The black rhino is making a fighting comeback in the Great Karoo. After more than two centuries a black rhino has again been born in this area. This historic event has just taken place at almost the exact spot where the last black rhino in the Karoo was shot about 220 years ago. The calf, the first offspring of Ngara and Chipimbere, was born in the upper reaches of the Gamka River in the Karoo National Park, south of Beaufort West. So, it now carries the name of its birthplace – Gamka. The cow and calf are still sheltering in dense bush along the river banks. They were spotted from an aircraft shortly after the birth by game wardens monitoring the last stages of Ngara’s “confinement”. The two will not be disturbed but will be carefully watched by game wardens until they begin to wander about and graze. Ngara, Zulu for young maiden, and Chipimbere, whose Shona name means black rhino, were resettled at the park in November, 1993, together with another young cow, Catherina, a part of a black rhino breeding herd project.


The top Benelux travel magazine, Reis Revue, is planning a special issue with the Karoo and Kannaland (the Klein Karoo), as a main theme. The magazine, the largest of its kind is circulated by travel agents and tour operators in Holland. In the Karoo issue they will offer a trip through the two regions as a prize. This is part of Satour’s Go Wild in ’96, promotional campaign. The trip will include 4×4 routes, mountain climbing, farm holidays, horse riding, game viewing and hiking. “There is a great deal of interest in the Karoo in Europe,’ says Annelie Bronkhorst of Satour in Amsterdam, who was behind the idea of this special Benelux promotion


The Central Karoo will benefit from a new Western Cape Tourism structure planned to be in place by April, next year. This was revealed at a Tourism Forum addressed by the province’s Minister of Agriculture, Planning and Tourism, Mr Lampie Fick, in Oudtshoorn recently. When he took over the tourism ministry earlier this year, he said, he had made a careful study of the industry. He found it fragmented, as well as lacking in co-operation and direction. In collaboration with the Western Cape Tourism Board he arranged to hold a series of strategic seminars at central venues throughout the province to facilitate the planning of structures from grass roots level through to the ministry. A proposal for this community-driven structure will be ready within weeks. One month is to be allowed for reaction from role players. This is so that all necessary legislation can be passed in November to allow a fully funded structure to be operational by April, 1996.


An enduring desire to visit South Africa and its somewhat mysterious interior, an old atlas and a pin, finally brought Rene Thielemans to Beaufort West. He is headmaster of a primary school in Oud-Turnhout, a village near Antwerp in Belgium. In cold, damp weather the winter holidays drew nearer, and the Great Karoo beckoned from the pages of his atlas, but where to go and what to see? To his wife’s amusement Rene took a pin, closed his eyes and jabbed at the page. The pin pricked a hole in a dot called Beaufort West. He’d never heard of it. Research revealed several farms offering holiday opportunities, and, after careful study, he selected Elandsfontein Guest Farm. His host, Andre Lund, was soon infected by Rene’s enthusiasm and delighted to introduce him to the wonders of the Great Karoo. They visited pre-historic and Stone Age sites, ancient water holes, Bushman engravings, Boer War memorials, the Barnard collection at the museum and several churches. They spent time in the Karoo National Park, where the fossil route, bossie trail and night drives were highlights. “The Karoo has captured my heart, and I cannot wait to return, but next time with the family,” said Rene.


Joan Abrahams, a keen historic researcher and Anglo-Boer war tour guide recently visited the Karoo in search of graves and facts. In the mountains in the Laingsburg area she found a place named Khakigat. This pricked her interest, but none of the locals were able to shed any light on the name. “Perhaps a British soldier sheltered in this place during the war, said Johan Loock, from the University of the Free State. “In many mountainous places one finds such names given to caves and shelters. Joan wonders whether any old resident or farmer in the area has any further information about Khakigat.


First he studied the weather, now he studies graves. That is Steve Watt, now a Boer War specialist tour guide, who in the ‘50s operated a weather station at the airport outside Beaufort West. On a recent visit to the Karoo Steve told of the mammoth research project he has undertaken. He is pinpointing where each British soldier, who died during the Boer war, is buried, what marker is on the grave and what the condition of the grave is. (Sadly, many graves have been vandalised and many roundels removed). Steve is also detailing each individual ‘s cause of death – killed in action, death through illness or whatever the reason. He is also recording whether the soldier died on an ambulance train or in a hospital, and cases where the body has been exhumed and re-interred. Steve has also photographed the graves and graveyards to record exact locations. To ensure that the report is completely accurate, he is attempting to visit every British soldier’s grave in the country.


There is currently a promotional project underway which is bringing many international tourists to the Karoo. Most are coming from Belgium, Holland, and Germany however, here and there French visitors appeal and say they have come to enjoy the venison. Among these visitors was a couple who visited the police station in Klaarstroom, where the elegant old Circuit Court Room can still be seen. Two theological students, also visited the tourism office recently to say how much they were enjoying their visit to the area. They were Esther Ubink and Nelke Doorn, who came from Delft. They said the Karoo was a wonder world and reminded them of the Bible lands. They were mainly interested in church buildings. “This is a wonderful, wide open and friendly world,” they said. “To us the Karoo is very special.”


