With the blisteringly hot summer months behind us, and as Autumn approaches, this is an ideal time to visit the Karoo and explore and discover the many treasures found in this barren but beautiful landscape.
Each of the small towns dotted across the Karoo has something to offer, from historical landmarks, and cultural and heritage sites, to well-stocked gift shops, farm stalls, and an array of accommodations and eateries.
If you are passing through the area, it is well worth stopping in the towns and doing a bit of exploration.
The Karoo is best known for its dramatic landscape which was formed over 250 million years ago when the entire area of the Great Karoo was covered by a vast inland sea. As the water flowed in it eroded and shaped the rocks creating the unique rock formations we see today.
Sediments brought by the water covered the land and the animals that inhabited it, creating one of the richest fossil beds in the world.
Travellers can enjoy the landscape and visit some of the many museums and fossil centres and marvel at the collections of long-lost creatures trapped in stone.
A good starting point for a visit to the area is the Karoo National Park which has ample accommodation and camping facilities. Visitors can follow the fossil trail which lies within the main rest camp.
If you want to see more, there are fossil tours which cover more of the park. The park also boasts one of Andrew Geddes Bain’s packed-stone passes. The Klipspringer pass, built in the 19th century, winds up to the high ground in the park giving visitors rewarding views of the landscape. The lookout at Rooiwalle is a particular favourite where you can appreciate the beauty of how erosion has sculpted the rocks and koppies.
If your journey takes you to Graaff-Reinet, a visit to the valley of Desolation is a must. Just a few minutes outside of the town this popular view site treats visitors to views of dramatic rock formations, and fingers of rock which seem to be reaching for the heavens.
A short drive from Graaff-Reinet lies the isolated village of Nieu Bethesda which is home to the Kitching Fossil Exploration Centre where visitors can learn more about the unfamiliar and strange creatures that inhabited this area when it was a lush, green and very wet habitat.
James Kitching is a legend for his ability to spot a fossil. He was 7 years old when he made his first find, which was also new to science. Later, just after World War II, he is said to have collected more than 200 fossil skulls in 5 months.
While in New Bethesda, take the opportunity of visiting the Owl House which was once the home of the outsider artist Helen Martins. She decorated the walls of her home and filled her garden with concrete sculptures of people, camels and, of course, owls.
As the sun sets another feature of this area is revealed overhead. The dark skies of the Karoo attract stargazers who take advantage of the ideal conditions for studying the southern skies. Astrophotography enthusiasts flock to the area which offers wonderful opportunities for capturing images of the Milky Way.
So, if you are passing through, slow down a little and explore some of the riches of the area. Better still, spend some time in the Karoo and like travellers of old you, will come away with many stories to tell.