I realised when I started writing about our trip to the Karoo, that it would be a whole lot more than one blog post… I have split it up into three posts: This one, the ultimate guide on what you will need and tips on things to do; The Wild Karoo book review; and The Photo Tour of our Week of Exploring the Karoo National Park.
Se7en Tips for Staying in the Karoo National Park
- Plan for Down Time: The idea is that you are heading out into the Karoo for a week of hiking… and when you are packing you are thinking: minimal clothing, because hiking/camping; a bathing costume and towel; something warm to wear and a beanie, because the nights are cold (forget chilly); and otherwise a sun hat, because the sun is relentless. So while you are packing you might not be thinking of downtime, but in the heat of the day… you really need to just find a shady spot, and some evenings are just too cold to be stargazing.
We didn’t really need to take anything extra, card games weren’t touched and books were hardly read – the excitement of being in the great outdoors was actually enough. We did take our nature notebooks for drawing and making notes, and a fair amount of dipping into the pile of reference books that I took went on… but for the most part, they were content to hike, swim and chatter around the campfire at night… I am telling you this, because the idea is that we plan what to do all day, only to discover that all plans made a day’s drive away are out of context and on the most part kids are happy to roam around and explore, the space they are in, without any extra gear tossed in.
- Take Tons of Water, Wherever you Go: You are walking into an arid land, where the heat is blistering and the cold icy. If you are lucky enough to stay somewhere with a freezer then make sure you freeze your water bottles overnight (don’t fill them to the max before you freeze them, water expands when you freeze it and that will lead to a water bottle disaster). There is nothing better than getting to your lunch break and your water bottle has defrosted and you have some icy cold water to drink. I also kept a packet of tea bags in my pack, so for days that were really cold we could have a hot cup of tea on a hike. I always carry a flask of hot water, you never know when you will need a cup of tea stat or a breakfast coffee.
- Make Full use of the Rest Spots in the Park: On the Potlekkertjie Loop there is a picnic spot at Doornhoek, where you can braai and if you get up for an early morning game drive (and you should), it is the perfect breakfast spot. And after a long sit in the car, looking and looking for game to spot, everyone needs to stretch their legs and make use of the bathroom there. Otherwise, at Bulkraal there is a fabulous swimming pool, change rooms and braai spot… in the middle of a this arid land.
It is essential for cooling off, because this is a land of extremes where the cold is freezing and the heat unprecedented. You can expect the vervet monkeys to watch your every move and if you aren’t holding onto your sandwich, then it will do a runner!!!
- Ask at the Rest Camp Reception for Information: Not only can you see where other folk have spotted animals on the day, but you can collect free printout spotters charts: A bird list, a reptile and amphibians chart and a mammals chart. There is also a gift shop and you can buy a couple of supplies, in case you run out of anything and you are desperate. And I say desperate, because you are going to be paying tourist prices here, and you aren’t too far from Beaufort West if you want to dash into town for fresh supplies.
- What to Eat and Where to Shop: After driving all the way up from Cape Town, the last thing we felt like doing was heading to the store. But we stopped in Beaufort West for supplies, before heading into the park and it was the best idea ever. We just stopped at the local supermarket and they had everything we needed to “eat the rainbow” for our week in the Karoo. Plenty of colourful fruit and veg, at really good prices, and everything you could possibly need to braai, you are in the Karoo and local is lekker. Meat prices were substantially cheaper than the prices we pay in the city. While I didn’t take masses of food with us because I planned to shop in Beaufort West upon arrival, I did take our bead machine – a luxury of Fresh Bread daily… and being able to make sandwiches for that day’s hike made all my explorers happy. For a snack I always take rice crispy treats, they define holiday and hiking for my kids and I reckon with all the hiking and great outdoors, they make a fun treat. On any day they also have raisins and an apple/citrus in their backpack… because what is a rest on a hike without something to nibble on.
