunning sight.
I once heard somebody say that they don't know what the fuss of the view was about. I stood there looking like I was trying to catch flies with my mouth and just stuck my hands out towards the view and made big eyes. Some people just don't appreciate true beauty if it slaps them in the face.
Often it's not just a case of come, see and leave, with a lot of people bringing a picnic basket and sun downers to enjoy while watching the sun go down over the Karoo plains. All of this means that it can actually be a very romantic spot as well plus it never really gets crowded so it's not like you are competing for your space in the sun(set). I'm told early mornings are a good time to visit as well although I haven't done that myself yet.
On our visit though the wind was pumping and although we were the only people up there, Oom Buks suggested we go down the mountain a bit to a another slightly more sheltered view site once we had out fill of the Valley itself.
Once there Oom Buks broke out the cooler box and and it was time to enjoy a cold one while watching the sun go down. Plus take photos. Lots and lots of sunset photos to work through later.
I really like this photo of Oom Buks standing on this rock enjoying the view. A view he has seen thousands of times and just about every day. It shows a man who really has a passion for the Karoo.
I may be a forest person and really enjoy the bush, but the vast open spaces of the Karoo stays a very special place and one I always enjoy to experience. If you've never been to Graaff-Reinet (which means you've never been to the Valley of Desolation either) then I think it's time for a road trip and while there, make sure you take the road up to the Valley late one afternoon to go and enjoy a sunset. And don't forget to bring your camera... and a picnic basket... and a loved one.