After explorers and missionaries arrived in South Africa and settled in Cape Town in the mid-17th Century, they found the hinterland blocked by a vast semi-desert the Khoikhoi hunter-gatherers called their ‘garo’. They tarried for a while in a sleepy town called Beaufort West to build their churches, and establish the fat-tailed saxon merino sheep herds that would sustain the community. Their decision also helped protect the natural environment as a happy coincidence.
The Trek Begins
The discovery of shiny pebbles on the banks of the Orange River at Kimberley provided the impetus for the some restless Beaufort West inhabitants to find ways through to the north. Sixteen years later the railway arrived en route to the gold fields of Johannesburg and completed the job.
For almost a century the town that once witnessed huge migrations of animals slumbered on while its natural herds depleted. When the authorities decided to establish the Karoo National Park in 1979 few still believed the report of a religious minister. In 1849 he recorded that a vast herd of springbok took three days to pass through the town, and that many were hunted down for sport as was the custom in those bloody times.
Luxury South African Style
I stayed in the Karoo National Park for a few days shortly after the chalets opened in 1989. On the first evening we watched from our balcony as the backdrop of mountains softened with the approach of dusk. The wind whipped up cumulous rain clouds until a crack of lightening broke the static and a roll of thunder followed.
The rain came quickly: vast swathes of water drumming with the intensity of tiny hail, whipping up the dust into tiny puffs until it surrendered and grew from rivulets into torrents. A final thunderclap sent the rain away as quickly as it started. We lit the barbeque. By the time the coals were ready the clouds were gone and the stars were appearing in the cool night sky.
Karoo National Park Fauna & Flora
The park authorities have restocked the shrub lands and occasional thickets in the valleys. From the montane grass high up on the mountain tops to the savannah far below a variety of antelope graze peacefully but with ears flickering for the approach of lion. Birders are in paradise and history is remembered. Follow the fossil trail and see small dinosaurs integrated with the rocks right where they fell.