As Karoo National Park has its origins as far back as 1950, when local farmer William Quinton was active in promoting the idea of an area of conservation in the Beaufort West area, we have a lot to talk about this breathtaking park.
So let’s dive straight into things?!
A Little History on Karoo National Park.
In the early 19th century there were accounts of millions of Trekbokke, or migrating antelope passing through Beaufort West, which contrasts sharply with the recent Karoo.
Established in 1979, the Karoo National Park was an important step in preserving at least some part of the vast Nama Karoo biome that had all but disappeared after centuries of indiscriminate hunting, and stock farming across the breadth of the Great Karoo.
Over the years the park has been expanded to approximately 90,000 hectares and encompasses mountains, valleys, and open plains.
The Great Karoo is a vast and unforgiving landscape and forms the largest ecosystem in South Africa.
It is also home to an interesting amount of diverse life, all having adapted to its harshness.
The Karoo has a history going back five billion years, and when you visit, you can see the fossilized remains of creatures that used to wander the same plains millions of years ago.
For visitors who want to go beyond the tourist clique of the big five, a Safari into the Karoo National park is a must.
Karoo National Park: Map And Location
The park is situated North East of Cape Town, approximately 5 hours away, and South West of Bloemfontein, approximately 5.5 hours away.
The Karoo National Park’s entrance is off the N1 highway about 6 km South of Beaufort West in the Karoo.
The park is a convenient stopover on the road from Johannesburg to Cape Town as it is in the middle.
The nearest airport is George airport, and you will use the N12, for about three hours.
Once inside the park, there are various tarred roads from the main entrance to the main rest camp, as well as on the Potlekkertjie game viewing loop, the Klipspringer Pass up the mountain, and the Lammertjiesleegte game viewing loop.
Klik on the map below to take you to Google maps:
What Is The Karoo National Park Known For? The Geology, for one!
The Karoo is a place to marvel at the geological formations in the area. The park below and above the great escarpment is situated on the Beaufort group of rocks, which form part of the Karoo geological systems of deposits.
The Beaufort sediments were laid on a vast river bed covering much of what was to later become South Africa when it was still part of Gondwanaland.
About 60 years after the Beaufort sediments had been laid down in Southern Africa, there was an outpouring of lava on a titanic scale.
The remains of this lava flow later formed the Drakensberg mountains.
These formations are all over the park and are a sight to behold for geology enthusiasts.
The Wildlife Of Karoo National Park-Does It Have The Big Five?
The park is part of the Karoo biome and is a sanctuary to many species of animals and has the largest ecosystem in South Africa.
These include :
- Gemsbok (Oryx),
- the Springbok,
- the Cape Mountain Zebra,
- Red Hartebeest,
- Black Rhinoceros,
- Black-backed Jackal,
- Lions (introduced fairly recently, as in 2020 there were only 14 lions left),
- and bat-eared foxes.
The park is also home to the greatest number of tortoise species of any park in the world; five in total, and about 60 reptile and amphibian species.
But, to answer the question about the “big five” being present: no, because only the lions and rhinos have been reïntroduced.
The park is also home to the shy and reclusive black rhino and the endangered Riverine rabbit that has been successfully resettled here.
There are also a number of bird species that are in the park, which include;
- booted eagle,
- martial eagle,
- Verreaux’s eagle,
- and Cape Eagle-owl, are some of the predatory birds found there.
The park not only has predatory birds but also an abundance of other bird species, approximately 200 species in total.
For keen and avid bird watchers, they should prepare their binoculars for some spectacular bird sightings.
Best time to visit Karoo National Park.
The Karoo can be a place of extreme weather. The summer months from October to March are hot and can reach up to 40oc.
Rainfall is an average of about 200 mm a year.
The Winter months of June and July are very cold, with temperatures below zero and snow sprinkling the high peaks of the surrounding mountains.
You can choose whether to visit the park in heat or extreme cold, or somewhere in between, spring and autumn.
Things To Do At Karoo National Park.
You can spend a long time at Karoo National Park just enjoying nature, but more specifically:
With urbanization came light pollution, and in most cities around the world, not only in South Africa, the night stars are not visible.
A visit to the Karoo is a chance to see clear skies at night. A chance to bring out the telescope and indulge in a bit of star gazing.
Take a small walk away from the lights of the camp to get even better views. Also apart from the clear skies, it is a chance to enjoy the fresh cool air of the Karoo. (never wonder outside a camp though, watch out for the wildlife!)
Take in the Geology
The Karoo has spectacular rock formations, mountains, and landscapes.
The park stands on the Beaufort group of rocks (Above) that date back millions of years.
