Graaff-Reinet lies in the center of the 19,000-hectare (46,950-acre) Camdeboo National Park (tel. 049/892-3453; www.sanparks.org; daily 6am-7:30pm; R56 adult), the highlight of which is the Valley of Desolation, 14km (8 1/2 miles) from Graaff-Reinet. Sunset is the best time to visit, when the dolomite towers that rise some 800m (2,624 ft.) from the valley below turn a deep red, and the pink light softens the Camdeboo plains. The short, 1.5km (.9-mile) Crag Lizard walking trail that starts at the parking lot is a good introduction to the landscape. On your return, keep an eye out for the endangered mountain zebra -- this is one of its last remaining habitats. All in all, the park hosts 43 mammal species; the entrance to the game-viewing area is off the same road as the Valley of Desolation, the R63.
Another highly recommended excursion is to Nieu Bethesda, 50km (31 miles) northeast of Graaff-Reinet. This typical Karoo dorp (small rural town) is charming; such modern-day luxuries as electricity are relatively recent phenomena, and donkey carts are still a main source of transport, but the main attraction is the Owl House and Camel Yard, on New Street (tel. 049/841-1603; www.owlhouse.co.za). In her late 40s, after the deaths of her parents, Helen Martins became obsessed with transforming her house into a world of her own making, a project that was to absorb her for the next 30 years. She was obsessed with light: The interior features large reflecting mirrors to maximize this, and every conceivable surface is covered with finely crushed glass, with colors creating large patterns, including a favored sunbeam motif. In the candlelight, the interior glitters like a jewel. Martins's inner vision spread into her backyard, enveloping her in a mystical world of glittering peacocks, camels, mermaids, stars, shepherds, sphinxes, towers, and serpents. Immortalized in the award-winning play and movie Road to Mecca (starring Kathy Bates), the house is one of the world's most inspiring examples of Outsider Art. Tours are held from 9am to 5pm daily; admission is R35.
Tea and light meals are available daily at the Village Inn (tel. 049/841-1635), on the corner diagonally opposite the Owl House. There is no official tourism bureau, but owner Idil can assist with just about anything. Or head for the Two Goats Deli (tel. 049/841-1602; daily from 10am -- book ahead if possible), which makes its own goat's cheeses and serves a delectable range of bread, cheese, salamis, and preserves for lunch -- plus, it shares premises with the Sneeuberg brewery, which means ales are on tap and plentiful.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.