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Karoo Nuweveld 4x4 Trail

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9km from Beaufort West

-32.3307, 22.5

90km, 12-48hrs, Grade 1-2

+27 23 415 2828 www.sanparks.org .za

Configuration: A circular route with a 7km optional loop (Kookfontein).

Terrain: Management tracks and farm roads, rocky outcrops and sandy riverbeds.

This is a self-drive route; no guiding is needed. Any time of the year is perfect, just check the road conditions at reception after heavy rains before setting out. There is a self-catering chalet en route. A campsite, B&B cottages, a fully licensed restaurant, a curio shop and swimming pool can be found at the main camp. There is also the Afsaal Eco-trail, a 13km route. Game viewing and birdwatching are the main activities here, but there are also guided game drives and walks, and a Fossil trail.

About

The Karoo National Park attempts to capture an infinite piece of the vast and unforgiving landscape of the Great Karoo. The lofty Nuweveld Mountains dominate the rolling plains of the park. You will be fascinated by the diversity of life adapted to survive in these harsh conditions. The Karoo National Park is home to gemsbok, springbok, red hartebeest, black wildebeest and eland. The two zebra species, kudu and klipspringers are regularly seen on the Klipspringer Pass. The top sighting is undoubtedly the lions relocated here at the end of 2010. And of course the 4x4 trails are your chance to explore remote sections of the nearly 90 000ha Park.

The 90km Nuweveld eco-trail branches off the Potlekkertjie Loop and then heads to the Embizweni Cottage in the remote north of the park on the foothills of the Nuweveld Mountains. You start off from reception on a tar road and climb up the very scenic Klipspringer Pass with its magnificent sandstone walls to the Doornhoek Picnic Site. Here a sign indicates the start of the Nuweveld 4x4 loop. The route consists mostly of management tracks and former farm roads that have fallen into disrepair. The challenge comes from negotiating some rocky outcrops and threading your vehicle between thorn bushes and over riverbeds. Keep an eye out for protruding rocks that could damage a sidewall. On one section of the route you will travel on a narrow strip of road with cliffs on the one side and a huge drop on the other side. The highest point is at easily a hundred meters or more. Passengers with fear of heights might want to sit on the left or get out and enjoy the walk.

Most of the trail is graded 1. Apart from a few rocky climbs and some sandy and very rocky riverbeds you should be able to complete the trail in normal driving conditions in a 4x2 bakkie or a 4x4 without low range. However, high ground clearance and low-range gears are a definite advantage. Some of the passes may be a challenge without diff-lock, as you'll have to up your momentum and thus take the risk of damaging your vehicle or cutting the tyres on the sharp rocks.

The Embizweni Cottage is the perfect spot to overnight on the Nuweveld Trail. The cottage provides fully-equipped accommodation for six people - with a gas-powered stove, fridge, geysers and solar-powered lights. The main rest camp offers several B&B cottages sleeping two to six and an award-winning campsite in a green oasis with communal ablutions (shower and baths), and kitchen facilities with stove plates and scullery. The 400m Fossil trail is a must and the game drives and walks are also very interesting.

The Karoo National Park is only 11km from Beaufort West, just off the N1. The Park entrance is 4km before the town, coming from Cape Town. From here it's a 6km drive in the park to the reception offices.

Central Karoo

Western Cape

About

The Central Karoo falls within the Western Cape Province and embraces the south-western region of the vast and semi-arid Great Karoo. In keeping with the typical character of the Karoo the area is sparsely populated, with just a few towns scattered across the plains amongst large sheep and game farms.

Beaufort West is the main town of the region, with the nearby Karoo National Park being a big visitor draw card to the area. The region is home to two popular villages - Matjiesfontein, alongside the N1, and Prince Albert, tucked snugly at the base of the Swartberg Mountains.

In the north of the region the landscape has a prehistoric appearance, with conical hills and flat-topped ridges peppering the encircling horizon. A slight surge of the imagination could spark images of smoke and ash and oozing lava, with dinosaurs stomping along the valleys and gorges - a scene, perhaps, from the region eons ago. 

Further south the countryside loses altitude rapidly, tumbling more than 1 000m down the slopes of the rugged Nuweveld Mountains. It then levels out onto a vast plain that sweeps towards its southern boundary at the Swartberg Mountains, over 100km away.

Many travellers only pass through the region along the thin line of the N1. The Nuweveld Mountains north of Beaufort West may look interesting, but the plains to the south are more or less featureless. However, this perception should be tempered by the fact that the area contains more species of flora than the entire United Kingdom.

As with much of the Karoo, one has to get out on foot and explore to discover its true appeal. The region has a good choice of guest farms offering a range of Karoo experiences. Beaufort West, the northern ‘gateway’ to the Western Cape, is a busy town and one where many travellers stop in to refuel and have a bite to eat. Recently it has seen an increase in the number and quality of its guesthouses as tourism in South Africa’s platteland catches on.

The Central Karoo is more suited to the explorer than the tourist - to those who enjoy seeking the less obvious joys and novelties, and who enjoy the experience of the journey as much as the destination. 

Look out for

The Karoo National Park- On the outskirts of Beaufort West this 88 000ha park conserves the habitats and wildlife typical of the plains and mountains of the semi-arid Karoo. It is ostensibly a scenic park but there are a number of creatures to look out for during a game drive. Plains game includes gemsbok, springbok, red hartebeest and plains zebra in the low-lying areas, while klipspringer and Cape mountain zebra can be seen in the mountains. Top species to spot are the desert black rhino and the recently introduced pride of lions. For birdwatchers the list of around 200 species is quite impressive for the region. The road network has been upgraded to allow access to some of the mountains as well as the plains, and for the adventurous there are two easy 4x4 trails heading into the western reaches of the park. Day visitors are welcome. Accommodation is in chalets and caravan and camping sites.

Matjiesfontein - On the N1, 240km from Cape Town, there is a unique Victorian village which has changed little since its establishment in the late 19th century. The Lord Milner Hotel and other buildings seem to send one into a time warp. For those who enjoy antiques and Victoriana, the Marie Rawdon Museum is fascinating.

Prince Albert - This charming Karoo village at the base of the Swartberg Mountains has a large following of avid fans. It is situated on the R407, 45km south of the N1.

Meiringspoort - This scenically spectacular road is situated on the N12 as it meanders through the Swartberg Mountains. Once in the poort (narrow pass between precipitous mountains), the serpentine road winds around sheer cliffs of orange rock and across the mostly serene waters of the Groot Rivier (Great River), which it crosses 25 times. It falls within the Swartberg Nature Reserve and there are numerous well-maintained picnic sites along the way, some with braai facilities. It is easy to spend half a day exploring the pass. Make a point of stopping at Waterfall Drift picnic site and taking the short stairway to view the waterfall with its 60m drop.

The Swartberg Pass - This sinuous gravel road climbs and dips between Prince Albert and Matjiesrivier valley near the Cango Caves in the Klein Karoo. It is widely regarded as one of the most spectacular mountain roads in the world.

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