Some of the geological features you might see are dykes, dolerite sills, and sandstones.
Take a drive along Klipspringer pass and stop at the Rooivalle lookout to appreciate their magnificence.
See the power of nature in work through erosion; sculpted rocks by the wind and koppies- scattered steep-sided hills.
Pitch your tent in one of the many pleasant campsites in the Karoo, with grassy shady sites, birds, spotless ablution sites, and many other things to keep you interested.
(see below for more info on camping in this park)
Something you should definitely bring along with you is your mountain bike. When you reach the rest camp, the short outride Sylvester single track MTB route which is a 2.7 km track is perfect.
But this is for those who are staying overnight within the park.
There is actually a funny story about the name of this track:
The route is named after Sylvester the lion, who escaped the park twice and led rangers on a wild goose chase around the veld before he was recaptured.
Sylvester was later relocated to Addo Elephant National Park, where he finally settled down.
Guided Karoo Safari with a 4×4 wheel drive car.
This is a chance to learn about the park in an open 4×4 car, from a park guide, because it is better to use a car like that to visit Karoo national park.
You have the option of choosing between a 90-minute night drive, which may yield sightings of nocturnal animals such as aardvark, caracal, bat-eared fox, aardwolf, and spotted eagle owl, or a two to three-hour early morning drive.
Early morning is also the best time to spot the nocturnal animals as they settle down for the day, and the daytime animals start their daily routine.
For these guided tours, ask at the reception for availability, but in general, a minimum of four people is required.
Also to note is that, during the winter months, the nights can be seriously cold.
Drive the scenic Klipspringer Pass.
Even if you’re just stopping over in Karoo National Park, or you’re staying for a few nights, the scenic klipspringer pass is a must-drive.
The pass itself is built in the dry stone rock stacking manner devised by Andrew Geddes Bain in the 19th century.
The construction of the road took some 7800 cubic meters of stone to complete.
Along the Klipspringer pass you need to look out for Verreaux’s eagles, soaring majestically above in lazy circles overhead scanning the landscape for their favorite meal, the rock hyrax.
You might also see the animal that the pass is named after, the Klipspringer.
The klipspringer is a rock climbing antelope, which resides in the mountains of Eastern and Southern Africa.
One of the most notable features of this animal is its hooves, with each about the diameter of a small coin, and its feet specially adapted for traction on rocky surfaces with a slight suction cup effect.
Game viewing drive
To experience the splendor of what the park has to offer, a personal game drive is a must.
The Potlekkertjie Loop is a 45 km route that offers you the chance to spot animals like the steenbok, red hartebeest, black-backed jackals, cape mountain zebra, eland, and kudu, and if you’re lucky a lion.
To the North East of the main camp is the 13 km Lammertjiesleegte route over the open plains where the sparse vegetation makes it easy to see animals as they graze.
As you go for your game drive, you can pack a picnic to enjoy. There are picnic sites such as the Doornhoek picnic site on the Potlekkertjie loop, or the Burkraal on the Lammertjiesleegte route.
Old Schuur Interpretive Centre
The Old Schuur Interpretive Centre near the campsite is a treasure trove of knowledge on the history, people, plants, geology, and modern and ancient animals of the Karoo.
Within the center are perfectly preserved specimens of the black eagle, riverine rabbit, caracal, and bat-eared fox.
There is also a lot of information on rock art, and the food that the early inhabitants of the Karoo ate.
A visit to the bird hide
The bird hide is situated at the small dam near the main camp, and visitors can use it for some bird watching.
Some of the birds that visit the hide include herons, red-knobbed coots, and dabchicks.
The park is blessed to have more than 200 species of birds including; the Kori bustard, Karoo korhaan, short-toed rock thrush, long-billed lark, cinnamon-breasted warbler, and the African rock pipit.
Go tortoise spotting
Being the park with the most number of tortoise species in the world is a special honor and is something worth doing in the Karoo; tortoise spotting.
These species include:
- the Leopard tortoise (South Africa’s largest tortoise and the most noticed),
- the tiny Karoo dwarf tortoise (only found in the Karoo area),
- the tent tortoise,
- the greater Karoo tortoise,
- and the angulate tortoise.
Exploring The Karoo Hiking Trails
The park has some trails that can be used for exploration and site seeing. Some of these trails are:
The Fossil trail
The 400 m fossil trail in the main rest camp gives guests a chance to see fossil fragments.
Along this trail, you will find info boards that give an interactive history lesson, on the geology and paleontology of the Karoo Basin and how it looked about 250 million years ago.
You’ll be able to meet some of the creatures that lived here back then, from small insect-eating hunters to terrifying Gorgonopsids.
