The sun was setting turning the rugged Karoo landscape into a pinkish hue when the large male lion let out a loud roar, piercing the silence. We had been lucky and had come across the lion just as he was starting the patrol of his territory for the night. This had meant he was easier to spot as he was up and walking close to the road before venturing further into the bush. Stopping to let out deep roars proclaiming his presence. As it was getting dark we could not stay long as we had to get back to camp before the gate closed for the evening but it was a wonderful exciting encounter.
Before coming to South Africa we had purchased a Wildcard pass that meant we had free access to the National Parks for the whole family for a year. This was great as we really wanted to focus our time in the natural wilderness. Been in the National Parks though meant we had to stay in the established campsites. While in South America we had enjoyed been able to camp pretty much anywhere however this was not possible in South Africa especially in the National Parks. It has to be said though that the campsites were excellent with great facilities. The bathrooms often even had bath tubs which meant Alisha and Lucy could have a hot bath each evening. This was very welcome as the temperatures soon dropped and whilst in the Karoo we even had frost on the truck in the morning.
The Karoo is a vast semi arid plateau that covers almost one third of South Africa. It has a stunning harsh landscape with wonderful sunsets and clear, but cold, starlit nights. We have spent the last week visiting a number of the National Parks in this area stretching from the Eastern Cape into the edge of the Western Cape and then driving into the Northern Cape.
The first park we visited was Mountain Zebra National Park. This park had been set up to conserve, yes you have guessed it, the rare Mountain Zebra and it was not long before we came across sightings of these. Their stripes are more bold and go all the way down their legs which are the key differences from the more common Burchell’s Zebra. The park was also famous for having Cheetah but we were not lucky enough to see any.
Mind you we did have some luck. On an evening game drive Gilly said stop. She was pointing at a large rock in a bush. On closer examination it was a Black Rhino. We paused and switched off the engine and the rhino slowly emerged from the bush. Rhino have very bad sight and are curious so it slowly started walking towards us. Black Rhino are notoriously bad tempered and have been known to charge a vehicle and as it got closer Gilly said “what if it charges?” For once I was not concerned, the truck is a lot bigger than it. It kept coming closer until it could make us out. It stopped, snorted and then headed back into the bush. A magical moment.
As we drove around the park it was not all about the wildlife but also the wonderful views we had of the stark scenery. Stopping to admire the views we kept seeing lots of different types of antelope working their way across the dry landscape.
Camdeboo National Park is more famous for its viewpoints than its wild life and surrounds the town of Graff-Reinet. Graff-Reinet is one of South Africa’s oldest towns and some of the streets are full of old Dutch Gable buildings. At this park we drove up one of the highest hills to get a view over the Karoo as the sun set. The craggy mountains were wonderful and you could see for miles into the distance.
Although the park is not famous for its wildlife it still has lots of animals in it. So the next morning rather than doing school in the campsite we drove out to a nice spot to enjoy the view. Whilst the girls were in the back doing school I sat in the front reading a book. On looking up I saw a family of Bat Eared Foxes checking us out as they returned from their nights scavenging. As I reached for the camera though they shot off into the distance.
From Camdeboo we headed to Karoo National Park. This was in the news as we were travelling to it as one of the lions in the park had escaped onto adjoining farmland and there was a big hunt trying to recapture it. As we checked in we asked if they had found their lion but they had not.
That was the evening we came across our special lion sighting.
Even before then it had been a wonderful drive. The scenery was fantastic and as we crossed one of the passes we came across some lovely little Klipspringer Antelopes just by the side of the road. They stood stock still as if posing for us before bounding into the bush.
We have now relaxed into the rhythm of been in the National Parks. We are up early to get out to see the wildlife, spend the day slowly driving around stopping for school and to eat and then are into bed early as it is very cold when the sun goes down.
It was time to head North and we had an early start as we had to cover over 600kms to our next stop, Upington. As we headed North we could see how vast the Karoo was with just goat and sheep farms dotted along the way and some tiny little towns that served the farming community. The road was straight with very little to see and was a bit like when we had driven through Saskatchewan in Canada. As we approached Upington, the Karoo landscape started to change and we could start to see the soil/sand had turned redder, we were approaching the Kalahari.
Upington is built on the banks of the Orange River and as such is a bit of an oasis in the desert. We camped by the river for the night and then used the town to fully restock the truck. We had been planning to visit Augrabies Falls, a large waterfall further down the river. However we were told the falls were pretty empty at this time of the year and as it was a 250km round trip decided instead to head further North into the Kalahari.
We had 2 days to kill before we could enter the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, where we had camping reservations, so we camped just south of there. We were in need of a few days chilling after all the driving and here we could start to get a feel for the enchanting Kalahari desert.