Great Karoo

As Rovos Rail passengers depart the Diamond City in their luxury train accommodation, memories of sparkling diamonds turn dusty as the train meanders south towards the Great Karoo. The vegetation transforms slowly, indicating the increasingly arid nature of the region and illustrating what makes the Great Karoo such a unique destination.
Occupying an epic area of 40, 000 square kilometres, the Great Karoo sweeps through South Africa with spectacular semi-desert vegetation and a fascinating history. Once an enormous inland sea, the region as it is now is the result of millions of years of ground-down volcanic matter which was deposited as silt upon the seabed and forms what geologists call the Karoo System.  

A pinch of history

While the Karoo has entertained many fascinating inhabitants, European occupation meant that it was the trekboers who first settled there in the mid 1700’s. While already home to wandering Khoi and Bushmen, the sweeping area previously ran wild with large herds of antelope, zebra and game. Being both high at 1220ms and exceptionally dry, the Karoo later provided solace for sufferers of Tuberculosis (Victorian Consumption).

Towns to spot

The luxurious train travels along the great central spine of Africa, providing its prestigious passengers with dramatic views of the 1200ms escarpment. Puttering along, the train passes the small town of De Aar, meaning ‘the vein’, which takes its name from an underground water course. While quaint and seemingly quiet, De Aar housed prominent authoress Olive Schreiner who resided there from 1907 to 1913. Not just a pretty face, De Aar remains a major railway junction where the lines from the Western and Eastern Cape, Gauteng and Namibia meet each other.
Victoria West bustles with visitors looking to explore the quaint, charming town which occupies a rather significant place in the heart and history of intercontinental air travel. At one point, Victoria West operated as a thriving centre for Imperial Airways which used to make stops in the town to refuel during flights from London to Cape Town. Air travel in the 1940’s was limited to daylight hours, leaving the passengers and crew to overnight in Victoria West before embarking on the second part of their journey. The journey in total would take all of ten days.

Next up is the well-known town of Beaufort West which is nestled in the heart of the Karoo (central Karoo) and is the largest town in the Karoo region. Seeped in natural beauty and central Karoo charm, Beaufort West bears a significant spot in history. In 1837, the town become the first South African municipality and had the first town hall in the country. Today, these attractions form part of the town’s fascinating museum.