Here, in the dry heartland of South Africa, a wealth of geology, fossils, animals and sweeping landscapes lie waiting to be explored. You’ll find the entrance to this park just off the N1 highway, about 6km south of Beaufort West in the Karoo. Here’s my pick of 17 things to do in the Karoo National Park.
6. Join a guided Karoo safari in the park’s open 4x4 to learn about the ecosystem and its inhabitants from your guide. Choose between a two- to three-hour early morning drive and a 90-minute night drive, which may yield sightings of aardwolf, bat-eared fox, caracal, aardvark or spotted eagle-owl. But remember that Karoo nights can be seriously cold in winter. Ask at reception about availability; in general, a minimum of four people is required.
8. Explore the 400m Fossil Trail in the main rest camp to see fossil fragments, even entire skeletons turned to stone. Info boards about the geology and palaeontology of the area pack in the facts and show what the Karoo Basin looked like when it was still a swamp. Meet some creatures who lived here 250 million years ago, from small insect-eating hunters like modern-day lizards or shrews to terrifying gorgonopsians. These were the super-predators of the Late Permian Period and the first carnivores to actively run down their dinner and kill with sabre-like fangs.
10. If you have a 4x4, a fabulous Karoo accommodation choice is to book a night or two at Afsaal Cottage, about 25km from the main rest camp. This renovated old shepherd’s hut on the Nuweveld 4x4 route accommodates two adults and two kids. A small waterhole is lit up at night so you can enjoy 24-hour game viewing from your verandah. The cottage is rustic, with solar lights, a gas fridge, gas burners for cooking and gas geyser for hot-water showers. There’s no cellphone reception; rather kick back and enjoy a braai and some star gazing (see point 15).
13. Spend some time at the Old Schuur Interpretive Centre near the campsite to learn about the history, people, plants, geology, ancient and modern animals of the area. There are taxidermy specimens of bat-eared fox, black eagle, riverine rabbit (the only one you’re likely to see in the park, they’re so rare) and caracal as part of an exhibit about diversity in the Karoo. There’s also info about rock art and the food that early people ate. I particularly liked the room with photos and living memories of people who grew up in the 1940s and 50s in the area that is now the park.
16. Go tortoise spotting. The park is home to five species – the highest density of species for any equivalent area in the world. They are: the leopard tortoise (South Africa’s largest tortoise species and the most likely to be seen here), the tent tortoise, the tiny Karoo dwarf tortoise (which only occurs in the Great Karoo), the angulate tortoise, and the Greater Karoo tortoise.
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