Find Yourself in the Great Karoo
When travellers of the world decide to explore the Western Cape a discerning few find themselves in the Great Karoo, where nature dazzles on the endless plains and among the mountains. Here, in blazing summers and icy winters, the silence is so pure you can hear God think, the stars so near you feel you have only to reach out to touch them.
The Great Karoo is one of the world’s most unique arid zones. In South Africa it stands alone, globally it is an envied rarity. The Karoo is the home of peace and tranquillity, here one can rest, relax, refresh yourself and recharge the inner batteries of your soul, while exploring, enjoying yourself and indulging your need for some unusual entertainment.
People have lived on this harsh plateau, the largest of its kind outside Asia, for about 500 000 years. The little Khoi and San people who left their legacy as art on the rocks gave the Karoo its name. The place’s name comes from Karusa, a Khoi word which means dry, barren, thirstland. This aptly describes the region where water is still scarce.
Journeys across this strange storehouse of nature can be long and tiring, but for It is an ancient, fossil rich land with the largest variety of succulents found anywhere on earth There are over 9000 plant species in the Great Karoo and one district alone is home to more species than the whole of Great Britain.
Some of the world’s most important archaeological sites are located in the Central Karoo, particularly in the Beaufort West and Nelspoort areas where fascinating stone-age sites and Bushmen engravings are to be found.
The Karoo is integral to the work of the world’s scientists, botanists, archaeologists, geologists, palaeontologists and ecologists. For those who care to look the story of the evolution of reptiles to mammals is recorded here in stone and it is a story 190 to 500 million years old.
Game animals to whom these plains and mountains are home make of the Karoo an outpost of nature where man’s intrusion is still but a light touch. Here are found an interesting variety of plains game including the springbok, klipspringers, kudu, eland and many other buck, as well as the hyrax, Hartman’s mountain zebra, bat eared fox, fallow deer, wild ostrich, guinea fowl, Egyptian goose and lynx. The Karoo National Park is home to the endangered black rhinoceros, the riverine rabbit and the quagga, which has been brought back from extinction. Bird life in the Karoo is also abundant and an increasing number of raptors now soar above the plains
At the end of the last century one of the largest fighting forces ever to leave the shores of Imperial Britain arrived at the Cape to fight in the Anglo-Boer War, "the last of the gentlemen’s wars." These soldiers, with all the paraphernalia of battle moved across the plains of the Great Karoo and now, a centenary later many researchers and Boer War enthusiasts trail across the region, following their path and visiting the lonely graves which dot the plains. A series of blockhouses, a grim reminder of those turbulent times, still guard the railway bridges through out the central area.
The Karoo is the place of the pioneers. Born here in the 1800s was Dr Emil , hailed as the father of modern orthopaedics, Albert Fick, who did much of the pioneer work on contact lenses and world transplant pioneer, Professor Chris Barnard.
The Karoo has its own national park, on the outskirts of Beaufort West. Here and on the many game and holiday farms in the area the interesting ecology can be explored.
The vast plains and endless blue mountains once sheltered runaway slaves, smugglers and the banished. An unsurfaced road snakes away from Laingsburg, passes through some hills and into the “Moordenaarskaroo,” or Murderer’s Karoo. This desolate spot was once the badlands to which murderers and robbers of yesteryear fled to escape the law. The scenic road through Thomas Bain’s famous Seweweekspoort is locally known as The Smugglers Route. It passes the picturesque settlements of Vleiland and Rouxpos. In days gone by it offered safe passage to liquor smugglers. The history of the region can be studied at cultural history museums, such as the Fransie Pienaar Museum at Prince Albert and the story of the world’s first heart transplant is depicted in the museum at Beaufort West.
The fascinating world of fossils is explained along the fossil trail at the Karoo National Park and at some of the museums in the area. The Ou Schuur Project at the Karoo National Park is seeking to trace the roots of all communities which lived within the confines of this park.
Each village has its own hand crafters. There are pottery shops in Beaufort West and in Murraysburg, where perhaps the best and most artistic collection of crafters in the whole Karoo is to be found, and there is a craft outlet in Leeu Gamka, sponsored by the Western Cape Tourism Board and run by the local community.
There are two major festivals within the region. Meet the locals at Olive Festival in Prince Albert and the Beaufort West Heart Festival. Other towns in the region have smaller and most worthwhile festivals and sports gatherings.
Books to read:
all Helena's books are available from the Fransie Pienaar Museum 023 5411 172 and the Prince Albert Tourism Bureau 023 5411 366
Websites to visit:
This site was built and is maintained by The Story Weaver
Information and photographs were provided by Rose Willis, unless otherwise acknowledged. firstname.lastname@example.org