15 Secrets of the Karoo National Park That Will Have you Visiting, Tomorrow…
1. The Karoo National Park is not the same as the Tankwa Karoo National Park
They are, however, both in the Karoo. But the Karoo is vast and the two parks are between 350 km and 400 km apart, depending on the route you take. The Karoo National Park is close to Beaufort West, whilst the Tankwa Karoo National Park is nearer Sutherland (famous for its popular annual Afrikaburn Festival). The two are linked by the N1, R353 and R356.
2. The Karoo National Park is close to a major highway
And something of a surprise to find halfway between Cape Town and Johannesburg (it makes a perfect stopover because of its position, and we’d highly recommend that you do . It lies literally off the N1 just outside Beaufort West (almost before the first speed trap). But then you turn left and head for the hills, quite literally into the Nuweveld Mountains, which means there is soon no sound of road traffic whatsoever.
3. It’s one of the quietest places on Earth
The Karoo is 400 000 square kilometres in the interior of South Africa. Within this vastness are pockets of complete peace. The Karoo National Park is one of these.
4. The park was established as the result of a stamp sale
Back in the 1970s SANParks saw the urgency of protecting the Nama Karoo Biome and raised the money to do so by selling special art stamps on which were painted the flowers and plants of the Groot Karoo. Then Beaufort West donated land north west of town to start the park (hence its proximity to town).
5. There are over 860 plant species in the park
That’s more than the whole of Britain has to offer. In one park. And the park is only a third the size of Kruger.
6. There are no artificial lights, cellphone or radio towers
And from the top of the mountains, despite the proximity to the N1, you can see for miles without any evidence of man.
7. A certain lion has been known to escape the park (not once, but twice)
The last lion in the Karoo was shot in 1842 at Leeu Gamka (Leeu is ‘lion’ in Afrikaans) – which you’ll pass on the N1 not long before you reach the park – by an explorer who also laid claim to shooting the last black rhino, so he shall remain nameless (since this is hardly a claim to fame by today’s standards).
Only in 2010 were a few lions re-introduced into the Karoo National Park from the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. Since then, a certain male lion has escaped into the hills through a hole in the fence (they tracked him down; he’s no longer at large).
8. Karoo National Park is home to more than a couple of unusual animals
Aardwolf, bat-eared fox, caracal, scrub hares, whiffle-nosed elphant shrews, riverine rabbits…
9. A large population of the formerly endangered Cape mountain zebra, and several black rhino
Between the Mountain Zebra National Park, and the Karoo National Park, the Cape Mountain Zebra is safely re-established in South Africa. Now it has a population of just under 5 000 individuals (there were only about 100 of them in the 1990s).
10. The views are incredible
11. The park has genuine dinosaur fossils
The subject of the Fossil Trail, an education trail on the Karoo’s geology and palaeontology, reveals the real thing – therapsides, or mammal-like reptiles that came even before dinosaurs – petrified in the rocks of the park. Over 250 million years ago the Karoo was a menagerie of weird and colourful creatures. And it’s the Karoo that holds many of the secrets of this time.
The park has hundreds of these skeletons. The Karoo back then was a basin of rivers. The mud from these rivers eventually became rock and acted as a fossil repository. Over 35 000 fossils have already been collected in the Karoo, many of them from the park. The Fossil Trail is wheelchair friendly.
12. The campsite has won awards
And by all accounts is one of the best campsites in the country, if views, facilities and reviews are anything to go by. Grass is plentiful, some are treed, all sites have electric points, and there is a restaurant close by if a braai is too much effort, or you reach camp too late. Most people come and go regularly. If you want to try informal camping (no facilities; in the middle of nowhere) then head to the Tankwa Karoo National Park.
13. The Klipspringer Pass is a must-drive
Up to the Rooivalle viewpoint for gorgeous views out over the low Karoo.
14. Embizweni Cottage is a must-stay
Embizweni, which is Xhosa for ‘a place where people come together’ is remote (30 km from the N1). You’ll find it at the base of a koppie in the north western section of the park, and you can only get there with a high-clearance vehicle (the cottage functions as an overnight venue for the two 4×4 eco-trails – Nuweveld and Afsaal).
The views of the Nuweveld Mountains in this part of the park are second to none.
15. Last year they discovered a new bird in the park
The common cuckoo was sighted here for the first time in 2016. The bird used to be known as the European cuckoo (because they come from there) and they’re seldom seen or heard in South Africa, although their staple diet is the hairy black and white caterpillars typically found in acacia trees.
Other unusual birds include the fiery-necked nightjar, neddickies, blue waxbills and black cuckooshrikes.
In conclusion here are a couple of tips for a great stay…
Best time to visit is after the rains, or autumn and spring; stay for more than one night (you’ll regret it if you don’t); order lamb chops at the restaurant.