1. Take your time and explore. Venture off the national roads. Take the dirt roads – they are some of the real treasures of Karoo travel. Take it slowly though – you never know when a flock of sheep, a family of meerkats, a kudu or a farm tractor may cross the road.
2. Get out of your vehicle at a quiet space. Inhale the clean air and the fragrance of the Karoo bossies. Absorb the silence, punctuated by birdsong and the odd creaking Aermotor. Rest your eyes on the far horizons. Make a point of tasting fresh Karoo water from a windpump.
3. Stop at farmstalls. They are great places to stretch your legs, buy some rusks and jams for friends and family, and quite often to sample homemade produce from the region. Try the lamb pies. Also, the toilets are usually well maintained.
4. Make a point of filling up with diesel at the local co-op (look out for a name like BKB, OVK or CMW, or just ask for directions). Co-ops almost always offer much better prices for diesel than other service stations.
5. Don’t judge a Karoo town by a Sunday afternoon (when it seems practically uninhabited) and All-Pay Day, when every street is chaotically full of people come to claim their pensions and disability grants. These are the extremes.
6. If you are staying in a Karoo town, make a point of going for a walk through the streets. It’s always interesting to head for the Moederkerk where you might strike up a conversation with the Koster (verger).
7. On that subject, why not attend a church service if you’re in town on a Sunday? You will almost certainly be warmly welcomed.
8. A farmstay is one of the best ways of experiencing Karoo hospitality. Set aside at least two or more nights to truly enjoy the quiet, to go for long walks in the veld and to enjoy Karoo cuisine.
9. One of the joys of the Karoo is stoepsitting. This is what it means: to sit on a verandah enjoying the view, chatting with friends or just enjoying the peace.
10. You’ll find that you are acknowledged in a Karoo town. Complete strangers will look you in the eye, greet you, or wave at you in your vehicle. It’s good to reciprocate.
11. The Karoo offers some spectacular cloudscapes and sky theatre. Set aside time to look up at the cobalt blue skies and watch thunderheads building up from horizon to horizon in summer.
12. At night, go outside and look at the bright stars in the velvet darkness.
Oh, and one more. Switch off your GPS. It won’t really work well in the Karoo, especially on the backroads. The information here isn’t regularly updated and you might find yourself in front of a locked gate in the dark.
Use a map!
Please Note: Our new book, Karoo Roads – Tales from South Africa’s Heartland by Chris Marais and Julienne du Toit, is at the printers. Copies will arrive at our warehouse in the first week of November. At R350 (including Postnet counter-to-counter delivery) Karoo Roads is a collection of some of our favourite stories from the past 20 years of travels and adventures. We hope it will inspire you to take to the backroads of this magnificent country.
E-mail co-author Julienne du Toit at firstname.lastname@example.org for bank details. And come along for the ride!