A Karoo road trip is one of the best ways to travel the vast expanse that is the Karoo.
Divided into two distinct parts, a Karoo road trip can explore either the Klein Karoo (a 300 km strip of mountainous, semi-desert between Worcester and George), or the Groot Karoo, which occupies the predominant heart of South Africa’s innerlands.
The Karoo is South Africa’s answer to Australia’s outback.
Its particular rare mix of ragged mountains, vast open spaces, idiosyncratic little towns, star-studded skies devoid of light pollution, sheep farms, and back of beyond windmills make it road trip country like nowhere else in the world.
Best of all. Hardly any visitors to the country have heard of it. Let alone driven it.
There are many ways to do a Karoo Road Trip:
- Route 62, the world’s longest wine route that winds through the Klein Karoo
- The roads of Koup – between the Nuweveldberge and the Swartberg
- The paths of the Hantam & Roggeveld – the vast interior of the Groot Karoo
- The routes of the Western upper Karoo – bounded by the Roggeveld Mountains and the Nuweveldberge (also known as Tough Man’s Karoo)
- The Camdeboo between the Sneeuberge and the Baviaans Mountains
- The upper Karoo sparsely populated plains southwest of Kimberley
No matter what Karoo road trip you choose, here are a series of great places to stop en route:
Snug up against the Langeberge in the middle of Route 62, and not far from the beautiful Tradouw Pass, the road suddenly winds in amongst the restaurants and galleries of Barrydale and you’re obliged to make a pit stop, if not stay in one of its numerous guest houses in amongst the fruit orchards.
One of the easiest ways to explore the Karoo because of its proximity to the N1, the national road between Johannesburg and Cape Town, the Karoo National Park lies just outside Beaufort West, yet is far enough into the Nuweveld Mountains that the national road becomes a distant memory once you round the bend and see the mountains.
The surprisingly interesting town and site of South Africa’s Big Hole, Kimberley might have begun as a diamond rush town but today its wide streets are lined with Victorian mansions, museums, galleries, gardens, battlefields and ghost routes aplenty.
This darling town with its typical Karoo huisies at the foot of the Swartberg lies on the other side of Meiringspoort from the equally as darling town of De Rust. It still functions as a ‘stop’ for today’s travellers, as it once did for the Karoo farmers trading their wool in Mossel Bay.
One of the most beautiful but least explored, national parks Mountain Zebra National Park near Cradock is jam packed with game, including lions and cheetahs, in amongst the mountains that are the natural environment of the mountain zebra.
The Namaqualand Flower Route is probably the most famous way to drive through the Karoo . If you’re lucky, and the flowers have bloomed, then there are carpets of wild and bright daisies far and wide.
In the nether regions of the Groot Karoo up against the Augrabies National Park, be sure to work this little community conservancy (the very first land restitution story in South Africa) and its hot springs into your itinerary. You’ll need a 4×4 to do the 75 000 hectares of land between the Orange and Molopo rivers justice.
The Camdeboo lies in the Karoo heartland, a national park surrounding the historical town of Graaff-Reinet that includes the Valley of Desolation, also known as the Cathedral of he Mountains, and lies not far from the equally inspiring little Karoo town of Nieu-Bethesda.
One of many mountain passes in the Western Cape, the Swartberg Pass is also one of the most beautiful. It lies between the towns of Prince Albert and Oudtshoorn and winds through the Swartberg Nature Reserve.
Its name might hale from the Victorian era, but the only thing Victorian about the town today is its charming architecture, which survived both the effects of a disastrous flood in 1871, and the deluge of wagons en route between Cape Town and the diamond rush town of Hopetown, during the late 1880s. Today it’s a typical Karoo dorpie with plenty of accommodation and good antique shops.