The chuffing lion, freezing cold and pitch blackness were not conducive to anything other than expeditious tent building and diving into sleeping bags. No need for a camp fire. No need for dinner even. Our sole objective was to go to bed and wake up in what we hoped would be warm sunshine and clear skies amidst the quiet landscape of the Karoo.
The Karoo is a huge swath of central South Africa running from Cape Town to the velds of the Free State and from the mountains of southern Western Cape to the desert edges of the Kalahari. With just a few settlements dotted along the motorways and huge farms that stretch 40km across, the Karoo can overwhelm you with expansive horizons and little else. Most people just drive through this part of South Africa on their way between Cape Town and Johannesburg, but if you take some time you will find a few special places.
Karoo National Park is one such gem to waiting to be discovered. Located just off the N1 and close to Beaufort West – a bustling crossroads of motorways bisecting the vast empty landscape of the Karoo – this park is very convenient and yet ridiculously remote feeling all at once. Driving away from the park gate, you enter a landscape virtually untouched by humans. The craggy hillsides and dry stream beds indicate the effects of eons of rain, wind and sun. Prickly shrubs and stout grasses grow, but many lay dormant between the intermittent rainfalls.
Amongst the bush beautiful geological features, there is animal life. Various antelopes, ostrich, zebra and small mammals live here. There are birds of prey searching out dassies, bat-eared foxes and of course snakes and lizards. In the hopes of sighting some of these beautiful creatures, we took the 4×4 track out into the park for a big loop across low-slung hills, under the shadows of rocky peaks and across dry water courses. We saw a lot of animal life, including a pair of breeding black eagles, but unfortunately didn’t see the aforementioned lion. There were even more intense 4×4 tracks available, but we didn’t have the time to truly do them justice, so we departed back for the joyless tarmac of the N1.
All in all Karoo National Park was a really nice little stopover – one we definitely recommend. As the last real stopping point on our 3,700km trip to see the desert flowers of the Western Cape, it offered up yet another unique landscape within this hugely diverse country and region. The adventures of this final stop, combined with the varied ecosystems as diverse as the Fynbos, Green Kalahari and Namaqualand, made it a fantastic trip filled with the colour and vibrancy of nature wherever we turned!