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TThe Karoo National Park is a convenient stopover for those heading along the N1 between Johannesburg and Cape Town. But it is addictive. The silence and the far horizons clear your head. Then you start noticing the little creatures all around you, and the eagles that soar above.
The day is cooling over the Karoo National Park, and the Nuweveld mountains that danced and shimmered in the heat have solidified to blue.
A breeze springs up over the valleys of the Karoo. Now is the time to sit on the stoep and watch the swallows sky-stitch the view together. A flock of masked weavers, sparrows, mountain chats or red-winged starlings may flutter down to enquire about biscuit crumbs.
The sky turns a spectacular crimson, and a scrub hare waits quietly for moonrise.
It's a delicious time. Keep watching as you light the braai, because a few minutes after the sun slips behind the mountains you may see a whiffle-nosed elephant shrew appear before your chalet.
This rodent, with a long, impossibly tiny snoot, delicately fossicks through every clump of Karoo scrub, fine-combing for lizard eggs, fresh shoots and unwary insects.
Soon silence descends over the expansive Karoo. This quietness is a presence, something so pure and deep it rings like crystal.
The Karoo National Park is the best of Beaufort West's attractions and a popular place to overnight along the N1 between Johannesburg and Cape Town. Beaufort West is about 5 hours' north of Cape Town, and about 10 hours' drive south of Johannesburg.
Wise to the fact that most people are there for only a short time and might not have hours to watch the Verreaux's eagles patrolling the spectacular Klipspringer Pass, parks officials have created easy attractions. The interpretive centre is one of them, and you can easily spend a happy few hours learning all about riverine rabbits, the Bushman wars, trekboers, bat-eared fox dentistry and a dozen other topics.
There's also a bird hide near the camp, hikes, a Braille trail and a short but fascinating fossil trail. The trail focuses on therapsids – large, mammal-like reptiles that predated the dinosaurs, whose fossils are rich in the Karoo. Be sure to admire the ferocious Gorgonopsian bones and learn about odd digestive habits of the Bradysaurus.
TTravel tips & planning info
Who to contact
Karoo National Park
Tel: +27 (0)23 415 2828/9
How to get here
The entrance to the Karoo National Park is a few kilometres south of Beaufort West, which is on the N1 between Cape Town and Johannesburg.
Best time to visit
Late winter, spring and autumn are excellent times. Midsummer (December to March) can be witheringly hot, and the winter nights are extremely cold (mid-winter is June and July).
Things to do
Pay a visit to Beaufort West, the birthplace of pioneer heart transplant surgeon, Dr Chris Barnard. It's a pretty town with historic buildings.
Length of stay
Most people stop here for 1 night, but you'll be far more refreshed and gain a far greater understanding of the Karoo if you stay for 2 or 3.
What to pack
Even in summer the nights can be chilly, so bring something warm whatever the season. There is a lovely pool at the rest camp, so pack swimming costumes.
Where to stay
There is a very comfortable rest camp in the park, with self-catering chalets to suit singles, couples or families.
What to eat
There is a shop and a restaurant within easy walking distance of the chalets.