Karoo National Park is an overlooked secret. And for those on the Garden Route, how bad can a two to three-and-a-half-hour drive really be? From Knysna, we drove via the roiled and twisted Swiss-roll folds of the Swartberg mountains, soaring walls of rock hedging us tightly in. Meiringspoort is a wonder of sandstone cracked and broken into checkerboard squares as if a mighty sledgehammer has smashed down onto a solid sheet of rock. Best place for thermos coffee and rusks where, standing at the foot of the barricade, the vibrating energy of the rock is palpable.
Then there is the Great Karoo, a landscape flat as a pancake, the surface broken only by remote farmstalls, whirring windpumps and shaggy Angora sheep. In the blue big-dome sky, white cotton clouds float like flying pillows. You enter the Karoo National Park and simple but attractive Cape-style thatched cottages are lined up beneath the heavily sculpted Nuweveld mountains, a rampart of mudstone, siltstone and shale, the slopes interrupted only by concentric rings of weather-resistant dolerite. With immense drama the mountains fill your vision wherever you are in the park.
Two prides of lion roam across the vast park (770 km²!) but they constantly evaded us, always appearing the next day in areas we’d just explored. Never mind, we got just as excited at dainty steenbok pairs and breathtakingly agile klipspringers bouncing down sheer rock faces. We also have never seen so many (healthy-looking, shiny-coated) herds of antelope (100 eland!) and mountain zebra before in this park. We were left speechless at a beautiful close-in-our-sights encounter with a black rhino (I’m allowed to mention it because, sadly, it had been dehorned).
Highlights included the Whoo-hoo hoooo of three spotted eagle-owls having an extended chat between themselves at dusk in front of our cottage, a Verreaux’s eagle black as pitch sitting on a rock undeterred by the rock kestrel that was dive-bombing it, and a dancing secretary bird that appeared to be chasing a snake. The Nuweveld Eco 4×4 trail took us all day to tackle. Outside of lunch and coffee and photographic stops, we covered 100 kilometres in seven hours. Our Prado and Land Rover Discovery clambered up very steep rises of stone, gravel and shale (then back down again), negotiated embedded boulders and rock shelves, bumped and bounced and swayed over countless humps and washaways. It was so bumpy I was bouncing in my dreams. But what an adventure. We loved it. Throughout the entire day, we were the only two vehicles on the road. How privileged is that?
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