By: Sarah Purchase
Get a snapshot of a fascinating – and increasingly accessible – region of South Africa. The Karoo is a semi-desert interior area of South Africa notable for its extremes of temperature and its low rainfall (the name is thought to mean “big thirst”). It extends across parts of the Western and Eastern provinces of South Africa.
As you take off in a small Cessna aircraft over the Karoo, nothing can prepare you for its width of open plains and depth of mountain ranges. They evoke an almost spiritual feeling of being suspended in time and space.
There are many historical towns in this semi-desert area in the South African interior, though none as widely acclaimed as Graaff-Reinet, the “Gem of the Karoo”. Founded by the Dutch East Company in the mid 1700s, it boasts charming wide streets and colourful shuttered windows. We spent a few nights in the historical Drostdy Hotel – once a magistrate’s court and now a five-star property of lush lawns – while exploring the town’s shops, a local botanist and some nearby farms.
We then travelled a short distance to Mount Camdeboo, a privately owned game reserve with a focus on conservation and reintroducing wild animals to the area. The reserve’s unique manor house dates back to the early settlers and is unlike other lodges, incorporating luxury and comfort effortlessly while retaining a real family feel. The surrounding gardens and pool are perfect for relaxing, and the lawns and rose garden stretch across to meet the wild African bush.
Game viewing here is out of this world – our highlights included the rhinos moving slowly off the road as we passed in our open vehicle, and, as the evening light faded, watching a female cheetah stalking her prey. We also climbed high up the gorges to the top of the plateau, where the entire savannah was revealed below. This area is referred to as “360” for its panoramic view, a painter’s palette of chalky green and soft brown land under copper-coloured clouds.
To make even more of the elevation, try a picnic on top of the mountain. As a Robinson helicopter lifted off the lawns of the manor house and flew us over the game, we were reminded again of the vastness of the Karoo. Viewed from on high, it’s like a glimpse through god’s window on the world; it feels less like travel and more like a journey to the soul.
- Cathay Pacific flies direct to Johannesburg daily from Hong Kong (cathaypacific.com). From there, fly Cem Air to Plettenberg Bay (flycemair.co.za) and on to the small airstrip of Graaff-Reinet with Plett Air Safaris (plettairsafaris.co.za).
- Drostdy Hotel: drostdy.co.za
- Mount Camdeboo: mountcamdeboo.com
- Karoo Connections:karooconnections.co.za
- Fly Karoo: flykaroo.co.za
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This article first appeared in the April/May 2018 issue of Expat Living magazine. Subscribe now so you never miss an issue.