So glad we stopped!
We were discussing our route from Cape Town to Johannesburg when Sheelah remembered that there is a small national park in the Karoo – the Karoo National Park. It is about 450km from Hermanus – where we were staying – and provides a perfect 1/3-of-the-way stop. It must be explained here that even though we did Hermanus to Johannesburg in one long day in 2003 in a Golf, Brodie does not travel quicker than 95kmh (self imposed). 450km is therefore a good distance for a day of driving.
Initially there was no availability at the park, but we decided to stop in at the gate to double check. Success! They had had a cancellation so there was availability. We quickly rang the campsite we were booked in at to tell them we were not coming, and then made our way towards the park reception.
The park was suggested by a local farmer in the 1950s, and was formally proclaimed in 1979 by SANParks. Additional land has been added, and total area is now just under 90,000ha. It contains 3 of the Big5: Black Rhino, Lion, Buffalo. It is also of significant ecological importance, giving access to information about the ancient ecosystem that this area is part of.
What we immediately noticed was that the park is very well kept. The signs are in good order, the fence around the camp looked good, and when we saw the chalet and the reception area we were really impressed. Unfortunately, when we reached the reception, we learned that it was only the main two game drives that were open. Due to the rain the previous few days, all the 4×4 trails were closed. For us, not such a big problem as we were only staying one night, but must have been a bit disappointing for those staying for longer.
Formalities concluded at reception (“just leave your credit card, PIN number and bank account details here and you can be on your way” and “if you get out of your vehicle at the picnic spot look for the lions – they are quite hungry and a bit tired of Springbok; they would love some exotic meat…”) we set out for an afternoon gamedrive on the short circuit. They are quite strict on gate closure at 1800 so we did not have too much time to stop and just watch, but we saw Ostrich, Red Hartebees, Zebra, and Kudu.
Back at the camp site we found a nice spot and unfolded our tent. We soon realised we were a bit out of “norm” at a South African campsite; we did not have an elaborate set-up, we did not have a lot of light, and we did not have any equipment for a braai (we have now installed more light, we will definitely do more braais, but we’ll keep our set-up the way it is). Although lots of kids around, the site was quiet at ten and was still quiet when we got up at 6 the next morning.
After a nice breakfast and a cup of something hot to drink (it was 9 degrees that morning) we set off to do the long gamedrive circuit. This is a 45km loop that takes in some really stunning scenery: grassland, bushes, mountains and ravines. On this loop, we added Steenbok, Black-Backed Jackal, Springbok, Eland, Gemsbok, and Grey Rhebok to our list. We also saw a lot of birds, but with one set of very basic binos (note to self: always carry good binos in national parks) we didn’t really have a chance to do proper ID-ing. We could easily have spent half a day on the loop, but with a long drive to Kimberley ahead of us we tried to keep a bit of a pace up, and left the park at ten.
- Karoo National Park is on the N1 just outside Beaufort West, about 500km from Cape Town.
- The park currently measures just under 90,000ha.
- There are 37 cottages (family/double) and 24 campsites with good facilities.
- There is a restaurant on site, and a small shop for the most basic items.
- Game drives are available to book, and there are four 4×4 eco-trails for self drive (weather permitting).
- Park fees are SA R30, SADC R60, International R120. Free with Wild Card.
- Camping base rate (1-2 people) is R190 for the night all inclusive.