Camping out in the Karoo: discovering the best of South Africa

A far cry from the tourist hubs of Cape Town and the Kruger National Park, camping out in the Karoo Desert was – undoubtedly – one of the ultimate highlights of a 2-week road trip around South Africa.

An ancient desert stretching across the Eastern, Western and Northern Cape provinces, vast empty plains, big open skies and a backdrop of dusty mountains await for those making their way to or from Johannesburg and Cape Town. Though the long, open roads provide 10/10 road trip conditions, the best thing about travelling a long, long way through the Karoo is getting to stay there along the way.

Currently even more desertified than ever, the Karoo is suffering through a years-long drought. The plants are dead; the remaining vegetation is barely hanging in there, animals are struggling to find enough water and – most importantly – the use of water for anything from drinking to bathing is severely restricted. No *sniffs* swimming pool?! *sobs*

(jk, obviously I know the plants and animals are more important than the pool)

Reservations aside, to the bone-dry Karoo we went on our recent 3-week trip to South Africa. We found Ko-Ka Tsara Bush Camp on a quick search on Located a few kilometres from Beaufort West, it was perfectly on our way to Cape Town, and it lookedโ€ฆ alright. Just a run-of-the-mill, sleepy stop for a couple of days lazing in the sun and BBQing in the desert.

And oh man, oh man, did it deliver way beyond my mediocre expectations.

Driving next to the border of the Karoo National Park, we pulled up to the wooden gates to what looked like nowhere. Driving into the camp, we uncertainly trundled along at 20km down a dirt road into the mountains, stopping to watch the giraffes and impalas running around the bush. Finally, we turned the corner, and there it was. Ko-Ka Tsara Bush Camp: a handful of thatched-roof chalets, a modest reception house, an honesty bar and – lo and behold – a pretty decent pool.

We pulled alongside our wooden chalet, slid open the doors, and fell in love. It was a bright, cosy, bush-camp-luxury on the inside, with a shaded seating area, fire pit and a private space for the perfect braai on the outside – my dreeeeam, dream, dream accommodation. Cracking open a cold Savannah Dry within 30 minutes of touch down, we settled into bush life immediately and spent the first evening eating BBQ under the stars, watching the bush animals edge closer towards camp as darkness crept in. Watching the brightest moon emerge behind the mountain towering in front of us, we tipsily determined to catch the sunrise and made our way contentedly to bed.

That contented bliss was nowhere to be seen when our alarms started ringing at 0400. Dragging ourselves out of the comfort of the enormous bed, we tumbled into the car armed with rusks and a quick cup of coffee and drove to the top of the mountain to take in moon-set and sunrise. Haphazardly chugging up the rocky, dusty hillside in the inky black night, the moon was hanging low in the sky opposite to where weโ€™d last seen it while eating dinner. We climbed out of the backie and roamed around, kicking aside the straw-like grass and crumbling rock. Standing at the top, we watched as the sun slowly rose up and chased the darkness away. The sky was everything; the silence was everything, the sweet morning air was everything. This whole delicious moment was e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g.

Heading back down to the camp for a nap and a day of lounging in the oasis that was the swimming pool, I couldnโ€™t believe our luck. We took a wild stab in the dark of the Karoo and ended up finding the gem of the desert: the very best of South Africa.


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