This little Karoo town is on the N9 between Graaff-Reinet and Uniondale, about 20 kilometres from the Eastern/Western Cape provincial border. Willowmore is the administrative hub of the Baviaans municipality. This location makes it a useful pit stop for travellers en route to Oudtshoorn or George.
Willowmore is especially well-placed for those exploring the Baviaanskloof tourist routes and lies at the intersection of the N9 and the tarred R329, which is the shortest route from the Cape to Addo.
Willowmore was founded on the Willow Farm in 1862. The sublime, bright, wide blue Karoo sky and dry buttes form the backdrop to the village. “Welkom in Willowmore” is spelled out in the coloured lights strung over the main Knysna Road entrance, with an avenue of blue gum trees flanking the dusty roadsides.
Quaint and colourfully painted Karoo cottages with wide stoeps (verandahs) line the road and the retired cavities of an old bakkie have been impregnated with a garden. Modest pubs have humorous names such as Die Laaste Watergat (“The Last Waterhole’) and Doppie’s Bar. A little further on is the Engen petrol station, alongside Willowmore’s signature bridge.
Despite the aridity of the area, the street corners are landscaped with pebbles, dry wood and drought-hardy plants and a donkey-cart bedecked with sunflowers offers rides around the town.
The delightful Sophie’s Choice deli, coffee, gift and antique shop is decorated with fairy murals, interesting wire sculptures and old pony traps. There is an Absa ATM near the local tourism office and small shops and bottle stores further down Knysna Road.
Accommodation is available in self-catering cottages on local farms, bed-and-breakfasts, historic guest houses at a Victorian-era jail with an art gallery, and the three-star Willowmore Caravan Park, which offers grassed and shady campsites, electricity points and ablution facilities. There is also an airfield nearby.
Between Willowmore and Patensie lies the rugged and rocky wilderness of the Baviaanskloof. About three kilometres from Willowmore, the R332 route splits into the Baviaanskloof tourist route (T1) and the Winterhoek/Grootrivierpoort Route (T2).
The T1 route winds through the dramatic red cliffs of the gravel Nuwekloof Pass 40 kilometres from Willowmore. The pass follows the Baviaanskloof River and is another remarkable contribution to the South African landscape by “the colossus of the roads”, Thomas Bain. En route, keep an eye out for Willowmore cedar trees. Petrol and diesel can be found on this remote route (near Studtis, 70 kilometres from Willowmore) but the supply is not guaranteed, so it’s best to fill up in Willowmore before exploring this challenging and unforgettable terrain. During the day, temperatures are often above 30 degrees Celsius but the starry nights can be crisp with cold.
Look out for
Baviaans Tourism is based at Willowmore and showcases the world of local artist and crafters.
Baviaanskloof Nature Reserve is in the Baviaanskloof world heritage site, which encompasses the Baviaanskloof and Kouga Mountains, representing seven out of eight of South Africa's biomes. There are more than 300 bird species and interesting reptiles. The reserve offers rock- and mountain-climbing, camping, birdwatching and self-drives and the challenging Osseberg circular 4x4 route.
The Pierre Ferreira Hiking Trail through virgin Karoo veld past two old Boer War forts offers panoramic views over Willowmore.
Aasvoëlberg – unusually for this area, coastal fynbos grows on Aasvoëlberg (or Vulture Mountain). Here you can partake in hiking, mountain-biking, paragliding and abseiling.
Willowmore Golf Club in Wehmeyer Street has nine grass greens, a driving range at reasonable prices.
Bakers Dam is an old railways dam built to supply steam locomotives with water and is now the town’s primary source of water, with abundant birdlife.
Old Power Station – There are six Lister Blackstone diesel generators, with the largest still in working order, using five litres of diesel every 15 minutes.
Old Boer Graveyard & Gunpowder Chamber has interesting headstones dating back to the Anglo Boer War. The small chamber was used during battle to store gunpowder and ammunition.
The “Wonderboom” - two trees that have grown together to form one – is 10 kilometres outside Willowmore on the N9 towards Aberdeen.
Local game reserves offer restaurants, clay-pigeon shooting and guided tours.