Visiting the Klein Karoo in South Africa
Visiting the Klein Karoo in South Africa
Situated in the Southern tip of Africa South Africa as a country has 9 natural habitats varying from the desert in the N/W to small sections of Mangrove in the tropical eastern sections. The Little Karoo exists in the Western Cape between the Outiniqua Mountains that hug the southern coast and the Swartberg in the interior to the north. It is just a narrow belt of land that falls in the rain shadow caused by the coastal mountains to the south that prevents moist ocean air from reaching it.
At the same time rivers like the Gouritz and the Great Brak, among others, bring water from the mountains and provide irrigation possibilities to the rich Langkloof area between the mountains. Here much of South Africa’s deciduous fruit is produced. Traditionally this area has also been the area that is ideal for the breeding of Ostriches and so the town of Oudshoorn is central to that industry. In times past these big birds brought great riches to the country before synthetic material replaced Ostrich feathers for decorative purposes. Today you can buy Ostrich biltong (jerky) and Ostrich steaks.
There are three main vegetation types in the area; fynbos and karoo semi desert with occasional mixed grassland and spekboom bush. Rainfall is low but the soil is rich and so huge areas of cultivated orchards are found here, mainly apples, pears, plumbs, grapes and nectarines.
While this area is not on the main tourist routes in South Africa it has a beauty of its own and deserves a visit by both international and local tourists. The Cango Caves just north of Oudtshoorn are a wonder that need to be visited. The Ostrich farms have become an interesting place to visit and put on a good show for tourists including rides and races. The Calitzdorp Spa is a gem in the mountains near the town of that name, providing hot springs that claim to be healing for all kinds of aches and pains.
Artists have made the towns in this area a mecca for their variety of art that is produced here. The towns also have a choice of antique shops that present a large selection of Africana in their crowded rooms. Here you can find anything from old artifacts from the past to more modern arts and crafts. Certainly there is something for anyone. One of the highlights of a visit to this area in the fruit that is available in the particular season that it is visited in. “Padstalle” (Road stalls) offer a great selection of homemade spices and canned fruit, and also a large selection on dry fruit.
For the wine lover there are an abundance of vineyards and wineries available, each one offering wine tasting and sales. The area around Calitzdorp and Ladismith lay claim to being the Port Capital of the world. The grapes here are perfect for the production of sweet wines. We picked grapes at the Krans Vineyard during their open days before they harvested their crop. A really amazing experience.
For the keen birder the endemic birds of the area are certain to add to your life list. Along the road you will also be able to see many of the South African antelope and certainly many an Ostrich. The 4x4 enthusiast can make a detour in the nearby well known wilderness area called the Baviaanspoort. Here cyclists and hikers can find a variety of trails to challenge them and adventure seekers have a choice of mountaineering and canoeing. One of the attractions of this area is that it is not crowded like the more popular areas like Cape Town, Kruger National Park and Durban.
Accommodation is available in every town in the form of bed and breakfast establishments and self catering chalets and rooms. For the visitor who is on a tight budget camping and back-packer opportunities are to be found. Every town has many restaurants that offer a variety of local menus, guaranteed to delight every taste.
Lying in the hot or cold swimming pool at the Calitzdorp Spa after the sun has gone down visitors will be amazed to see the stars in a way that they have probably never seen them before. In the evening sitting outside your tent the visiting Springbok and an occasional Mountain Tortoises will graze close by. During the day the blue skies and beautiful landscapes will amaze for kilometer after kilometer. Stopping at a lookout point or a rest stop the beautiful fynbos with its choice of flowering proteas will find the visitor looking for their camera. This part of South Africa has in the past two years become a must visit area on our calendar.
Resources: Curruthers, V. The Wildlife of Southern Africa.
Stuart, C. and M. National Parks and Nature Reserves – a South African Field Guide.