These were super-predators of the late Permian era and the first among carnivores to actively run down their prey.
This 800 m trail at the main rest camp, gives guests the chance to learn about the Karoo’s flora diversity, such as aloes, spiny Klapperbossie, num-num, Boegoekaroo, and Crassulas.
This rich diversity is a result of the Karoo being part of the Nama-Karoo and grassland biomes.
Have a look at the video below on the bossie trail:
If you plan on hiring a 4×4 vehicle and have some experience with off-road driving, there are some great driving trails in the park.
Four are open to all visitors at no extra cost and without the need for a permit.
- the Afsaal loop; a 12.8 km diversion of the Potlekkertjie loop that leads to the Afsaal cottage.
- The Kookfontein loop,
- the Sandriver loop.
- The fourth loop is the Nuweveld loop; this is a 90 km trail that goes into the Western section of the park, starting off at the Potlekkertjie loop.
Approximately 50 km of the trail is a grade one 4×4 trail with some steep, rocky sections and sandy dry river crossings.
About 20 km into the trail you will find the Embizweni cottage which provides an ideal overnight stopover.
There are two other trails to note:
The Kipplasstsfontein loop.
Which connects to the Nuweveld loop, crossing the central plateau and running along the Kipplasstsfontein River. A free permit is required for this trail in order to monitor progress.
The Pienaar’s pass
This trail is 6 km long, built by farmer Kowie Pienaar and his laborers in the 1940s. The pass took ten years and a lot of dynamite to make it.
To get a permit you’ll need to pay R280 at the reception. This trail though is not for novice drivers or those who are afraid of narrow ledges and heights.
If you wish to stay within the confines of the park, then there are four choices to choose from.
Main rest camp
It has two to six-bed chalets in the Cape Dutch style. These have mountain views, electric stoves, fridge, microwave, kitchen cutlery, aircon, and bath\shower.
Family units also have additional satellite television. The camp serves meals that are included in the rates.
Afsaal and Embizweni cottages
Embizweni cottage is further North on the De Hoek Loop off the Nuweveld 4×4 trail, about 50 km from the main camp.
It accommodates six persons, has a waterhole, solar lighting, gas for the fridge\freezer combo, and hot water showers.
Due to how far into the park this cottage is, there is no cellphone reception. You need to book a minimum of two nights, and booking is done through the park’s reception official number.
Afsaal is an old shepherd’s hut on the Southern section of the Nuweveld 4×4 route about 25 km from the main camp.
The hut has solar lighting, hot showers, a braai (barbeque) unit, and a gas-powered fridge.
This hut has been fixed up and modernized, and now sleeps two adults and two kids.
It has a small waterhole, which is lit up at night and offers 24-hour game viewing from the comfort of your Stoep. There is also no cell reception at the hut.
The park has some nice campsites at the main rest camp with grassed sites that are big enough for motor homes or caravans.
Each site has a power point, and there are clean ablutions with a laundry area complete with a washing machine and a tumbler dryer.
Alternative accommodation can be found in the town of Beaufort-West ranging from affordable rest houses to luxurious hotels.
We will talk about these in another blog post soon!
Daily conservation fees for the park for 1 November 2021 to 31 October 2022:
|South African citizens and residents (with ID)||R60 per adult per day R30 per child per day|
|SADC Nationals (With Passports)||R120 per adult per day R60 per child, per day|
|Standard Conservation Fee( International Visitors)||R240 per adult per day R120 per child per day|
Things to Note.
- The administration is open Monday to Friday from 0730hrs to 1800hrs.
- The Reception From April to the end of September is open from 0700hrs to 1800hrs, and from October to the end of March is from 0700hrs to 1900hrs.
- The main gate is open from 0500hrs to 2200hrs daily and late arrivals and early departures must be arranged through the reception.
- Photography is allowed within the park, but the use of drones inside and over the national park is strictly prohibited.
- Pets are not allowed within the Park.
- Firearms are to be declared at the reception upon arrival where they will be sealed, and the seal is broken upon departure.
- Motorcycles are not allowed. Arrangements can be made with the reception for transport to and from the main gate at a fee, and in advance.
- In summer, be aware of the presence of cape cobra and puff adders if walking in the rest camp. Scorpions are also very common in the park.
- Children of any age are welcome on self-drive safaris and in the rest camp and cottages, but must be six years or older to take part in a guided game drive.
My Final Conclusion.
Well, that was a lot of information to take in on Karoo National Park, no?
I hope that I have informed you enough, but if you have any more questions, please feel free to ask them in the comment section below or join me on one of my social media channels or Facebook group for more pictures and information on Africa.
I wish you happy travels!