Travel in the Karoo

Dust to dust in the Karoo: 1900

“The dust bin of creation” was Author Julian Ralph’s opinion of the Karoo. In Towards Pretoria, his account of the Anglo-Boer War, he describes the intense heat and the air that was “as full of dust as London’s is of smoke”. He said: “Our throats are dry and caked with dust. The ground is loose […]

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Frank Connock motoring through the Karoo: 1902

In 1902, Frank Connock bought a two cylinder Gladiator from Albert Atkey, learned to drive within hours and set off for Mafeking. He completed the 320 trip in a single day – an unprecedented in those days because few were willing to risk their expensive cars on South Africa’s appalling roads. In 1907, Frank shot […]

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Hospitality on remote Karoo farms: 1835

In the mid-1800s, farmers of the hinterland were said to be “hospitable to a fault.” They loved nothing more than endless talk over a pipe and mug of coffee, writes Eric Anderson Walker in The Great Trek. These farmers were related to the people of the Cape Town Peninsula by blood or marriage, but they […]

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Karoo Captivates The Bishop

When Robert Grey, Bishop of Cape Town, set off for the northernmost reaches of the Colony, he was captivated by the Karoo. “There was no time for reading in the wagon,” writes Thelma Gutsche in The Bishop’s Lady. “The arid desert-like Karoo with its abrupt rocky kopjes, occasional mirages and stunted bushes sparsely mixed with […]

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Not Such A Stupid Ox After All

In Trekking The Great Thirst, Lieutenant Arnold W Hudson tells of some of the difficulties facing travellers into unexplored territory in the late 1800s. He was making his way into the Kalahari and stated that in this extremely dry part of Africa bullocks were invaluable.  “Indeed one can do nothing without them and in the […]

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Robert Grey’s arduous travels in the Karoo: 1848

In 1848, Robert Grey, the first Bishop of Cape Town almost frightened his wife, Sophy, to death with tales of his travels “through the waterless Karoo.” In one of his letters he wrote: “there was in fact no “road”, not even a tract through the arid wilderness and, to save the exhausted horses we many […]

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The Ghost Wagon Of The Great Karoo: 1887

Several old South African maps show the region between Ceres and Beaufort West as the “spokeveld” (ghost region). It was said to be one of the most heavily haunted areas of South Africa. In 1887, Major Alfred Ellis of the West India Regiment documented a tale in South African Sketches which, he said, had been […]

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The rise and fall of ox-wagons

Transport riders evolved to serve the needs of the developing hinterland towns and vanished with the coming of the rail. These men brought wagon loads of supplies from the coast to inland destinations, using traditional ox wagons, which carried about 1 800 kg. These soon became was too small and in 1860 a new transport […]

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Tough Trip To The Karoo

After several locust plagues and a severe drought, Maj-Gen Dundas, in 1801, sent a commission into the Karoo to investigate the situation.  Among them was William Somerville who recorded the trip in his journals, which have recently been published by the Van Riebeeck Society.  A train of six large bullock wagons was readied for the […]

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Travel and hotels in the Karoo, circa 1870

The arid plains of Africa did not impress Melton Prior, war correspondent for the Illustrated London News. From 1870 to 1905, he seems to have covered every major war in the world, but he found South Africa’s rural scenery unbearable and disappointing. He found some of the accommodation on offer even worse. “Each day we […]

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