Karoo

Travel Guide Africa South Africa Karoo

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Introduction

The Karoo ( from a Khoikhoi word, possibly garo "desert") is a semi-desert natural region of South Africa. There is no exact definition of what constitutes the Karoo, and therefore its extent is also not precisely defined. The Karoo is partly defined by its topography, geology, and climate - above all, its low rainfall, arid air, cloudless skies, and extremes of heat and cold. The Karoo also hosted a well-preserved ecosystem hundreds of million years ago which is now represented by many fossils.

The Karoo formed an almost impenetrable barrier to the interior from Cape Town, and the early adventurers, explorers, hunters and travelers on the way to the Highveld unanimously denounced it as a frightening place of great heat, great frosts, great floods and great droughts. Today it is still a place of great heat and frosts, and an annual rainfall of between 50-250 mm, though on some of the mountains it can be 250-500 mm higher than on the plains. However, underground water is found throughout the Karoo, which can be tapped by boreholes, making permanent settlements and sheep farming possible.

The xerophytic vegetation consists of aloes, mesembryanthemums, crassulas, euphorbias, stapelias, and desert ephemerals, spaced 50 cm or more apart, and becoming very sparse going northwards into Bushmanland and, from there, into the Kalahari Desert. The driest region of the Karoo, however, is its southwestern corner, between the Great Escarpment and the Cederberg-Skurweberg mountain ranges, called the Tankwa Karoo, which receives only 75 mm of rain annually. The eastern and north-eastern Karoo are often covered by large patches of grassland. The typical Karoo vegetation used to support large game, sometimes in vast herds.

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Geography

The Karoo is sharply divided into the Great Karoo and the Little Karoo by the Swartberg Mountain Range, which runs east-west, parallel to the southern coastline, but is separated from the sea by another east-west range called the Outeniqua - Langeberg Mountains. The Great Karoo lies to the north of the Swartberg range; the Little Karoo is to the south of it.

The only sharp and definite boundary of the Great Karoo is formed by the most inland ranges of Cape Fold Mountains to the south and south-west. The extent of the Karoo to the north is vague, fading gradually and almost imperceptibly into the increasingly arid Bushmanland towards the north-west. To the north and north-east it fades into the savannah and grasslands of Griqualand West and the Highveld. The boundary to the east grades into the grasslands of the Eastern Midlands. The Great Karoo is itself divided by the Great Escarpment into the "Upper Karoo" (generally above 1,200-1,500 metres) and the "Lower Karoo" on the plains below at 700-800 metres. A great many local names, each denoting different subregions of the Great Karoo, exist, some more widely, or more generally, known than others. In the Lower Karoo, going from west to east, they are the "Tankwa Karoo", the "Moordenaarskaroo", the "Koup", the "Vlakte" and the "Camdeboo Plains". The "Hantam", the "Kareeberge", the "Roggeveld" and "Nuweveld" are the better known subregions of the Upper Karoo; though most of it is simply known as the "Upper Karoo", especially in the north.

The Little Karoo’s boundaries are sharply defined by mountain ranges to the west, north and south. The road between Uniondale and Willowmore is considered, by convention, to form the approximate arbitrary eastern extremity of the Little Karoo. Its extent is much smaller than that of the Great Karoo. Locally, it is usually called the Klein Karoo, which is Afrikaans for "Little Karoo".

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This is version 2. Last edited at 11:28 on May 2, 17 by Utrecht. 1 article links to this page.

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