A Family of ugly numbskulls

The one thing the N1 outside Beaufort West has become famous for is the speed traps, getting a speed fine has become a requisite part of any trip between Cape Town and Johannesburg. Our next destination the Karoo National Park lies literally off the N1 just outside Beaufort West (almost before the first speed trap). We turned right and started heading for the hills, quite literally into the Nuweveld Mountains, which meant that soon there was no sound of road traffic whatsoever.

The main rest camp is not that far from the main entrance and we decide to spend the night there in one of the 37 Cape Dutch-style cottages the price includes breakfast, but don’t hold your breath as it’s not particularly tasty.

The friendly staff at reception tells us that the Embizweni Cottage is the best place to stay in the park if you want to absorb the Karoo’s special spirit, but a 4×4 is required and early booking is essential. We booked an evening game drive and set off to our cottage. The chalet with its thatched roof and stoep that provide shade from the heat of the Karoo had a spectacular view of the expansive Karoo landscape. One immediately notices the quiet and within minutes you start forgetting about the stress of modern life. There are no cell phone or radio towers so we could turn off our phones and pack them away.

Our chalet was really close to the Karoo Fossil trail, a 400-metre long walk that lets you see the history of 300 – 250 million years ago. 24 000 Fossils have been found here since the park was declared a World Heritage Site. The fossils on display are truly fascinating and makes one realise how privileged we are to be part of this thing called “Life on Earth”. For millions of years, creatures stranger than fiction roamed the earth and were wiped out by a global catastrophic occurrence. Their skeletons were deposited more than 250 million years ago at the bottom of a huge floodplain, which filled with sediment more than two-kilometers high. This landscape eventually eroded to form what is the Karoo today. The Fossil trail is not very long, but we spent a good hour and a bit admiring the incredible view and the interesting fossils dotted along the way.

The highlight of our stay was the guided night drive through the park. We joined a group of people in a 9-seater Land Rover and followed a circular path through the park that uncovered a number of animals we would not have spotted during the day, including an owl, a couple of jackals, numerous rabbits and plenty of red hartebeests, kudu, and springbok.

Our ranger was armed which seemed strange as you normally only spot buck and no predators, but 7 years ago several lions were re-introduced into the park. The last wild lion in the area was shot in the 1830s. Back then, before sheep farmers erected fences and hunters had obliterated the natural wildlife, this part of the Karoo was also home to cheetah, African wild dog, and leopard. These predators hunted the huge herds of springbok and hartebeest, which migrated across one of South Africa’s biggest landscapes, following the rains and fresh grass. But as the numbers of herbivores plummeted, large predators were soon eliminated. Now Karoo National Park is trying to rectify this.

For the moment, it’s unlikely that you’ll see any of the eight lions in the 88 000-hectare park, which is about five per cent of the size of Kruger, but there’s plenty of other life, you just have to look for it. The reserve has one of the largest populations of endangered Cape Mountain Zebra in the country and at least 20 breeding pairs of Verreaux’s eagles cruising above the plateaus of the impressive Nuweveld Mountains looking for dassies. This is just one of more than 200 bird species found in the park, and a visit to the fantastic bird hide near the rest camp is highly recommended.

After the drive, we decided to have dinner at the main restaurant but we are going to move swiftly along from that, our recommendation would be that you do your shopping in Beaufort West and settle for a good old fashion braai under the majestic Karoo Sky.

Nothing could detract from our experience in the veld at night, in our chairs from the verandah, out under a myriad stars,  feet drawn up, whilst bats whizzed around over our heads. The sky was awash with stars, the milky way no longer a smudge but a visible net as if cast by the hands of a celestial fisherman intent on reeling in the spheres of light. The silence only punctuated by the cries of jackals.

At breakfast the next morning we started chatting to a couple who arrived from the Tankwa Karoo National Park a day earlier. We told them that we were on our way to Cape Town to see the flowers, they burst out laughing and told us that we would be crazy if we don’t alter our trip and go and discover the Tankwa “it’s amazing this time of year”.

A one night stay at the Karoo National Park is just not enough, it is the perfect place to unwind and de-stress, we will definitely be back. The immediate question though is are we going onwards to Cape Town or are we going to take a short cut to the Tankwa Karoo National Park. Find out next week ? ? ?

Karoo National Park +27 (0)23 415 2828, SANParks bookings +27(0)12 428 9111. Free entry for Wild Card members. Campsites R190 for 1 to 2 people, cottages from R945 a night. www.sanparks.org/karoo


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