Escape to the silent majesty of the Karoo
Does the thought of the looming winter season press heavily on your soul? Plan a recharge getaway to the simple life in the Karoo, the semi-desert natural region in South Africa. Fill your heart with cloudless skies, endless desertscapes and silence that is sure to quash any weariness.
The Karoo (from the Khoikhoi word “garo” that translates to desert) is rooted in Gondwanaland and lies on the largest plateau of its kind outside of Asia. It has a succulent rich ecosystem that comprises of various climates and landscapes, from the south where the climate tends to be Mediterranean with a lot of Fynbos, to the east where temperatures reach extremes and rainfall is erratic at best, to the north where it reaches the great Namib Desert, whilst hidden between the southern and northern mountain ranges you will find the Little Karoo.
Most people only know of the Great Karoo and the Little Karoo, but there is so much more to the Karoo than these two poles. The Karoo comprises 40% of the South African landscape, and apart from the main two classifications it is also broken into the Succulent Karoo, the Tanqua Karoo and the Worcester Karoo.
The Karoo National Park, situated near Beaufort West is a wonderful place to start your journey, no matter which Karoo you want to explore. Over the past 5 years this park has however been in the news for other reasons than tourism. In 2016 a lion called Sylvester managed to bypass the park’s barriers and went on a walkabout outside its borders for a few months. The area was a hotbed of activity, from Bushmen trackers who know the area by hand with tracking skills passed on through generations, to high-tech drone trackers and local farmers on the lookout. When Sylvester was eventually caught, he had travelled an immense distance, and it was eventually decided to transfer him to another of South Africa’s national parks in the Eastern Cape, Addo Elephant Park. In February 2019, another brave lion aptly named Mufasa followed in Sylvester’s footsteps and travelled more than 300km before he was eventually captured. This time they fitted Mufasa with a GPS tracker and crowned him the lion king of the Karoo National Park.
Apart from the restful relaxation the silence offers, the Karoo is filled with great adventures for travellers, and it has come a long way from simply being a one night stop-over between Johannesburg and Cape Town. The picturesque towns that dot the Karoo are rich with history and offer visitors the opportunity to discover these gems in different ways – on foot, mountain bike, canoe, off-road vehicle or even on horseback. Given the wide open plains and majestic mountains, guests can enjoy spectacular wildlife viewing opportunities, including game and rare birds. Whether you are an aspirant archaeologist, a geologist, ecologist or even a palaeontologist, the landscape offers incredible exploration opportunities.
Don’t just play in the daytime and sleep at night, because then you will miss something that sets the Karoo apart from anywhere else – the incredible night sky. I promise you, you have never seen so many brilliantly bright stars. If you plan a visit to the Karoo, Sutherland is a must. This dreamy village is situated on one of the highest points on the plateau, the perfect perch for the South African Large Telescope (SALT) Observatory. It is well worth the visit, whether you prefer a daytime or a very special night time tour. Be sure to call ahead of time, because bookings are essential.
The Karoo, no matter where you go, offers something money can’t buy. It offers freedom. It offers a place where you can breathe and find yourself. Having gotten lost in the wide open spaces in-between silence and solitude, I am sure that Don McLean wrote his famous ballad “Vincent” (Starry, starry night) in Sutherland, because that type of inspiration and creativity can definitely be birthed by a night sky that spectacular.