REST CAMP TRAIL IN KAROO NATIONAL PARK

I find it strange that so few sites extolling the virtues of staying in the Karoo National Park mention the 1.15km Rest Camp Trail.

Granted, this isn’t very long and is in essence a shortcut through the veld from the camping area towards the bird hide, chalets and the restaurant. Much more is made of the nearby 400m long Fossil Trail which depicts the geology and palaeontology of the Great Karoo. As short as that is, it is both fascinating and well worth spending some time on.  Back to the Rest Camp Trail though: like most things, you will get from it what you put into it. Treat it as a shortcut instead of walking along the road and you will see very little; walk along the sandy – and at times rather stony – path slowly and you might be taken aback by what you see. Very close to the camping area is a clearly demarcated graveyard.

Apparently Pokkie Benadè was a tracker who worked for the South African National Parks. I imagine Stolzhoek Farm is one of several farms that make up the land now encompassed by the Karoo National Park. It is worth stopping every now and then to enjoy the view and to have a close look at the immediate environment. It was during one such stop that we saw this kudu looking at us warily from where she had been browsing on some low bushes not all that far from the path.

There is a magical element about sharing the outdoors with such a regal animal. Then there is the delight of coming across a fresh spoor on the path.

Several plants are clearly identified along the path – a useful way of developing an understanding of what we can see while travelling through the rest of the park. This Asparagus capensis (wild asparagus), for example, is common all over the park.

Easily accessible from either this trail, or from the road, is an example of a long disused Hyena trap – a remnant from early stock farmers, who used these primitive stone structures to lure and kill what they considered to be ‘problem animals’ in order to protect their flocks.

Looking up, I saw this pair of South African Shelducks flying past – possibly on their way to the small dam at the bird hide.

Paying closer attention to the rocks we were walking over, I found this fine example of weathering.

This trail would offer a variety of things to see depending on what time of the day you walk along it.

EROSION CONTROL PROGRAMME

It might be because my father took great care of the veld and the soil on his farm that I have always taken an interest in the various means taken to combat erosion and to rehabilitate the natural environment. There are a number of methods to be seen in the Karoo National Park.

The erosion control fences look a bit odd when one sees them for the first time. The above sign explains that they are low wire netting and jute geotextile fences with a thick mulch layer. These help to slow and trap runoff water and, by so doing, in time become a productive vegetated belt across degraded veld. They are also used to stabilise small dongas and drainages. Water can filter through these fences, but the silt and plant litter carried with it remains behind, thus helping to build topsoil.

Stone gabions have been used to combat erosion for years. Essentially, these are box-shaped wire baskets made from galvanized steel wire which are then filled with rocks to form a gravity wall.

The gabion walls help to slow down the speed of run-off while sieving the soil it carries.

A reader wondered about the rough path I featured recently that leads to one of the lookout points in the park. The sturdiness of this path prevents the erosion of the ground which would have been inevitable with so many visitors walking along the same path in such friable soil. The stones help to create a non-slip surface for the safety of visitors, especially in wet weather.

Similar care is taken over the drainage ditches next to the roads that wind up the steep mountains.

LOOKOUT POINTS AND PICNIC SITES

Driving through any of our national parks can be both exciting and tiring. Exciting because of all the trees, flowers, birds and animals to be seen, and tiring because of the distances and time spent in one’s vehicle. Lookout points and picnic sites provide a welcome relief from the latter. In most of the parks one has to keep a careful lookout for lions and not assume that just because one can get out of one’s vehicle that one is absolutely safe. There are two main picnic sites in the Karoo National Park. The Doornhoek Picnic Site is situated in the game area under shady trees that are alive with the sound of birds. Another is Bulkraal, situated along the Lammertjiesleegte drive.

Apart from the welcome ablution facilities, there is a beautifully maintained swimming pool, picnic tables and a number of braai places.

Fairly private picnic sites are dotted around the area and visitors are encouraged to stick to the clearly demarcated paths to reach them.

The Rooivalle Lookout Point provides an opportunity to stretch one’s legs and admire the beautiful vista of the Karoo stretching out in all directions.

The path and sturdy fencing is not to protect you from dangerous animals, but to protect the fragile soil and to prevent visitors from falling over the edge of the cliffs!

It could be easy to lose one’s balance whilst drinking in this awesome sight of the dolerite capping across the deeply incised valley.

As the dolerite has a high iron content, it weathers to the red we see on the exposed rock band.

The Doornhoek Lookout Point has equally fantastic views.

One could spend hours in each of these places …

A DIFFERENT KAROO VIOLET

I came across a Karoo Violet for the first time in 2016 (see https://somethingovertea.wordpress.com/2016/10/06/karoo-violet/) which my companions correctly identified as Aptosimum procumbens. It is recognised by its creeping, mat-forming appearance along with its paddle-shaped leaves. This is what it looked like:

While driving through the Karoo National Park, I was struck by the patches of similar violet flowers growing in the rocky terrain. Given the arid conditions in which it grows, it is not surprising to learn that these plants have a strong, woody taproot.

Being able to get out at various lookout points provided an opportunity for me to have a closer look at these pretty flowers, this time with spatula-shaped leaves.

These Karoo violets are Aptosimum indivisum and have a distinctive white throat with blue-purple marks around it. They are also known as brandbossie (burn bushlet) in Afrikaans as they can apparently be used to treat sunburn.

While there appeared to be examples of single dwarf shrublets all over the park, most appeared to clump together with a cushion-like appearance. The flowers ranged in colour from a light blue to purple.

They occur in dry areas of the Eastern Cape, Free State, Gauteng, Limpopo, Northern Cape, North West, and in the Western Cape. The plants are grazed by livestock and tortoises.

BIRD BATHS AND BEES

Just as people, birds and animals seek water to drink when the weather is hot and dry, so do bees. The water in this shallow bird bath at the entrance to the Mountain Zebra National Park is edged with bees and flies taking in much-needed moisture.

Communal taps inevitably drip. Some taps in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park have simple cement bird baths placed under them which both helps to save water and provides for the thirst of bees – lots of them. One actually has to approach these taps with care.

Birds and animals have to approach these watering points with care too.

I was thus impressed to see that in the Karoo National Park not only are bird baths provided under the communal taps, but clear signs warn one to be careful of the bees that will inevitably come to share the water during the hot weather.

Or … perhaps these signs sensitize visitors to the importance of bees and the role they play in keeping our environment healthy.

Either way, it was good to see them.