Depending on which part of the Karoo you’re visiting, you’ll find a number of adventure activities, wineries along Route 62 and historical sites to explore.
Karoo National Park
Why you should visit: The SANParks Karoo National Park, just outside of Beaufort West, is the perfect place to explore the best of the Karoo if you don’t have a lot of time. You can enjoy self-guided walks, game drives or hit the trails on a mountain bike or 4X4.
How much does it cost: South African citizens pay R59 per adult per day and international visitors pay R236 per adult per day.
Snow and stars in Sutherland
Why you should visit: Not only does Sutherland enjoy the rather frigid fame of being the coldest town in South Africa (the mercury has been known to plunge -16ºC below zero) but it offers a magical natural experience of an altogether different kind year-round.
Sutherland is home of the Southern African Large Telescope (SALT) – the largest optical telescope in the southern hemisphere. The clear unpolluted night skies create perfect stargazing conditions – just dress warmly.
How to get there: Sutherland is located about 350km away from Cape Town.
How much does it cost: Night tours at SALT cost R120 per adult. www.salt.ac.za
Road trip Route 62
Why you should visit: Named by CNN Travel as one of the world’s best road trip destinations, Route 62 winds its way from Cape Town through Oudtshoorn and the Garden Route to the Eastern Cape. It’s an alternative route to the N2, ideal for travellers looking to take it slow. Deviate slightly from Oudtshoorn to discover Beaufort West and the natural treasures of the Karoo. Climb through the 20 million-year-old Cango Caves, enjoy some port in Calitzdorp, then climb back in the car and hit the road. Getting lost, turning off your phone and discovering forgotten farming hamlets and padstals, chatting to the locals – that’s the real way to discover Route 62.
How to get there: Hop in the car from Cape Town to Robertson – you can join Route 62 there and from then on, head into the Karoo.
Daisy season in Calvinia
Why you should visit: Come August and September, the little Northern Cape town of Calvinia is carpeted with brightly coloured daisies, making it a proud member of the Namaqualand daisy flower route.
Phone ahead to check when the daisies are blooming (it can change quickly). Hantam National Botanical Gardens are a popular spot to see them. The Hantam Meat Festival also takes place every August, so carnivores should arrive hungry.
How to get there: Calvinia lies 400km northwest of Cape Town.
Valley of Desolation
Why you should visit: The Camdeboo National Park, just outside of Graaff-Reinet in the Eastern Cape, may be one of South Africa’s least-known national parks. Why it’s not more popular is surprising (or a relief, for the lucky few who get to enjoy it uninterrupted). It would be worth visiting for the Valley of Desolation alone. The columns of rock tower 120 metres over the earth, creating the most dramatic views of the desolate valley beneath.
How to get there: Find the Camdeboo National Park 5km out of Graaff-Reinet on the R63.
How much does it cost: South African citizens pay R48 per adult per day and international visitors pay R140 per adult per day.
Why you should visit: Come autumn (usually end of April to beginning May), thousands of revellers, artists, creatives and the like converge in what is essentially the middle of nowhere, the Tankwa Karoo National Park for Afrikaburn – the official Burning Man festival of South Africa.
For a few blazing hot days, a temporary self-reliant city of art, creation and performance emerges out of the dust and in a few short days it disappears like a mirage in the desert, leaving no trace behind.
Afrikaburn aside, the Tankwa Karoo National Park is well-worth exploring. One of the hottest and most isolated regions of the country, it’s truly the escape you’re looking for.
How to get there: Afrikaburn takes place on a private farm on the R355, adjacent to the Tankwa Karoo National Park, 70km west of Sutherland and south of Calvinia.
How much does it cost: Afrikaburn tickets are priced from R1 895.
If you’re just visiting the Tankwa Karoo National Park, The SANParks entry fee is R48 per adult per day (for South African citizens and residents).
Cango Caves, Oudtshoorn
Why you should visit: Oudtshoorn is most famous for the Cango Caves and the quirky ostriches for which the town is justifiably famous. You can clamber your way through Cango Caves on two guided tours – the heritage (easy) or adventure route.
The heritage tour takes you into the main cave, Van Zyl’s Hall, which is up to 17 metres high. This is where you can see some amazing formations such as the 10m-high Cleopatra’s Needle, Organ Pipes and more.
If you’re fit and not claustrophobic, we recommend the adventure tour. You’ll get to shimmy your way through the Devil’s Postbox (27cm high) and have a real sense of achievement when you’re done!
How to get there: The Cango Caves are 29km from Oudtshoorn.
How much does it cost: A heritage tour is R150 per adult and an adventure tour is R220 per adult. Bookings are essential.
Get spooked in Matjiesfontein
Why you should visit: There’s a lot of history and fun packed into the sleepy one-street dorp (town) of Matjiesfontein – the perfect stopover en route to Sutherland and the Karoo. Hop on the red double-decker bus tour running daily at 17:45 (except Sundays) for a quick (very quick – it’s about 10 minutes) tour of the town. It may be short but the quirky tour, guided by born-and-bred Matjiesfontein local, Jon Theunissen, guarantees a laugh a minute.
How much does it cost: The tour leaves from the Lord Milner Hotel and is free.
The Big Hole, Kimberley
Why you should visit: Kimberley, the city of diamonds, is most famous for its appropriately named Big Hole. A testament to the city’s diamond rush in the late 1800s, this iconic landmark yielded over 2 720kg of diamonds which were excavated, by hand, from the open pit and underground mine. Join a guided daily tour.
How to get there: Kimberly is a seven-hour drive north of Sutherland.
How much does it cost: R100 per adult.