The Karoo is one of the quietest places on Earth. With the right equipment, you can record the faint scratching of the atmosphere against the planet. So still is it.
This sprawling semi-desert with its dry clean air, bright stars and innate timelessness is ideal for anyone in need of healing for body, mind and spirit.
Back in 1897, scholar James Byrne put his finger on it:
“The Karoo has a breathtaking beauty. A peculiar characteristic of this great inland plateau is that the scenery possesses a primeval solitude and silence… It has the primitive simplicity of a country just come from the hands of the Creator.”
Dry spaces have long attracted spirituality. Perhaps it’s the pared down elements that help pilgrims through an inner journey. Maybe distant horizons and stillness have a natural tendency to open minds and invite contemplation.
Antony Osler is a spiritual teacher, human rights advocate and author of three books, Stoep Zen, Zen Dust and Mzansi Zen. At Poplar Grove farm near Colesberg, he and his wife Margie host periodic Zen retreats.
“There’s a nice balance of vastness and detail in the Karoo. The space and the silence allow for contemplation, for people to feel still and connected. That brings healing.”
“The Karoo is a restorative place. It puts the human world back into perspective.”
The growing number of people worldwide who visit deserts has been noted by the World Tourism Organisation.
“The appeal of deserts can largely be explained by the image of purity and serenity associated with them, and by travellers’ quest for simplicity and well-being.” (Sustainable Development of Tourism in Deserts – A Guide for Decision Makers, 2007).
The Karoo’s dry clean air has helped heal many of respiratory diseases, but (according to the KDF), “it is also increasingly been recognised as a balm for the soul.”
Desert tourists, the KDF points out, are highly selective travellers. They seek spiritual renewal, contact with communities, local foods, nature, culture, crafts, heritage and archaeology.
They’re the ones who relish taking the quieter gravel roads to enjoy remote landscapes, rather than sticking to the tar.
“The Karoo offers nothingness, which is increasingly valuable, in terms of space, silence and solitude. Urban people live in stressed societies… and the Karoo offers a healing experience.”