Places to go | 06 June 2017

Karoo Country Unplugged

There are no traffic lights in Prince Albert, a friendly Karoo town located just four hours from Cape Town and light-years from the metropolitan mayhem. 

Arguably the best time to appreciate the raw beauty of the Karoo is in the moments before dawn. Fire up that 5.5-litre, biturbo V8 but behave like a grown-up: you know you can sprint from standstill to 100 km/h in 5.4 seconds, revelling in the full-throated roar from those four fat tailpipes of the Mercedes-Amg G 63 – but you don’t. Instead, idle down the main road until you reach the outskirts of town. Then you switch off the engine, turn your gaze to the east and soak up the silence. 

At highway speeds, the Mercedes-AMG G 63 feels rock steady, its ladder-frame AMG chassis – equipped with special coil springs and shock absorbers – converting the 2 550kg vehicle's formidable engine power into surprisingly agile handling. The driver's confidence is enhanced by the SpeedShift Plus 7G-TRONIC automatic transmission, which kicks down in a split second to allow vigorous overtaking. Extra control comes courtesy of shift paddles on the steering wheel and three driving modes with different acceleration and shifting characteristics.

Off-road forays aboard the Mercedes-AMG G 63 may occasionally provide encounters with the ubiquitous Karoo thorn tree Acacia karroo, aka Vachellia karroo, seen here in the left foreground. Devotees of traditional medicine say the bark, leaves and gum can be used to treat colds and conjunctivitis, and even soothe wounds. The bad news is that the thorns really hurt in close encounters.

Prince Albert's main thoroughfare is a visual smorgasbord of Karoo-style homes, quirky shops, excellent restaurants and quaint guesthouses, but two buildings in particular stand out as architectural gems – the Showroom Theatre and the Swartberg Hotel.

Your heart will melt when you visit the Karoo Donkey Sanctuary, a 20-hectare refuge on the outskirts of town. With luck, you'll get to meet owners Jonno Sherwin and Johan Hugo, and staffers Kathryn Liepner and Kate Wood, who are helping to rehabilitate neglected, abused and injured donkeys with the assistance of animal rescue organisations, vets (working pro bono) and other caring people. And if you are really lucky, they'll introduce you to a foal named Sabrina, an old and much-loved mare called Lady Liberty, and a pair of miniature teacup pigs that pretend to be donkeys and occasionally behave quite badly.


En route back to Cape Town, spend an hour or two in historic Matjiesfontein, just off the N1 highway. Founded in 1884 by Scottish railway superindent James Douglas Logan when he opened a refreshment station for passing trains, the village is a quirky oasis that never fails to charm visitors. While many visit only the elegant Lord Milner Hotel, it's also well worth exploring the Transport Museum with its collection of classic and historic cars, and the Marie Rawdon Museum, which accommodates a vast collection of Victoriana that gives new meaning to "eclectic". 

• Experience and explore the full Mercedes-Benz SUV range here
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• Select your model and book your test drive today! 

Words: Alan Duggan

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