Just over a year ago the Prince Albert SPCA rescued a small, underfed, grey donkey. Local resident Howard Derby took pity on the little animal and offered her a home. Named Esmeralda she went into training to eventually accompany Howard and his wife, Lynne, who has a heart complaint, on walks into the mountains. She now carries the hiking and picnic gear. Before long, Esmeralda became a well-known sight in Prince Albert. So, when two Cape Townians recently bought a house in town and decided to get married there, they requested that the bridal vehicle be drawn by Esmeralda. “Quite frankly, I wasn’t sure whether this would work,” said Howard. “She’s a small donkey and had never been harnessed nor pulled a cart. And, I owned neither. But typical of Prince Albert, everyone rallied round and soon Esmeralda was on a training course”. She excelled, and the wedding was a huge success There was a special platteland magic to the bride and groom arriving at the small Anglican church in a cart drawn by a donkey,” said Howard. “The occasion was unforgettable.”


Leighton Hare has been appointed as manager of the Karoo National Park. He replaces Dries Engelbrecht, who has been transferred to the Kalahari Gemsbok National Park. Leighton’s career in conservation began in 1979 at the Kruger National Park while he was a student at the Pretoria Technikon and needed to complete his practical in a national park. After that he was appointed as hiking ranger in the Wolhuter and Olifants wilderness areas and 1983, he was promoted to chief ranger in the Parfuri area. In 1988 he returned to the Kruger National Park to take over as senior ranger at the Letaba camp. He held this post until he was transferred to the Karoo. Leighton is married to Denise and they have three sons. The entire family is looking forward to getting to know the Karoo.


Tourism is thriving in the Central Kroo with ever-increasing interest in the region this holiday season. Most venues have reported excellent November figures and are fully booked for all peak days ahead. Inquiries are pouring in at the regional tourism offices and every day large batches of brochures are posted, particularly to those planning farm holidays and hunting trips for 1996. Much of the demand for background material can be directly attributed to a small advertisement in the November issue of Getaway Magazine. Emphasis this year is on value for money and service. Low cost is not a prime factor, unless the holiday budget is a problem. Generally South Africans treating themselves to “something different” are booking at farm venues.


As 1999 approaches and the Anglo-Boer War centenary celebration plans take shape, research continues to uncover Karoo facts. Boer war researcher Taffy Shearing recently recalled an interesting incident in November, 1970 when an elated Beaufort West school teacher, Mr S van der Merwe came back from a trip to the mountains clutching what appeared to be rusty bits of metal. Taffy discovered that friends had persuaded him to join them on a walk at Kafferskraal, a farm in the Nuweveld Mountains. On a hillside he stumbled across a Wesley Richards rifle which was almost buried under rocks. Mr van der Merwe, a keen rifle collector, could not believe his eyes. He rushed to tell farm owner Mr M H Rossouw and asked if he could keep his find. More surprises – he was told that farm worker had found a similar rifle a fortnight earlier. Both were given to him and while cleaning them he found the rifles were in good condition. Mr van der Merwe dated them to the Anglo-Boer War, and research revealed that Kafferskraal had many connections with Boer commandos. Commandant J Hugo and general Wynand Malan were nursed there after being wounded in a skirmish at nearby Uitspansfontein. This skirmish occurred when a Boer commando surprised a Cape Mounted Rifles contingent taking supplieskto Fraserburg. What remained unanswered was who had hidden the rifles and why they were left there.


British journalist, Colin Cradock’s, recent visit to the Great Karoo was very successful and he has already begun his advertising in Europe. He palms to bring a series of tours into the Karoo next year and to visit mainly historic places. “There is a great interest in places such as Uitspansfontein, where a skirmish took place during the war,” he said. “Foreigners are also interested in plants and fossils of the Karoo. “The tour groups will also visit farms where they will be able to enjoy meeting and chatting to “true Karoo people”. Colin fell in love with the Karoo a few years ago when he and a local cameraman, Trevor de Kock, produced a film entitled The Great Karoo, for the BBC.


Many visitors to Prince Albert are enjoying becoming better acquainted with the flora of the area by walking the new Bossie Trail, laid out by Dr Sue Dean. The trail passes through an area which for many years lay fallow, and plant growth has recovered to such an extent that excellent examples of several species previously thought of as rare can now be seen. Some even in abundance. This is not the first time that rare plants have been found in the area. In 1907 flockea Capensis, a plant thought to be extinct was rediscovered in Prince Albert by Rudolph Marloth, a respected botanist. His interest in South African flora began when he climbed Table Mountain shortly after arriving in 1883. This fascination never ended. His love for plants took him across the sub-continent and he discovered may new species He shared his knowledge by teaching at Stellenbosch University where, for a time, General Jan Smuts was one of his students.


Two writers of travel guides recently visited the Karoo to obtain new information. They were Marianne Freiss, from Germany and Dr Johan Jordaan from the University of Pretoria. Both work with tour planners and prepare information for tour organisers and guides. Mrs Freiss loved the Karoo – particularly the rock formations. She previously worked for an encyclopaedia publisher and geology was one of the subjects she researched Dr Jordaan prepared material on all provinces for use by tour guides.


