Calvinia is a small town in the Karoo and in one of South Africa’s largest provinces, the Northern Cape. It is located at the centre of a cross road area, en-route to various towns and villages, spread out over the Hantam Karoo. The town is surrounded by the beautiful Hantam mountains and dusty Karoo plains.
While there is no hustle and bustle in this town, it has its own unusual appeal. Quaint artistic finds and very friendly locals adds to the appeal of stopping here when exploring the great Karoo.
Calvinia’s Large Postbox: Could it be the largest in the world?
A post box put this small Karoo town, Calvinia, back on the travel map again a few years ago. ( When the post box was officially opened.) Towering at 6.17 meters high, with a circumference of 9.34 meters, locals claim it’s the largest post box in the world. Once an old water tank and converted to the town’s largest post box, it has become one of the biggest attractions in the town. The red towering box is located on the side of the main road and is open to all passer-by’s.
All letters and postcards posted here receive a special flower stamp. You don’t have to be a giant to post a letter here though, it has a normal height post box opening built into the side of the larger box.
Calvinia’s Victorian era and Cape Dutch buildings:
The town has some good examples of Victorian and Edwardian buildings, which you can see if you drive around town. Due to the town being so small, the houses are quite easy to find. Die Hantam Huis is an example of Cape Dutch Architecture. The building also houses a museum and serves traditional food at the restaurant.
Calvinia’s Eclectic curiosities:
Located in Stigling Street, also known as the “Art street”, is where you will find the rustic art of Calvinia. The street front, pavement and courtyard displays are changed over the years to keep it interesting for visitors. Other than the art on display, there is an onsite shop/bakery and a guesthouse if you would like to overnight in town.
The town’s museum is housed in the old Jewish synagogue. You can gain insight into sheep farming from the museum displays, which the Karoo is known for. It houses interesting artefacts and a stuffed merino sheep with an unusually long fleece. This particular sheep got lost and its fleece grew to quite a length for the years it was wondering on its own. If you would like to book any tours in town, the local tourist office is be found inside the museum building.
The Golden Steam Age:
Reminiscence of a golden steam age, an old steam locomotive forever rests on the grounds of Calvinia Museum gardens. The locomotive was part of a railway network that transported agricultural goods on the Cape Town to Johannesburg network route. Following the route closure, the steam locomotive was withdrawn from service in 1977 and as a result, is stationed in town since. The abandoned railway line can still be seen when driving from Calvinia to Carnavon. The railway tracks and line still appear to be in a good condition, due to the dry Karoo air.
When you visit in wild flower season, the many roads that lead to Calvinia, are lined with wild flowers. The flowers were in full bloom in the Northern Cape when we visited this area at the beginning of August. The number of flowers in blossom annually are weather dependent. The flowers do lessen the closer you drive to Williston town. You have a better chance of seeing more flowers driving between Nieuwoudtville and Calvinia or ClanWilliam and Calvinia.
The Karoo is known for its dark skies, perfect for star gazing. Drive a few kilometers out of town for complete darkness, perfect for star gazing and astrophotography.
Best time to visit:
We visited in the heart of winter, and temperatures dropped to below zero at night. The Karoo is a semi-arid area, known for its extreme climates. Winters are extremely cold and summers and very hot. Temperatures can reach mid to high 30’s in summer and it is a different dry heat in that you will only experience in this area. Hence, visiting in autumn and spring would therefore be the better choice if you prefer more comfortable temperatures.
Above all, Calvinia is a town to visit so you can unwind, watch time pass by and star gaze. Friendly locals will make you feel more than welcome in their town. For more information on Calvinia and the Karoo, visit the Northern Cape visitors website.
Until next time. Adventure Awaits!
How to get to Calvinia:
Calvinia is located about 400 kilometers from Cape Town. It will take you about four and a half hours to get to there from Cape Town. There are so many smaller towns on route to appreciate, so it may take you longer to get there. We stopped at ClanWilliam and Nieuwoudtville before arriving at Calvinia. Depending on which route you take, Vanhryn’s pass offers spectacular views as is listed as one of the top passes in the Northern Cape.
The towns are few and far in between in the Karoo. Above all, keep and eye on your fuel gauge and fill up when you pass through a town as you do not want to run out of fuel and get stuck on the road! You may find some of the shops and fuel stations in the small towns closed on Sunday, therefore try to plan your stops before if possible.