The “Doll House” at Matjiesfontein has been given a facelift, and almost overnight has become a tourist attraction. This small building at the turn-off from the N1 was all but invisible for years. “I s greyish appearance made it appear somewhat unloved and abandoned,” says Matjiesfontein owner, David Rawdon “We decided to cheer it up with a coat of white wash and to give it a bright red roof. It then turned out into a real crowd stopper. People turn off the highway just to photograph it, particularly now that the wild flowers around here are so beautiful. The visitors then drive down to the Lord Milner Hotel to ask what it is. Most are sure they’ve never seen it before, but it has always been there. Some say the little building was the start of a garage complex, but it’s far from the village, so one wonders…. It really is just part of the mystery and magic of Matjiesfontein.”


Plans for the Beaufort West 52 Marathon are now well underway and organisers report that this year interest in particularly high. Participants who complete this run for the tenth year in a row will be given special awards this year. Also for the first time in the history of this race, community service organisations will have refreshment stalls at the finish line. Organisers Amanda Visser and Elwina Otto say this year’s event is set to be very festive.


Travalia, the ever-popular self-catering stopover at Three Sisters, has upgraded to meet the needs of the market. “Last year we built several luxury suites, which are fully air-conditioned, as there was a demand for these,” explained owner Callie Herholdt. “They have been even more popular than we had hoped. We thus decided to build more suites and to upgrade much of our other accommodation to meet the needs of the market in time for the end-of-the-year season. These are ready and we have already received bookings for the festive season as well as from and regular Travalia guests,” he said


The second tanning course, to be held in the Karoo has been organised by the Regional Tourism Organisation, at Kareebosch in the Murraysburg district. This course, which was also taught by Peter Schneekluth, from Prince Albert, was a great success. Interest was so high that extra seating had to be brought in for people who just pitched up. Some of the delegates are already trying to raise funds to set up a place to practise what they have learned. Peter demonstrated how to cure skins in drums and then to work them “This is hard work,” he said, “but if it is done right then an excellent can be brought to the tourism market and yield a good profit.”


Meiringspoort is already preparing for spring. Dainty pink and yellow daisies are peeping from crevices in the rocks, while lower down aloes and other field flowers are blooming along the twisty road. As the weather shows flashes of warmth more people are stopping to enjoy the beauty of the pass. One of the first people to see this kloof as a viable link between the two Karoos was Bishop Robert Grey, the first bishop of Cape Town. He travelled along the river road in the 1840s when it was nothing more than a bridle path. He referred to it as a “boer road” and wrote: “This will probably become a major road and proved the great wool growing district of Beaufort West with a route to the sea.”


There is mention of Beaufort West in the introduction to T V Bulpin’s travel guide, Discovering South Africa. “A bad habit of some hotels,” he says, “is to employ a wine waiter whose income is derived from tips. Such individuals materialise from the sidelines with or without a wine list (in Beaufort West, one steward insisted on closing his eyes and reciting the delights of an exclusive cellar since he had, he said, lost his wine list). Wine is eventually produced, and the ritual of sampling performed. The steward hovers anxiously waiting for his payment and gratuity. The diner has to interrupt his enjoyment, sully his hands by counting out cash, receive small change and tip the steward. This is barbaric. Drinks should be included in the main bill to be received at the end of the meal.”


Beaufort West is to get a name board. The tourist office arranged a competition to obtain ideas and designs. The competition was won by Katryn van Heerden, the well-known veld flower artist. She developed a board that can be seen from a distance and which welcomes visitors in six languages. It has an “Africa theme” because Beaufort West is the northern port to the Cape as well as for those travelling north – to the rest of South Africa. The board depicts mountains, the veld and is finished in the warm colours of Africa.


There is much to do on Leeufontein a lovely Karoo farm in the tranquil mountains near Murraysburg. Here visitors can enjoy table tennis, cycling, hiking, hunting and game viewing trips in a jeep. There are fossils to see and a superb area near a natural fountain for picnicking. The farm also has a tough 4 x 4 route and choice abseiling spots in the mountains. This self-catering venue is 40km from the Nl and, in addition to Eskom power, it has coal and gas stoves. Tea, coffee, milk and rusks are provided daily and delicious farm produce, such as curry sosaties, boerewors, meat, eggs, milk, butter, jam, home bread and fresh vegetables are available at reasonable prices.


They came like he proverbial bolts out of the pristine Karoo sky – the strings of queries about a soothsayer said to have knocked around these parts during the last century. It was almost like the fellow’s ghost was abroad. All agreed his name was supposed to have been Hendrik Spoorbek. Well, a little investigation later, it turns out that this shadowy figure actually did exist – only his real name was Heinrich Schoorbeck, He was a wandering German sailor and he was credited with doing wondrous things. Legend has it that a woman once insulted him and all old Heinrich did was mutter a few incantations and the good lady was robbed of the power of speech for a full 24 hours. Perhaps this is why he died a bachelor and the reason for all the frantic queries. He is said to have prophesied that the Karoo would be covered by a network of black veins. That was way back before anyone gave any thought to the tarring of roads crossing these vast plains. Sadly, however, no record can be round of this soothsayer ever having spent time in the Karoo. He lived a Spoorbek se Erf near Humansdorp in the Eastern Cape, where he died in 1845.