The Karoo is a semi-desert natural region of South Africa. No exact definition of what constitutes the Karoo is available, so its extent is also not precisely defined. Richmond is a town in the central Karoo region of the Northern Cape Province, South Africa. It is situated on the main N1 route. Expanding National/Provincial Parks and increased conservation-based activities has stimulated tourism in the Karoo area. These parks have also introduced 4×4 and hiking routes. There has also been a growth in private conservation initiatives. The significant national and international investment in the establishment and expansion of Protected Areas in the Karoo attracted over 100 000 tourists in 2014/2015 to its National Parks.

The vertebrate fossil record of the Karoo is remarkable and plays a pivotal role in the study of the evolution of mammals.

TOWNS IN THE KAROO (Northern Cape)

A private irrigation scheme was started by the Smartt Syndicate in 1885 and liquidated in 1954. The concern built two dams, planted lucerne and wheat and grazed karakul sheep and Clydesdale horses. The 1961 floods destroyed the Smartt Irrigation Board Dam, rebuilt by the government in 1964.

Communities of Xhosa moved up to the Orange River as early as 1795. One group subsequently settled at Schietfontein, which was served by a Rhenish mission, and a village named Harmsfontein was established in 1860.

In 1874, it changed its name to honour the British Colonial Secretary, Lord Carnarvon. The district is well known for its corbelled houses, built between 1811 and 1815. Carnarvon is set among flat-topped hills and is one of the region’s busiest farming centres.

Surrounded by koppies and flanked by the towering Coleskop, when the sun slips to the horizon, brushing the skies with brilliant hues, Coleskop’s former name, Toverberg (Magic Mountain), seems more appropriate. So named because, for the traveller, it is visible from 40km but appears to get no closer. In 1814, a mission station was built here in the hope of bringing peace to the volatile frontier area of the Cape Colony.

De Aar
De Aar, the third largest town in the Northern Cape, is centrally located on the main railway line between Johannesburg, Cape Town, Port Elizabeth and Namibia and tarred roads to surrounding towns. The junction was the second most important railway junction in South Africa, with 110km of railway lines including 29 rail-tracks. The name De Aar refers to the underground water supply in arteries with all of De Aar’s water coming from boreholes. 68 boreholes in the surrounding area of the town, ensure the water supply.

The town was founded in 1848 as a mission station on the farm Backhouse, by the Reverend Isaac Hughes. In 1867, a group of Europeans from Griquatown signed an agreement giving them the right to establish a town.

Their leaders were Adam Kok II and Andries Waterboer. In 1813, at the instigation of Rev John Campbell, the ‘bastaards’ renamed themselves Griqua, and the place called Klaarwater became Griquatown.

Once part of the Graaff-Reinet district and known as Bo-Zeekoeirivier. As the farming community grew, a community centre was needed and, in 1854, the 8 656ha farm, Petrusvallei, was bought for 33 333 Rixdollars (R5 000). The former owner asked that the proposed town be called Hanover as his ancestors came from the German city. Walk through town and discover old furrows and historic buildings.

A servant was told it represented hope and made an imitation from tin which was nailed to the farm entrance. In 1866 a diamond, ‘Eureka’, was found and, in 1868, on the farm Zandfontein, the 83,5 carat ‘Star of South Africa’ diamond was discovered. Today, Hopetown is a farming town.

When the discovery of diamonds blazed a trail to the interior, the railway followed it. It bypassed Victoria West by 12km, necessitating a railhead. This developed into a village and was named after Cape Governor, Sir Walter Hely Hutchinson. A branch line was built in 1904.

Originally the farm Phizantefontein, Loxton was bought from AE Loxton by the Dutch Reformed Church in 1899. Built to serve the sheep-farming community, it became a municipality in 1905. In March 1961, three-quarters of the town was destroyed by a flash-flood causing the dam above the town to burst. Loxton has long since recovered.

In 1881 the railway line from Port Elizabeth ended on the farm Carlton. With the diversion of the railway line to Colesberg in 1883/4 a station was built on part of the farm Hartebeeshoek of Mr Barend Kruger. The station was named Naauwpoort after the adjacent farm. In 1963 the name was changed to Noupoort.

Orania offers an example of the ‘traditional’ Afrikaner way of life and also demonstrates the ingenuity of a marginalized community with advanced irrigation techniques, implemented in close cooperation with pioneers in Israel, the only fully organic vineyards in Southern Africa and a sophisticated dairy farm and the cultivation and export of Pecan nuts.

Named after Petrus van der Walt, owner of the farm, Rhenosterberg, the town lies in a fertile valley surrounded by a cluster of high hills.

Founded in 1863 as a church centre, the town was named after Sir Philip Wodehouse, Governor of the Cape.

On the south bank of the Orange River at the foot of the Doringberg, it was originally named Prieschap, a Khoisan word meaning ‘place of the lost she-goat’.

Established in 1843 when the presbytery of Graaff-Reinet formed a new congregation for that area. A portion of the farm Driefontein was bought and erven were sold on 19 April 1845 during a communion gathering. The town was named after the Duke of Richmond from Kent, father-in-law of the Governor of the Cape at that time, Sir Peregrine Maitland.

