This post is part of Kalahari Series II – 2011. The previous post in the series is Take your camera to the bathroom (and other Kalahari safari tips). Also see Kalahari Series I – 2009.
Every Kalahari trip starts with a long drive north from the Southern Cape, via Upington, to Twee Rivieren at the gates of the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. The first day’s tiring drive through the Little and then Great Karoo to Upington, is shown on the map on the left from A to B. It’s a distance of approximately 860 kilometres, and takes around 10 hours to drive. We took the route passing through Oudtshoorn, Beaufort West, Three Sisters, Victoria West, and Britstown. This is not the shortest route, but it is the easiest route to travel because all the roads are tarred and in good repair – except for the current detour between George and Oudtshoorn due to rain induced road damage.
I am going to tell the story of this trip mainly in photographs – some of which were taken at high-speed and through the windscreen! There were so many photo opportunities along the road, but in order to get to Upington by early evening, we had to drive continuously and stop as little as possible. So I have not got a lot of photographs of the towns along the way.
It was a cold, rainy winter’s day when we left home.
Crossing over the Outeniqua mountains (a coastal range) we found fairly cloudless skies – and plenty of sunshine. The Little Karoo lies between the coastal mountains and the inland mountain ranges.
As the name implies, the Little Karoo is the smaller (and more southerly) of the two Karoo sub-regions. Locally it is usually called the Klein Karoo, which is Afrikaans for Little Karoo. Geographically it is a fertile valley (bounded on the north by the Swartberg, and on the south by the Langeberg and Outeniqua mountains). Although the boundaries of the region are not strictly defined, most people consider the western limit of the Little Karoo to be in the region of Barrydale and the eastern extremity around Uniondale.
The main town of the region is Oudtshoorn. Other towns/settlements in the region include Ladismith, Calitzdorp, De Rust,and well-known mission stations such as Zoar, Amalienstein, Barrydale and Dysselsdorp.
This area was first explored by European settlers in the late 17th century, who encountered only Khoisan people living in this rather dry area. Modern farming methods have brought productivity and wealth to this district . . . Read more . . .
Driving through Meiringspoort (a passage, carved by a river, through the Swartberg mountains), one leaves behind the Little Karoo and enters the Great Karoo.
You may recognize the rock formations from a previous post (Swartberg Pass: A drive to Hell and back). This gap is in the same mountain range.
Then we were in the Great Karoo. Which is an extremely flat and arid area known for its long, straight roads. The vegetation tends to be low scrub and grasses, with very few trees (which only grow where there is water available).
The Great Karoo has an area of more than 400,000 square kilometers. From a geological point of view it has been a vast inland basin for most of the past 250 million years. At one stage the area was glaciated and the evidence for this is found in the widely-distributed Dwyka tillite. Later, at various times, there were great inland deltas, seas, lakes or swamps. Enormous deposits of coal formed and these are one of the pillars of the economy of South Africa today. Volcanic activity took place on a titanic scale. Despite this baptism of fire, ancient reptiles and amphibians prospered in the wet forests and their remains have made the Karoo famous amongst palaeontologists.
Western people first settled in the Cape in 1652 but made almost no inroads into the Karoo prior to about 1800. Before that time, large herds of antelope, zebra and other large game roamed the grassy flats of the region. The Khoi and Bushmen, last of the southern African Stone Age peoples, wandered far and wide. There were no Europeans and no Africans of Bantu extraction . . .
. . . Currently sheep farming is still the economic backbone of the Karoo, with other forms of agriculture established in areas where irrigation is possible. Lately game farms and tourism have also started to make an economic impact . . . Read more . . .
Beaufort West (the largest town of the Great Karoo) has some beautiful buildings, and because it’s a bigger town, we slowed down enough to take some photographs.
To the north of Beaufort West . . .
A pit-stop at the Three Sisters Shell Ultra City. All that is here is a re-fuelling station and fast-food restaurant. We got here just after 13:00 (1 p.m.) and the sun was hot and the glare intense.
Nearby are the Three Sisters koppies from which the re-fuelling station gets its name. For children in South Africa this is an absolute milestone. It’s on the main route from Johannesburg to Cape Town, and breaks the monotony of driving through the Karoo. A place to get out, get some refreshments and get rid of all that energy that has been building up in the car.
A lot of people do not like the Karoo, but I think there’s a lot of beauty in it if you look carefully. Like the Kalahari, it is a very unique landscape. In the intense heat the sky is often pale and the colours of the landscape get washed out. Then you’ll come across a very bold feature like the one below.
Although we did not take many photographs of the towns, this church in the little Karoo town of Britstown really stood out.
After Britstown one starts to turn north-east towards Upington. This is one of the most difficult bits because the roads are very straight and endless, with long distances between towns. Mostly one doesn’t even drive through the towns, but just passes by them from a distance.
If you want to know more about the Sociable Weaver bird, read this post from the Kalahari Series I – Kalahari: Little Birds.
Close to Upington, the scenery changes with hills and more savanna-type vegetation.
By now it was late afternoon/early evening and it became difficult to take photographs.
The next installment of The Long Road North will be following shortly . . .
The Kalahari 2011 Series:
- An oasis in the desert
- Take your camera to the bathroom (and other Kalahari safari tips)
- The long road North – Southern Cape to Upington (this post)
- The Long Road North – Upington
- Showing your kid where its food comes from
- Fierce Creatures
- Gemsbok Graphics
- The Long Road North – Upington to Twee Rivieren and beyond
- Campfire story: The Last Outpost
- Slip-Slap-Slop-Slide and other Bush Beauty Tips
- Hey Mom . . . wait for me!
- A tough customer
- Frenzy at the “water hole” – includes the movie
- The Camp Cat