Buildings at Beaufort West Airport, said author, Lawrence Green, seem to have the appearance of a scene from Arabian Nights. These have now become a guest house called The Sand Castle. It was at one time a busy and important little facility and often in the news during the pioneering days of South African aviation. This airport featured in just about every historic flight between Cape and Britain. Later it was also on the regular SAA route to Cape Town. The first time the air race for the State President’s Trophy was flown in 1962, competitors used this airport. The route included a gruelling section across the mountains of the Central Karoo. That first race was won by commandant Jan Blaauw, of the Air Force Flying Club in a Tiger Moth This prestigious air race began in 1937 as the Governor General’s Cup. It was instituted by the then Governor General, Sir Patrick Duncan. These days only the odd private aircraft lands at Beaufort West Airport and this is mainly during hunting season.


An international television crew recently visited Prince Albert to prepare an advertising film. This is the sixth time in three years that a TV advertisement has been made in this area. Three were for local broadcast and the others for the international market. The recent team came from Brussels in Belgium and they spent three days in the area to make a 30-second T-shirt advertisement for an overseas manufacturer. They were busy from sunrise to twilight and say they loved the town and its surrounds. The only problem was that their high pressure programme did not allow sufficient time for exploration and relaxation. The most team members say they would love to return and spent time really getting to know the Karoo. Prince Albert is expecting another film crew to visit before the end of the year. This team will come from America.


Museums and their survival was the main topic at a meeting of the Southern Cape Museum Curators Organisation in Beaufort West recently. Sandra Smit, curator of the Beaufort West Museum, paid great attention to organising an interesting programme with talks by Henriette Engelbrecht, of the Karoo National Park and Rose Willis of The Regional Tourism Office, to provide delegates with a background of the Karoo and how tourism functions in this area. Rose emphasised the importance of providing historic as well as interesting information to the tourism industry and outlined how information programmes and cultural history could be linked to museums.


Johan Cornelissen of Prince Albert has written a book entitled Building Styles of Prince Albert. It is available in English and Afrikaans and copies are now obtainable at the Fransie Pienaar Museum at the cost of R15 each. “The aim of this booklet is twofold,” he said “It is being made available first of all for information purposes and secondly to encourage visitors to study the wide range of architectural styles in the village. I hope that by reading it people will be inspired to conserve the town and its cultural heritage.”


Beaufort West does not have a “pensioen”, (a European-style youth hostel), but many young Continental visitors feel the town needs one. Several have popped in at the tourism office to say so. One Israeli visitor, Josef Yuri, praised Edith van Vuuren’s Beehive overnight rooms. This venue in an old house next to the co-op has six overnight rooms with a communal bathroom. Those who have stayed there have enjoyed the friendly family atmosphere “It’s a happy environment,” said Josef, “We’re used to life on a kibbutz where you live close together and share everything. We found the atmosphere great and met some lovely South African holiday makers. It seems such a pity that his old house is to be demolished next year because it has the makings of a super hostel.”


Matoppo Country Inn has succeeded in creating a modern-day venue with the elegance of yesteryear. This is the feedback from the first guests who have stayed over in Beaufort West’s newest accommodation establishment. “It exudes all the charm and atmosphere of the past, yet it is as up to date as tomorrow,” said one tourist. “So often as we rush around every day, we seem to lack time to enjoy life. I feel quite cosseted and refreshed. I’ve never appreciated the need to holiday at high speed, nor been able to understand why people leave Johannesburg and charge for Cape Town as if they were participants in an overland race. Personally, I savour my holiday and treat myself to the very best I can afford. It makes working hard all year worthwhile.” Matoppo Country Inn’s main house opened right on schedule and by Mid-December the Maiden’s Hope suites will also be available.


Braham van Zyl, the popular tourism writer of Die Burger and parttime tour guide, recently visited the Greet Karoo. “This is something that I have planned to do for a long time and it was a wonderful experience,” he said. Braham is a man who loves the great outdoors as well as history. So he took a slow ride through the area visiting Matjiesfontein, Beaufort West and other Karoo towns. In the Central Kroo he stayed at the Karoo National Park, Lemoenfontein Guest Farm and at Hillandale. At the latter he was totally surprised to see so much water in the dams. “It was a photographic paradise,” he said.


British journalist Melissa Shand, recently visited the Central Karoo tourism office at Beaufort West in search of material for a travel guide. She had high praise for Round-up. She was seeking foe “snippets of something different in the line of information’ and, brushing away apologies for quality of printing, said: “This must be the cutest little tourism journal. Its cameo stories are worth straining your eyes for.” Round-up has lately received a series of letters from readers who enjoy it, as well as pats on the back from journalists. Among these are Zimbabwean tourism writer, Donette Kruger, and columnists David Biggs of the Argus, and Die Burger’s Pieter Spaarwater. Fish Eagle editor, Carol Coney, wrote to say it was a pity the newsletter could not be better printed, as she felt it was becoming a “collector’s item.” Another tribute to Round-up is that its mailing list just keeps on growing. However, to ensure that the mailing list remains current, please inform us of any changes of address as soon as possible.


As a result of the leather making workshops that were held earlier this year with the help of Mid-Cape tourism, this subject is going to be addressed again in Beaufort West early next year. A think tank is going to investigate which are the best skins to tan and what will be the best garments to make. The man who behind this research project is Dominee Albertus van Zyl of the Gamkas- Oos Dutch Reformed Church. Working with him is local farmer, Louis Reynolds. They are holding a meeting for all interested parties in the Gamka-Oos church hall on January 29, 1996 starting at 09h00. This workshop will be addressed by a variety of experts and it is hoped to make this a job creation opportunity as well as a platform for the promotion of products for the tourism industry.


Once again the time for merry-making and celebration has arrived. Looking back, 1995 has been a successful year for the Karoo’s tourism industry. We wish all roe players all the best for next year.