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Karoo Catharsis

1332
VIEWS

Rain sweeps through Karoo National Park.

First came the lighting. Far off across the parched plains, electricity was charging the air, creating an energy that belied the stillness of the surrounding hills. Then came the brown mist – a wall of dust and wind heralding the imminent deluge.

The perfect storm was ready to burst at the seams, and when it did, we were treated to the last thing we could ever have expected: pouring rain in the drought-stricken Karoo. Within hours, all evidence of the water was gone, save for a few muddy roads that would definitely come in handy a bit later. The parched Beaufort West earth was thirsty, but for a brief moment in time, the Karoo National Park would be a bit greener than usual.

The Karoo is no secret, and yet it remains remarkably under-explored by locals and foreign visitors alike. Perhaps the arid landscape isn’t the lush Africa that people grow up learning about, or maybe it’s just too far inland to appeal to conventional holidaymakers. In any case, it’s an overlander’s paradise, blending rough terrain with unparalleled isolation.

The Karoo National Park is one of several SANParks reserves in the region, but it’s arguably the one that best captures exactly what the Karoo is about. Knobbly hills topped by desolate plateaus dominate the landscape, giving way to sparsely-vegetated valleys and plains that are home to some of South Africa’s most interesting – and elusive – critters.

Established in 1979, it’s become a haven for the unique flora and fauna of the Karoo, including brown hyena, aardvark, aardwolf and black rhino, as well as a small number of lions, reintroduced to a habitat they once dominated. Despite its size and wild ambiance, however, the park is quite literally down the road from Beaufort West, along the busy N1. But let’s start at the beginning.

Rhino in the park are very well guarded.

The rest camp

From the very start of our visit, we were caught off-guard. Firstly, by the beauty and sheer vastness of the Karoo National Park, and then by the rain that forced us into our chalets, quick quick. The Karoo soil seemed unprepared for water, creating a network of streams and channels that funnelled the precious liquid deeper into the valley. What little remained would be gone by sunrise, either slurped up by the parched earth or burned away by the harsh sun.

The rest camp.

The rest camp lies nestled in a valley, between the Nuweveld Mountains, so named by Pienaar, the farmer whose homestead still stands in the rest camp today. In search of greener pastures, he toiled to build Pienaar’s Pass, a steep climb up the mountainside that led his sheep to salvation, in the form of ‘new veld’. Today, the pass is the park’s premier 4×4 attraction.

A section of Pienaar’s Pass.

Several family chalets and campsites make up the lodging at the rest camp, with a shop, restaurant and glorious swimming pool to boot. It’s definitely one of SANParks’ more high-end offerings. We made ourselves comfortable in a couple of chalets, and watched the rain give way to a gloomy sundown, with the braai providing some warmth for the skin and contentment for the belly. We had an appointment with a game ranger that evening, and would need to be fuelled-up for the nocturnal adventure to come.

For the full story, grab a copy of the April issue of SA4x4 Magazine.

TRAVEL GUIDE

ACCOMMODATION

Campsite

Number of stands: 28

Electricity: Yes

Water: Yes

Ablutions: Yes

Braai: Yes

Pets allowed: No

Self-catering accommodation

Chalets: 18

Cottages: 10

Family Cottages: 5

All feature air-conditioning, TV, kitchen, and private bathroom. Breakfast included.

Off-grid cottages

Afsaal Cottage and Embizweni Cottage offer comfortable lodging away from the rest camp, out in the wilderness.

There is no electricity, but there is solar lighting and gas-powered hot water and refrigeration.

Both cottages have waterholes providing 24-hour game viewing opportunities.

ACTIVITIES

Self-drive game drives

Strictly enforced gate times

4×4 required for certain areas

Fossil Trail

400m wheelchair-friendly walk depicting geology and palaeontology of the Great Karoo.

Genuine fossils on display.

Free of charge.

Guided game drives

Morning:

Length: 2-3 hours

Price: R1120 (first four people)

Min. guests: 4

Max. guests: 9

Min. age: 6

R280 per additional adult, R140 per additional child under 12

Evening:

Length: 1.5 hours

Price: R880 (first four people)

Min. guests: 4

Max. guests: 9

Min. age: 6

R220 per additional adult, R110 per additional child under 12

Guided walks

Led by a qualified guide

Learn about Karoo ecosystems first-hand

Summer time: 06:00

Winter time: 07:00

Price: R220 per person

Sylvester Single Track

New running/MTB trail within Rest Camp area

Length: 2.7km

Free to use

Overnight guests only

Bird hide

Located near entrance to rest camp

Free to use

To make a reservation, email reservations@sanparks.org. 

Trail Review

For our review of Pienaar’s Pass, the park’s toughest trail, click here.

Vehicle Review

To hear what Andrew Middleton thinks of the new Nissan Navara, click here.

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