Located at the southern tip of Africa, South Africa is a country of diverse landscapes. It is famous for its gold and wine production. South Africa attracts thousands of visitors for its scenic beauty, beaches, valleys, wild safari, mountains, and historical towns. Out of all these natural wonders, Karoo receives special attention by geologists, adventurers, and travelers. The Karoo is a vast semi-deserted natural region of South Africa; it is mainly divided into two major sub-divisions known as the Great Karoo and the Little Karoo, both of which are divided by the Swartberg Mountain Range. There are other sub-divisions of Karoo, as well, based on its diverse microclimates. The Karoo region is known for low rainfall, arid air, inaccessible landscape, and extremely diverse climates, which is why the early European explorers called it a frightening place of extreme climate changes.
History of Human Activity in the Karoo
For a long time, the Karoo was home to small groups of Khoisan tribes who were the only inhabitants of this harsh and barren land. Europeans were the first who attempted to explore Karoo. After many failed expeditions, they finally penetrated the Karoo in the mid-seventeenth century by fighting hard against its arid climate. But soon, they realized that the Karoo is not suitable for permanent settlements. The invention of the wind pump and construction of the railway system in the late 1800's finally made way for permanent settlements in the Karoo. Regardless of its extreme climate and arid conditions, underground water was now accessible using wind pumps. This change allowed Europeans settlers to form cattle farms and wineries in the Karoo. This provided wool and fur for the European markets and produced some of the finest wines in the world. Today, Karoo is considered one of the major tourist destinations in South Africa.
Great Karoo: Features and Geography
The Great Karoo is located between the Great Escarpment plateau in the north and the Swartberg Mountain range in the south. The Swartberg Mountain range divides it from the Little Karoo. In the east, it shares its borders with Highveld and Eastern Midlands, while Namaqualand is in its west. The Great Karoo basin is divided into two parts known as the eastern basin and western basin. The eastern basin consists of a major portion of Great Karoo with an area of 480 kilometers from north to south and 80 to 130 kilometer in width. Contrary to its arid climate, a number of headwaters from five different rivers create fertile grazing areas for cattle in the eastern basin. Created by the Dorig River western basin, Great Karoo is comprised of an area of 225 kilometers north to east and 80 kilometers in width.
The Great Karoo further divides into Upper Karoo and the Lower Karoo. Upper Karoo has a rugged landscape that includes many flat-topped hills famous as “Karoo Koppies,” while Lower Karoo has a hilly landscape in its western zone. This includes some parts of the Cape Fold Mountain Range that descend as you go east, thereby creating an eastern flat plain.
Little Karoo: Features and Geography
On the other hand, 40 to 60 kilometers north to south and 290 kilometers east to west, the Little Karoo falls in a comparatively less arid climate and receives more rainfall than the Great Karoo. The Little Karoo can be described as a valley that is separated from the Great Karoo Swartberg and Cape Fold Mountain Range in its north that leads to Langeberg and Outeniqua Mountain Range in the south.
Flora and Fauna of the Karoo
Karoo’s diverse and extreme climate is dominated by arid flora with a variety of small and leafy shrubs, annuals, and Asteraceae. The Karoo was once home to a variety of fauna that eventually went instinct or migrated from the area. This includes big animals like hippopotamuses, rhinoceroses, elephants, lions, leopards, and other animals like cheetahs, hyenas, jackals, zebras, quaggas, wildebeests, springboks, blesboks, and elands. Today, you can find many ostrich farms throughout the Karoo, while many game animals have also been re-introduced in Karoo’s nature reserves.