Rice Krispie Treats: Melt 250g butter in a pot and add about 500g of marshmallows. When it is completely melted add in a large packet of Rice Krispies. It is really sticky! Place it in a large dish to set, it won’t take long… you have to hide it at this stage. Once it has cooled slice it into chunks and wrap it up ready to put into backpacks.
Once we had been shopping I didn’t intend to shop again, it is a bout a 60km round trip from where we were staying into town.
- Monday: Roadtripping… treats of take outs on the road and supper was a Boerwors and roostekoek and rice with roast tomato sauce and vegetables.
- Tuesday: Oat crunchies, with seeds in them; Bacon sandwiches for lunch, with sliced pineapple and avocado; Supper was a chicken braai, brocolli and baby pea salad, and baked potatoes.
- Wednesday: Eggs, bacon, tomatoes for breakfast; Cheese sandwiches, and red/green/yellow peppers and a pineapple for lunch; Supper was braai broodjies: with cheese, tomato, onions, and pork ribbetjies.
- Thursday: Oat crunchies, with seeds in them; Lunch was pasta salad filled with vegetables from the night before; Supper was lamb chops and mielies (corn) on the braai, as well as stunning vegetable lasagne and watermelon for desert.
- Friday: All the left overs for breakfast and then we hit the road to return home.
- Feasting in the Karoo: If you haven’t been braaing all your life and you don’t have your own essential list of roosterkoek, Kampfire Koffie, and you want to get the whole Karoo vibe of cooking, then look no further than Justin Bonello’s Cooked in the Karoo. Even on the far side of the world this book will feel like you are hiking through the Karoo.
- Se7en Essential Books to Take to the Karoo
- Scatalog: You will track a lot of scat, its everywhere… from buck to beasts, you will want to know who has left their trace alongside your path. This book is a gem and slips into a backpack really easily. Possibly our all time favourite nature book.
- Southern African Mammals Made Easy: In the Karoo National Park you will encounter a lot of mammals… and this quick guide will help you identify which of the many varieties of buck you are looking at. Another quick reference book that you can pop into your backpack.
- Tracker Manual: Is our favourite Animal Book for South Africa, this is a book that you need to read in the evening when you get back from a day of hiking, and you will step out the next morning with renewed enthusiasm… this book doesn’t just tell you about the footprints of the various animals, but it also tells you about each animal’s habits and so the sort of traces that they leave behind… which sort of animal ate from a particular tree, which a particular animal ate, by looking at its scat. This is a fascinating read.
- Wildlife of South Africa: Is the quintessential guide to all living things to be found in Southern Africa, there are bugs and birds, reptiles and mammals, plants and insects… everything really. It is the essential guide for quick look ups and there is an app available for it as well.
- Kids’ Snakes of South Africa: You are definitely in wild country and you will most likely encounter snakes… this book will not only tell you how to identify the snake you are looking at, but it will tell you interesting facts about the snake… which will help you to remember which snake is which.
- Star Maps for Southern Africa: You are going to be in the Karoo, one of the best places for star gazing in the world. There are no city lights to dampen your view. With or without a book you will be blown away by the stars, it will be fantastic to be able identify some of them… and hence the need for a starry guide book.
- My First Book Of South African Wildlife: We adore this series of books and after years of using this one at the kitchen table for school, we were able to take it out into the veld and look at these animals close up for real.
- Wild Karoo: In our previous post, this book got a complete review, it isn’t a guide book in as much as it is the back story to the Karoo and a great book to have along for the ride to dip into and to answer those questions that arise as you are driving through a region. “I wonder why…” “When did…?” Who do you think…?
My kids are journalers, they like to pop things into notebooks… some of them just draw, others write and need a few facts to add to them, they are all researchers and I always take a box of books to inspire them and to help them learn about the things they have seen during the day:
After a dusty week of driving about you won’t be nearly ready to go home.
Click on the image below to take a look at all our photographs from our tour…
That’s it… hopefully this has given you lots of ideas and tips… If you have any questions then feel free to ask away.