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Klein Karoo & Groot Karoo

Look... a rock with four legs!  © Julien Carnot , License

Klein Karoo & Groot Karoo

To the East of Touws River in the Western Cape and stretching to the Northern and the Eastern Cape lies the Karoo which is made up of the Great Karoo in the North, and the Little Karoo in the South.

The Klein Karoo is essentially a long valley bordered on its northern edge by the Swartberg and in the South by the Langeberg and Outeniqua mountains, which separate the region from the coastal strip known as the Garden Route. The valley is dry and arid and was once the home of huge herds of elephant, kudu, buffalo together with rhinos, hippos and lions. All of these have been hunted out and the only fauna left in the area are a few leopards and baboons with a plentiful supply of ostriches in the Oudtshoorn area, which became famous at the turn of the previous century when ostrich- feathered boas became all the rage in Europe.

To the West of Oudtshoorn and in the Swartberg mountains lie the world famous Cango Caves of the Klein Karoo. The caves were first discovered by a Hottentot herdboy while looking for missing cattle. The caves extend underground for over two kilometers and include the Wonder Cave. The main caves may be visited only with a guide and tours set out every two hours. The caves were declared a National Monument in 1938.

A few kilometers to the East of Oudtshoorn lies the charming little village of De Rust, a haven for artists and an area famous for its dessert wines and cheeses. Almost next door to De Rust is the small town of Dysseldorp, established by the London Missionery Society in 1838, the town witnesses a symbolic annual pilgrimage to the local Roman Catholic chapel on Good Friday and visitors from all over the country during the Easter weekend.

The Groot Karoo is a vast and desolate region that sits to the North of the Swartberg. The huge plain was once a vast inland sea of lakes and swamps inhabited by dinosaurs which roamed over the region for 125 million years until their sudden end. Most of the time this desolate land appears dull and uninteresting, but the Groot Karoo can turn green overnight after a sudden rainshower, and the plains can be filled with colour as flowers spring into life.

The town of Beaufort West lies on the N1 highway from Johannesburg to Cape Town and is considered to be the capital of the Groot Karoo. The town has developed over the last few years into a major commercial centre. The whole Groot Karoo region is ideally suited to sheep farming. Beaufort West has become a major holiday destination especially in wintertime, and there are plenty of recreational activities that can be enjoyed in the town. The Karoo National Park is situated just outside and to the northwest of the town. The park is inhabited by several species of buck, and the visitor may also catch sight of baboons, black-eared foxes, jackal and kudu. The lower levels of the park have a typical Karoo vegetation, while the upper slopes are dominated by sour grass.

The Groot Karoo, though appearing sparsely populated by fauna, houses one of the world’s largest collections of fossils and is a mecca for the palaeontologist. The Groot Karoo is unique in that the rock strata contain a virtually unbroken record of fossilized species over a 50 million year period, including the evolution of the first mammals.

The Klein and Groot Karoo regions at first appear as desolate plains, but on closer inspection have proven to be regions that deserve to be visited by young and old alike.

Exploring the Klein Karoo and Groot Karoo regions in South Africa offers a myriad of experiences, from breathtaking landscapes to cultural gems.

Here are ten things to see and do in these captivating areas:

  1. Cango Caves: Discover the awe-inspiring underground wonders of the Cango Caves near Oudtshoorn. Take a guided tour through these ancient limestone chambers adorned with impressive stalactites and stalagmites.

  2. Swartberg Pass: Drive or hike along the scenic Swartberg Pass, a UNESCO World Heritage Site renowned for its dramatic mountain scenery, steep cliffs, and rugged terrain. The pass offers breathtaking views of the surrounding landscapes.

  3. Meiringspoort: Explore Meiringspoort, a stunning mountain pass near De Rust. Marvel at the towering rock formations, cascading waterfalls, and tranquil pools along the route, which is perfect for scenic drives and picnics.

  4. Oudtshoorn: Immerse yourself in the rich cultural heritage of Oudtshoorn, known as the ostrich capital of the world. Visit ostrich farms, explore historical sites like the CP Nel Museum, and indulge in local delicacies.

  5. Gamkaskloof (The Hell): Embark on an adventure to Gamkaskloof, also known as "The Hell." This remote valley, accessible via a challenging mountain pass or hiking trail, offers a glimpse into a bygone era with its isolated community and rugged landscapes.

  6. Karoo National Park: Experience the unique flora and fauna of the Karoo National Park, located near Beaufort West. Go on game drives to spot wildlife such as black rhinos, Cape mountain zebras, and various bird species amidst the stark beauty of the Karoo landscape.

  7. Calitzdorp Wine Route: Discover the boutique wineries along the Calitzdorp Wine Route and indulge in tastings of award-winning port wines and other varietals. The region's unique terroir produces exceptional fortified wines.

  8. Prince Albert: Wander through the charming town of Prince Albert, known for its well-preserved Cape Dutch architecture, quaint streets lined with galleries and boutiques, and scenic views of the Swartberg Mountains.

  9. Stargazing: Experience the magic of the Karoo night sky by stargazing in one of the region's designated dark-sky reserves. The clear, unpolluted skies make for excellent opportunities to observe constellations, planets, and the Milky Way.

  10. Graaff-Reinet: Visit Graaff-Reinet, one of South Africa's oldest towns, and explore its fascinating historical sites, including the iconic Dutch Reformed Church, the Reinet House Museum, and the Valley of Desolation, with its breathtaking rock formations and panoramic views.

These are just a few highlights of the Klein Karoo and Groot Karoo regions, each offering its own unique blend of natural beauty, cultural heritage, and outdoor adventures awaiting exploration.

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