On the verge of a large pan filled with salty water during the rainy years, Strydenburg (the town of strife) received its doleful name after incessant squabbling over – of all things – the town’s name! Strydenburg was laid out by the Dutch Reformed Church on the farm Roodepan in 1892.

Named after the farm on which the Vanderkloof Dam is situated, the town was built to house people building the dam. Today it is a flourishing holiday resort. It boasts the highest dam wall in the country (108m) and links the Northern Cape to the Free State.

Van Wyksvlei
Established in 1880 and named after a local farmer, Van Wyksvlei lies close to the first, state-funded dam, built in 1882 and still in use.

Victoria West
Established in 1843 and named after Queen Victoria of England. Victoria West marks the beginning of the Diamond Way, lying on the main route from Cape Town to Kimberley. In 1866 diamond fever was sparked with the discovery of the gem at Hopetown and then at Kimberley.

The railway from Cape Town was also lured north but, perplexingly, missed Victoria West by 12km (See Hutchinson). Though Victoria West has suffered a devastating flood and dustbowl-drought, it has thrived.


Montagu is the gateway to the Little Karoo.


Laingsburg is a friendly, modern Karoo town, only 280 km from Cape Town. It was almost entirely destroyed by a huge flood in 1981. The town lies in a geologically fascinating area, steeped in history and tradition. It’s a worthwhile and hospitable stop on the busy N1 highway through the Great Karoo.

Beaufort West, Klaarstroom, Leeu Gamka, Matjiesfontein, Merweville, Murraysburg, Nelspoort, Prince Albert, Welgemoed.


Many visitors to the Karoo view the undeveloped nature of the area including the gravel roads as part of the appeal of the area. This lack of development is particularly important to adventure tourists such as motor bikers, hikers, 4×4 enthusiasts, hunters and mountain bikers. The absence of light pollution is also an important asset attracting both amateur and professional stargazers.

Food tourism is also a growing tourism industry in the Karoo and has the potential to create unique culinary experiences.

The Karoo is an immense arid region in the remote areas of four provinces: the Western Cape, the Northern Cape, the Eastern Cape, and the Free State. In each of the four provinces, it is an economically abandoned zone, and development effort is diverted away, towards the coastlines and the capital cities. This has the inadvertent consequence of increasing poverty in these areas, or encouraging residence to move to the cities.

Lootsberg Mountain pass over the Sneeuberg between Middelburg and GraaffReinet is the highest in the Karoo. Said to have been named after Hendrik Loots who was killed when his carriage overturned there.

Little Karoo

The Little Karoo’s fascinating landscape is fashioned almost entirely by water. Its vegetation ranges from lush greenery in the fertile river valleys to short, rugged Karoo plants in the veld. Gorges feature rivers that cut through towering mountains, while breathtakingly steep passes cross imposing terrain. The region is also home to the world’s largest bird – the ostrich. The Little Karoo is rich in culture and history. Oudtshoorn, the world’s ostrich-feather capital, is the region’s main town.

Central Karoo

The Central Karoo, a fascinating semi-desert area, lies in the heart of one of the world’s most unique and interesting arid zones. This ancient, fossil-rich land is five times the size of Great Britain. Here, visitors will find the Earth’s largest variety of succulents. Beaufort West, the oldest town in the Central Karoo, is often referred to as the “Oasis of the Karoo.” The local museum displays awards presented to heart-transplant pioneer, Prof. Chris Barnard, a son of this town. A township route introduces visitors to the Xhosa culture in the area.

Upper Karoo (Bo-Karoo)

Flanked by the Towerberg, Colesberg is one of the Northern Cape’s most beautiful towns. The town features one of the country’s last working horsemills. An Anglo-Boer/South African War tour is also on offer. A weekend tour includes a visit to the Norvals-pont prisoner-of-war camp and cemetery. Colesberg has bred many of the country’s top Merino sheep. It is also renowned for producing high-quality racehorses.

Hantam Karoo

Near Brandvlei lies Verneukpan where Sir Malcolm Campbell unsuccessfully attempted to break the world land-speed record in 1929. Carnarvon is well known for its corbelled dome-roofed houses built of flat stones because of a lack of wood.

Tankwa Karoo National Park

The Tankwa Karoo National Park is four hours away from Cape Town: it is situated on the southern boundary of the Northern Cape with the Roggeveld escarpment in the east, the Cederberg in the west and the Klein Roggeveld Mountains in the south. The Park has grown from its original size of 27 000 ha to its present 143 600 ha, and is within the Succulent Karoo Biome. It is the ideal destination for those seeking the brightest stars in Africa, those hoping to glimpse a rare endemic bird, or those looking for nothing more than silence which reaches deep into the soul. Accommodation ranges from luxury, purpose-built chalets to renovated farmhouses and a private lodge. Tel: (027) 341 1927

• Vanderkloof Dam
• Karoo Architecture
• Khoisan Rock Art
• Karoo Battlefields
• Hippo Pool
• White and Roaring Sands
• Fossil Footprints
• Wine Cellar