In the days of ox-wagon transport, long, arduous trips to churches in central towns prevented regular worship. Like many other small Eastern Cape and Western Cape villages, Steytlerville was founded to provide a church community within reasonable reach of the surrounding farming area.
This is the centre of the southeastern Great Karoo wool and mohair districts and also a successful ostrich and goat-farming area. The town’s wide streets were designed to accommodate ox-wagons’ U-turns. The village was established in 1875 and named after the Reverend Steytler, who campaigned for the new Dutch Reformed church.
Steytlerville grew into a lovely little town, with Victorian and Edwardian homes lining its main street and a rich cultural life. There are a number of guest houses in restored historical buildings, as well as the Royal Hotel, which dates from 1897 and has an old-fashioned dining room and fireplace.
This is a fascinating area, lying in the Great Karoo, Baviaanskloof and Great Winterhoek wilderness areas - home to preserved San rock art sites. The arid Karoo’s burning plains are punctuated with signature mesas and buttes and its pollution-free starscapes are overwhelmingly beautiful.
The Baviaans’ Karoo, valley bushveld and fynbos vegetation survives with little rain, hot summers and freezing winters, and supports more than 200 bird species. Reintroduced game includes kudu, duiker, steenbok, klipspringer, grysbok, wildebeest, zebra and impala.
It is geologically interesting, with the major attraction being the 61-metre-high Dwarskrans cliff face with twisted rock formations formed millions of years ago when the Karoo lay between four and seven kilometres under the Algoa Sea. Hot water temperatures ensured the rock could bend without shattering.
Curiously, Steytlerville was haunted in early 2011 by a shape-shifting monster – a jacketed man who reportedly changed shape in front of onlookers (its various forms included a large dog, a big monkey, a pig and a bat). Originally seen at funerals and peering through church windows, it was last seen loitering outside a tavern. The community called the monster “Bawokozi”, meaning “brother-in-law”, and requested police assistance.
Look out for
Karoo Theatrical Hotel hosts wonderfully camp and crazy cabaret and dinner theatre at this restored art deco hotel just outside of town. Pet-friendly accommodation is also available with panoramic mountain views, a sparkling pool and a dam with abundant bird life. There are delicious meals, a private bar with an antique snooker table and a Bluthner grand piano.
Studio Karoo art courses and weekend getaways.
Trans-Baviaans 24-hour mountain-biking marathon covers 230 kilometres from Willowmore to Jeffreys Bay and is held every August.
Valley of the Flags mountain-bike race and fun cycle in august. Participants have a choice between rides of 80 kilometres, 40 kilometres and 10 kilometres. A Karoo lamb braai and traditional farm games are held afterwards.
Birdwatching – 230 species have been recorded in the Steytlerville area and can be seen at the many local guest farms. Tickable birding lists are available.
Farm tours – merino and Persian sheep, angora goats and ostriches.
Noorspoort Guest Farm - a traditional sheep and angora farm just outside Steytlerville offers South African cuisine; self-catering, en-suite bed-and-breakfast accommodation in a 150-year-old house with a pool and camping and caravan sites. Home to the Valley of the Flags, it offers unimog game drives and walking tours. There is exceptional star- and sun-gazing with a 10-inch filtered telescope, 4x4 and quad-bike routes, fishing, guided birdwatching, bush hikes, tours to Draaikrans, or cultural tours to visit the museum, churches, the local craft market, the giant bushworm nursery, and the shebeen and/or township.
Lizzy’s Khaya specialises in traditional Karoo foods such as roosterkoek, vetkoek, curry, lamb stew, koeksusters and malva pudding.
Arts and Crafts – Margaret Miggels creates clothing with African designs; Solani Sampies makes beautiful wire and tin objet and artworks; Albany Theron makes camouflage jackets for hunters, as well as various soft furnishings.