The Great or ‘Groot’ Karoo is the name given to the sprawling semi-desert that covers much of the south-central interior of South Africa. Its boundaries are not clearly defined, but you know when you’re in it: endless horizons, parched earth and the occasional rusty windmill creaking in the breeze. It’s the harsh emptiness that makes the Great Karoo so special. Although it can be ferociously hot in summer and blanketed in snow in winter, the incredible landscapes, sunsets, and stars are worth any discomfort and are unlike anything else in South Africa.
The main N1 highway between Johannesburg and Cape Town runs directly through the Great Karoo for hundreds of kilometers. Some consider this the most tedious section of the drive, but if you turn off onto the backroads you’ll find yourself suddenly absorbed, cruising miles of sinuous gravel through sleepy desert towns. Take the dirt roads from Colesberg to Ceres and spend a few extra days – you have to slow down a bit to get the best out of the Karoo.
If you don’t have time for a big detour, the Karoo National Park is just off the N1 highway and is a great stopover to get a taste for the landscape. You may get lucky and see a lion. Otherwise, it’s about meandering your way through. A 4×4 is not required, but you’ll have more choice if you’re able to camp. Sutherland is a popular stop and the home of the largest optical telescope in the Southern Hemisphere – SALT. Also, check out the Tankwa Karoo National Park, which borders the Great Karoo to the west and has lovely self-catering cottages.
Most travellers opt for booking a cheap car rental to accommodate their travel plans.