Clear your head into the Karoo
They call it a “skraalwind” because it gets in everywhere with a dry cold that cracks your skin and burns your lungs as it greets you, blowing over the Great Karoo. Winter here is harsh and clean.
There is no match for the grandeur of this arid wasteland – the sharp, rocky outcrops that form crisp silhouettes, the narrow, dark ravines that open onto rolling plains and a staggering vastness that ingests endless sunlight and starlight alike.
One of the best ways to experience the purity of this immense and tranquil landscape is in the Karoo National Park, situated just five kilometres from Beaufort West.
Spoilt for choice
There are Cape Dutch-style chalets of varying sizes for guests to choose from, but my family usually opts for one of the two-bedroom, six-sleeper, self-catering family cottages on our getaways.
These are intimate enough to ensure family bonding during all activities in the open kitchen, dining and lounge area, but also large enough to break away to either one of the bedrooms when this loses its appeal.
Smaller chalets are also available for groups of four (with a double sleeper couch and two single beds) or two (with a double bed), both
with kitchens.The family and couple units offer a selection of DStv channels, and all rooms are equipped with bedding and towels and are serviced daily.
Other than the chalets, the park boasts 24 award-winning sites for campers and caravans in a leafy, green oasis, which is a stone’s throw away from the main camp, each equipped with a 220V power point.
All campers have access to a communal kitchen and ablution facilities, as well as laundry facilities. Washing machine and tumble drier tokens can be purchased at the reception desk for R10 each.
For 4x4 owners seeking a quieter getaway, both Embizweni and Afsaal offer a sleepover in the wilderness. Embizweni is a house built to accommodate six guests and Afsaal Cottage is an upgraded shepherd’s hut, which can accommodate two adults and two children.
Both units are equipped with a gas burner, fridge and outside braai area, and have solar-powered lights and geysers.They do not, however, offer cellphone reception, so take books, board games and binoculars, and lose yourself in the timeless landscape.
A great way to spend any day in the park – and a definite family favourite – is game-watching.This can be done from your own car, on foot or even your chalet stoep (for the committed holidaymakers).
The Klipspringer Pass offers excellent vantage points for animal spotting and guests are advised to make a stop at the top to enjoy the scenic lookout point, Rooivalle.
Apart from watching the daring dassies that dart across the rocks below, wildlife enthusiasts can marvel at the black eagles that have made their nest and live in the canyon.
The Nuweveld EcoTrail (90km) and Afsaal EcoTrail (13km) afford 4x4 enthusiasts the chance to venture off the popular roads and experience more remote areas of the Karoo National Park.
Guided walks in the park cost R210 per person, and are available to
visitors wanting to hike the terrain before breakfast.These are scheduled for 6am in summer and 7am in winter, and are led by qualified guides.
Those who prefer not to get up so early can try the guided night drives, which are available to up to nine people at a time.These are the best chance visitors have of seeing the nocturnal inhabitants of the park, such as bat-eared foxes, caracals and brown hyena. Adults will each be charged R210 for this experience, but for children under the age of 12, the fee is R105 each.
If you take your vehicle out during the day on the designated roads that wind across the plains and the plateau, you are guaranteed to see some form of life, largely due to the fact that there are limited places for animals to hide.
The Karoo National Park is home to a large array of birdlife, antelope and smaller animals and even boasts rhino and lions. A large map at reception is updated by rangers to indicate species’ locations. Apart from the morning and night tours which the park provides at an additional fee, there is also a bird hide a short stroll away from the chalets, as well as an Interpretive Centre with its fauna and flora exhibitions near the caravan and camp sites, both of which are free.
Although the wildlife contingency at the park necessitates electrified fencing around the perimeters of the main camp, campsite and caravan park, preventing any lengthy hikes, the enclosed roads are still open for running and walking, and are safe for children to play and ride their bicycles.
Less sporty visitors can stroll along the impressive Fossil Trail, which boasts a number of display cases and information plaques about the fossil and geological history of the region.
After many holidays at the Karoo National Park during my lifetime, I have learned that the most
valuable items to include in your suitcase are a camera, binoculars and a double adaptor. Sometimes it is also necessary to bring your own bottled drinking water as Karoo water takes some getting used to. When packing, guests are reminded that the weather can be scorching from December to February and bitingly cold on midwinter nights.
There is a shop at the reception building that stocks a variety of necessities and comforts (edible and otherwise), and also sells everything necessary for braaiing at the chalets. Anything that you might require over and above this selection can be purchased from shops in Beaufort West. Breakfast and dinner are served at the fully licensed a la carte restaurant from 7am to 10am and 6pm to 9pm, respectively, and provide the opportunity to rub shoulders with other guests at the park. Bookworms are strongly advised to bring their favourite companions along.
Who to contact:
South African National Parks reservations
Tel: +27 (0) 12 428 9111
Karoo National Park
Tel: +27 (0) 23 415 2828
Website: https://www.sanparks. org/parks/karoo/
Points of interest:
• A comprehensive list of all flora and fauna at the Karoo National Park can be found on the park’s website.
One of the family units and two of the four-sleeper units have been modified to accommodate persons with limited mobility.
Writer: Kathryn de Villiers Pictures: Kathryn de Villiers