Interesting fact: More than 250 million years ago (predating dinosaurs) the Karoo was home to what may have been the Earth’s first true mammals, now fossilised in the hard dirt.
One of the Kgalagadi lions that were reintroduced into Karoo National Park, the first to roam the region in almost 200 years. Photo by Scott Ramsay.
From Camdeboo National Park, it’s a long pull west through the Karoo, South Africa’s defining biome, to its eponymous national park.
This seemingly barren and empty expanse is like a long, complicated novel that takes several chapters to get into. But a little perseverance, and the story hooks you till the very end. The national park, which starts just outside Beaufort West, contains the best Karoo scenery of all, dominated by basalt cliffs of the Nuweveld escarpment where Verreaux’s eagles soar. Drive the scenic Klipspringer Pass and the 46-kilometre Nuweveld 4×4 loop which accesses the very heart of the park.
The Karoo’s semi-arid climate supports far less wildlife than, say, Kruger, but because of open terrain and short scrubland (with a surprising 860 plant species), there’s a good chance of seeing springbok, gemsbok, red hartebeest, black wildebeest, eland and the largest population of Cape mountain zebra in the country – about 500. Since the re-introduction of lion in 2010 (the first since 1830), visitors are restricted to their vehicles and may not walk without a guide.
The rare black rhino and the even rarer riverine rabbit (one of South Africa’s most endangered species) are unlikely to be seen, but are integral to this park’s importance. There is a palpable sense of timelessness in the Karoo. Perhaps it is the billions of fossils from some 255 million years ago that lie entombed in the sedimentary rocks, or perhaps it’s the gigantic Karoo night sky and the way it pulls your gaze back billions of years into the known universe.
Where to stay in the Karoo National Park
The main rest camp has 38 cottages and the campsite has 30 stands with communal ablutions. The isolated Embizweni Cottage is situated on the Nuweveld 4×4 loop. Camping is from R295 for two people (maximum six) and cottages from R1250 for two people.