Karoo, South Africa

Smiling Zebra in Karoo National Park.

The Karoo is a broad, mostly sandy expanse of plains divided between the Little Karoo, nearer the coast and the Great Karoo, which seems to stretch into the interior forever.

The broad plains of the Karoo are enlivened by flat-topped mesas and kopjes (conical hills) while the area between the Great and Little Karoo can be quite mountainous.

The Karoo receives little rain and the vegetation is characterised by low-growing succulents and aromatic shrubs which, upon closer inspection are very beautiful and many of which flower spectacularly for a short season.

Visitors to the Karoo National Park near Beaufort West and the Mountain Zebra National Park near Graaff-Reinet will see typically wonderful Karoo scenery, as well as some interesting game. There are Black Rhinos in the Karoo National Park and, not surprisingly, many of the beautiful, endangered and rather rare Cape Mountain Zebra in the Mountain Zebra National Park.

Although midday can be harsh, the quality of light in the Karoo is magnificent. Sunrises and sunsets are awe-inspiring with pastel shades of purple, blue, pink and gold filling the entire horizon. The sky before a storm is particularly dramatic, with shafts of light burn through indigo clouds and rainbows peep out just behind the thunder and lightning.

This is traditionally sheep farming area and the many small towns reflect a sort of sleepiness, as well as showcasing some lovely Victorian houses. On the edges of these vast plains lie almost unexplored mountains, with deep gullies, pretty streams and overhangs filled with rock art.

And even the older buildings - one-roomed stone cottages, corbelled huts and old stone sheds are coming into their own as they are renovated as tourist accommodation. Graaff-Reinet and Cradock offer a wealth of cultural attractions as well as some great accommodation and eating establishments.

The nearby Nieu Bethesda is the site of South Africa's best known outsider art - the Owl House, created by Helen Martins. Nothing happens very fast in the Karoo. It's a place to go to relax, to sit back and watch time move over the hills.

South Africa Nature Reserves : Game Reserves and National Parks
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