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The Karoo - South Africas Biggest Place

By Scott Ramsay | www.yearinthewild.com Book Accommodation

 What we know the Karoo to look like...

What we know the Karoo to look like...

The Karoo…ever heard of it? Ha ha…if you live in South Africa, it’s almost unavoidable. This semi-arid landscape covers the largest part of the country, and is the nation’s biggest ecosystem.

But surprisingly, for a long time, hardly any of it was formally conserved. Most of it is still used by sheep farmers, but because the Karoo is semi-arid and rainfall is unreliable, a lot of the veld has been overgrazed. A lot of the so-called sweet veld, which the thousands of Springbok used to graze before they were hunted to oblivion, has been replaced by sour veld…that stuff which isn’t very tasty.

The Karoo National Park near Beaufort West was proclaimed in 1979 in an attempt to conserve a little bit of this massive landscape. It’s now grown to over 80 000 hectares, including the beautiful Nuweveldberge with its high cliffs. And try telling any Karoo local that it’s boring out here. It is one of those places that works its magic slowly, but surely.

Here are a couple of reasons why it’s way more fascinating than you think: It’s the best area in the world for fossils from 250 million years ago. Ahem, yes, fossils may not be exciting to everyone. But these fossils are different and very interesting, because they are all from a time just before one of the biggest mass extinctions on earth. More than 95% of all living species were wiped out in under 50 000 years. Scientists aren’t sure how this happened but they all agree that the extinction was caused by global warming. So the ancient Karoo provides ample proof of how life for us can change (for the worse) if we don’t sort out what is mankind’s greatest challenge.

A 250 million year old fossil of a Bradysaurus, a 3 metre pachyderm which is a very distant relative of today's turtles and tortoises.

A 250 million year old fossil of a Bradysaurus, a 3mtr pachyderm which is a very distant relative of today's turtles and tortoises.

The Karoo National Park is now home to several lion, which were reintroduced last year – the last lion in the area was recorded back in the 1830s…they were once common here, but hunters took care of that. (Unfortunately for people who like to walk, the introduction of lion has meant that you aren’t allowed to get out of your car…there are guided walks, but it’s not ideal.) And then there are several black rhino…although the exact number is classified…due to the current poaching crisis. But they are doing well apparently.

The two big males of the Karoo NP

The two big males of the Karoo NP

The kudu in the Karoo are shy...hiding in the riverine thicket. As they should...the lions are back!

The kudu in the Karoo are shy...hiding in the riverine thicket. As they should...the lions are back!

The Karoo has been home to man for more than 1,2 million years…it’s an archaeologists paradise. One study found more than 14,000 sites in the Karoo where Stone Age man had set up camp.

Then there is the landscape. It’s definitely best experienced during early morning or early evening, when the light is soft, the sky is a hundred hues of orange, and the temperatures are cool. But somehow the space and size is intoxicating…at first, Thandi and I struggled to adapt to the drier climate, having driven from the soft climate of the coast. But we’re slowly absorbing the spaces (or are the spaces absorbing us?). The diversity of plant life is astonishing…from afar, the veld looks monotonous, but up close, it is dazzling in its difference.

Karoo landscape...

Karoo landscape...

The koppies of the Karoo are famous...the geology is fascinating, even for non-geologists.

The koppies of the Karoo are famous...the geology is fascinating, even for non-geologists.

We’re spending tonight at an isolated cottage called Embizweni in the park’s north western sector. It’s on a 4×4 track that took us a few hours to get here. The stars are out, and a waxing moon is bright on the land.

Embizweni Cottage in Karoo National Park

Embizweni Cottage in Karoo National Park

 

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