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  • Writer's pictureGabby Sykora

Where Vast Horizons Meet Wildlife Wonders - The Karoo National Park

The vast arid landscape of the Karoo National Park

With an early 3am start, we embarked on our road trip, leaving the urban bustle behind. Dropping off to sleep again for a short while and waking as the sun painted the sky with hues of pink and gold, both Luca and I were refreshed and eager to spot some interesting birds. Pausing for a brief meal, we synced our birding checklist while seated in the gardens, keenly observing, and adding all bird species to our growing list for the trip. The open road beckoned, once again, promising an adventure filled with discovery and wonder. The journey unfolded through vast stretches of South African farmland, where fields of golden crops swayed in the gentle breeze. Small towns dotted the landscape, each with its unique character and stories echoing the rhythms of rural life. The road became a portal to a different world, where time seemed to slow down, and the essence of South Africa's heartland unfolded.

Always an amazing feeling, arriving at your destination

Our first stop of the trip was a first for us all and excitement mounted as we headed through Beaufort West. Tucked away in the heart of South Africa, the Karoo National Park beckons travellers to embark on a soul-stirring journey through its vast landscapes, rugged terrains, and fascinating wildlife. As we explored this hidden gem, we discovered a sanctuary where time seems to stand still, and the raw beauty of nature unfolds in every direction.

Venturing into the unknown

Spanning over 80,000 hectares, the Karoo National Park is a sprawling testament to the stark beauty of the Karoo region. The park encompasses diverse ecosystems, from the rugged mountains to the sweeping plains, creating a canvas of ever-changing landscapes that captivate the senses. As we ventured deeper into the park, we found ourselves surrounded by an otherworldly silence, broken only by the distant calls of wildlife and the rustle of the wind through the hardy vegetation. In the dry and arid conditions of the Karoo, the strong wind made it nearly impossible to keep our windows open while driving. Getting out at viewpoints became a quick and challenging affair but we did it non-the-less.

Hold on to your hats! The wind was hectic

The Karoo National Park is home to a remarkable array of wildlife that has adapted to the challenges of this arid environment. During our explorations, we were fortunate to encounter herds of graceful springbok gracefully navigating the vast plains, elusive kudu disappearing into the thicket. The Karoo National Park's commitment to conservation efforts has created a haven for these species, providing a glimpse into the delicate balance of the tough life in the Karoo. Here, I encountered my first new bird species’ of the trip. The Rufous-eared Warbler, Booted Eagle, Karoo Korhaan, a nice flock of Black-eared Sparrow Lark, Karoo Long-billed Lark and the Karoo Chat were the just the start. Luca also added to his life list, but having previously observed many of the birds I was seeing for the first time, during his Karoo trip the year before, his list was not as high as mine. The White-throated Canary and Sickle-winged Chat were welcome additions as the day drew to a close with the latter bringing up my 500th species on my life list.

Karoo Scrub Robin

Rufous-eared Warbler

Karoo Long-billed Lark

Departing from the park, we made our way to Beaufort West, our accommodation for the next two nights—a delightful Airbnb that proved to be a true gem, just as suggested during the booking process. Following a delightful dinner, we settled in for the night with the intention of rising early the next morning to return to the park for a full day of adventure.

Taking in the vast open spaces from the lookout

The following morning, as planned, we embarked on our journey to make the most of the early hours in the bush. The wind, considerably milder compared to the previous evening, allowed us to drive with open windows. Wrapped in blankets to ward off the morning chill, we immersed ourselves in the sounds of the bush. Making a brief stop at the Rest Camp, we embarked on a short 2km walk, offering us an opportunity to truly appreciate the arid, dry landscape. Along the way, we discovered scattered beautiful orchids emerging unexpectedly, a moment that emphasized my desire to gain more knowledge about these stunning plant species. It was here that we added Yellow-bellied Eremomela and Lark-like Bunting to our lists.

White-throated Canary

Following the walk, we enjoyed a quick breakfast of toasties before venturing deeper into the park to explore the 4x4 routes. Our goal was to catch sight of the reported lions near the Nuweveld Loop. Although the lions remained elusive, our efforts rewarded us with the addition of a few more lifers to our growing list. On the Klipspringer pass, Luca had the opportunity to acquire valuable off-road driving experience as we navigated the challenging roads that led us further into the magnificence of the Karoo. My noteworthy birds along this route were the Short-toed Rock Thrush, Fairy Flycatcher, Layards Warbler, Pale-winged Starling, Verrauxes Eagle, Grey Tit, Karoo Prinias, and the Ground Woodpecker. A brief drive to the Bulkraal Picnic Site and Swimming Pool through the Lemmertjiesleegte loop proved to be rewarding as Luca successfully spotted an elusive Garden Warbler, lifer number 503 for me and 515 for Luca.

The arid, dry landscape of the Karoo

As the day neared its end, we decided to visit the bird hide, conveniently located within walking distance of the main complex at the rest camp. To our surprise, we found the area swarming with ants. The pathway seemed alive, and one had to practically sprint to avoid the sensation of the almost 'alive' ground beneath our feet. This brought new meaning to birding in a hide with all feet off the ground.

Later, we enjoyed a delightful meal at the park's restaurant, there is nothing tastier than Karoo lamb chops in the Karoo. It was where we had the pleasure of meeting Jane Britz, a fellow YWP member and admin. Following our meal, we returned to our accommodation to start packing for the upcoming journey to the Garden Route, but that's a story for another day...




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