In the nearly-200 years of its existence, the most dramatic event to hit Beaufort West in the Great Karoo was the arrival of millions of trekbokke (migratory springbok) along with all manner of other antelope, quagga and wildebeest, through its main streets and gardens.
The event, which happened in the mid-1800s, briefly turned Beaufort West into a dustbowl as the passage of so many animals sucked up all water and vegetation. Locals stood on their verandahs and shot the buck as they passed, scant metres away. It took three days for the massive herds to move on.
Those times are gone now, and the main feature on the Beaufort West calendar happens when the heavens open up and there’s a downpour – and the streets are washed clean by the sudden Karoo shower.
Today, Beaufort West is a Karoo oasis for travellers and truckers, a sort of halfway stop between Bloemfontein and Cape Town.
Just outside the town stands the Karoo National Park, which is perfect for a couple of nights’ visit with the family. There are good game sightings (look out for the magnificent black eagles) and an interpretive centre that takes you back hundreds of millions of years to the days when rather large pre-dinosaurs roamed these parts.
There’s a lot to do in Beaufort West, like visiting the Chris Barnard Museum (the famous surgeon was a son of the Karoo), dining out at a funky sushi palace and nosing around an excellent antiques shop with a twist. You can ride donkey carts through the town and into the local township, go on a helicopter flip over the area, stay on one of the many local guest farms or simply lie on your back of a clear evening and gaze up in wonder at the Great Karoo Star Show above you.
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