Karoo Drought Travel Tips

Story and Photographs by Julienne du Toit & Chris Marais

It’s midsummer in the Karoo, and you may well be aware that we’re suffering from a long-time lack of rain. The seven-year drought has stretched local resources all round, from the farming community to the small town economies to the general tourism industry of South Africa’s heartland.

But here’s the thing: the Karoo is not Ireland. This is not where you come for gurgling streams, verdant valleys and endless weeks of rainstorms and downpours.

The Karoo is a semi-desert – it’s a very long time since we were an inland sea. You come here for the dry land isolation, the vast horizons, the getaway factor, the precious time to dream and, perhaps most of all, a chance to meet the friendliest people around.

The Gem of the Karoo, Graaff-Reinet – water-stressed but open for business.

Don’t think for one moment that we’ve closed up shop here in the Karoo. Quite the opposite. This is probably the best time to travel through our region (encompassing the Little Karoo, the Northern Cape, the Eastern Cape Karoo, the Western Cape Karoo and the southern Free State) for some of the following reasons:

  • Karoo travel is easy on the pocket. You won’t find better accommodation deals anywhere else;
  • You have the option to overnight in elegant old hotels, sophisticated guest houses or (and we’re really good at this) classic Karoo farmstays;
  • For the ‘halfway-stoppers’, there are any number of self-catering establishments run by people who value your privacy;
  • If you have any interest in landscape photography, you will experience the best sunrises and sunsets in Africa;
  • The Karoo is still ‘the old place’, where your children can see real craftsmen at work, watch sheep shearers ply their trade, run free in the open veld, learn how to twist a koeksuster and basically get back to the business of being gloriously device-free kids again;
    Stock outpost, Richtersveld, Northern Cape.
  • The multi-generational travelling families can gather in peace and have fun together on the farm of their choice – this is an option often chosen by expat clans wanting to bond;

You will be travelling to a place that needs you. As we discovered with the ongoing anti-fracking campaigns, South African civil society is a formidable force. You can become part of that and contribute to a region where your countrymen need your support.

Drought Travel Advice

Here is some Karoo Space advice on drought travel etiquette for you, our guests-to-be:

The dusty street magic of Nieu-Bethesda.
  • Bring a litre, use a litre. Or preferably leave some litres behind;
  • If you shower, use as little as possible. Preferably clean yourself with a bucket or a bowl, with face cloth or sponge and a jug. Collect the used water to flush a toilet or water a plant;
  • Bring your own towels and maybe even sheets and pillowcases to cut down on your hosts’ laundry needs. You could also just indicate what linen you have used to so that unused linen isn’t laundered;
  • Take along a kikoi or length of cotton that you can wet and lie under with a fan on. It’s the most efficient way of cooling down without the benefit of air-conditioning;
    Kokerboom forests of the Northern Cape.
  • Stoepsit and listen to Karoo people’s stories about what they are living through. This is a historic moment. Bear witness. Listen with empathy;
  • Establish a relationship, and buy handmade Karoo gifts – wool, meat, jam or preserves, candles, wire windpumps, ostrich feather dusters. Go to a tuisnywerheid and buy the bakes. Get biltong and Karoo lamb from the butcheries;
  • Bring a Boks vir ‘n Boervrou (see https://www.facebook.com/Boks-vir-Boervrou-107467370665265/ – a thoughtful gift box) for the farm wives. If they don’t need it, they will know who would;
  • Leave behind as little waste as possible;
  • And most of all, give your hosts a hug before you leave. You will not be forgotten.
Klaarstroom, Little Karoo – one of the highlights of the region.

More Ways you can Help:

Ask your friends to make donations to the Karoo’s drought relief in lieu of gifts. Here are the organisations that are making a serious and positive difference:

Or you could actually buy Drought Relief gifts:

5 thoughts on “Karoo Drought Travel Tips

  1. Jan Nel says:

    Thank you for great advice and a plug for people to come visit and spend a little money that the small Karoo towns desperately need!
    Please keep supporting us farmers, so we can keep putting meat on your table!

  2. Nikki says:

    Great drought tips for travelers, who are often thoughtless. It’s astonishing how little water is actually required for a refreshing wash. All part of the adventure.

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