Before the Karoo National Park was proclaimed to conserve unique Nama Karoo vegetation, it was home to farmers. To survive in the harsh environment, they had to be innovative, using what they had in their surroundings to survive and make life more comfortable. They may no longer be around but the signs of their tenure still stand scattered around the park.
Many of these are accessible to visitors and the park’s People and Conservation Department is busy putting up information boards to enlighten you, and point you in the right direction.
The first site is in the main rest camp. Farmers constructed traps to catch brown hyenas, leopards and other predators that killed their sheep and other livestock. The trap was usually built with rocks and bait was secured on a string tied to the back wall. Any tugging on the bait would release the door, trapping the animal inside.
From here, make your way to the Interpretive Centre (IC). Before the days of electricity and stoves, farmers had to get creative to bake. A hollowed out termite mound, covered with a raw brick and clay shell used for this purpose still stands on the property.
There is also a bakkiespomp, baler and ox wagon in the vicinity of the IC. The bakkiespomp, driven by a donkey, pumped water from the river to irrigation furrows in the fields. Next, have a look at the ancient ox wagon, and important mode of transport back in the day. The back wheels were always larger than the front to ensure the steering axle could not turn too far. The baler isa device invented in the 1860s to compact grass into bales. As technology progressed in the mid-1900s, automatedversions allowed farmers to bale up to 40 tons of hay daily.
From here, drive over the Klipspringer Pass. Apart from majestic views, look at the engineering that went into the project.The 3.2km rock wall was packed by hand according the Andrew Bain method to make it environmentally friendly and unobtrusive. The 7 800 cubic meters of rock was recycled from sheep corrals or veekrale (enclosure to keep livestock) and shepherds huts.
Once over the pass, continue on the road until you pass the Doornhoek Picnic site. Head onto the Afsaal 4X4 Loop where you will find Afsaal Cottage, which dates back some 100 years. Book a night at this old shepherds’ hut to experience it first-hand. The roof inside is thatch, a natural insulator in hot and cold conditions.
The last accessible sites are found on the Kookfontein 4X4 Loop. Ever noticed the strange tower of packed rocks? This is a lime-burning kiln, says Van Zyl. “Broken limestone and coal were burnt in the top part. Lime was removed from the bottom and used as wall plaster and stabiliser for roads, dams and foundations.” The ruins of livestock corrals (or veekrale) are also visible nearby.
While there are a lot more to see, not all of them are accessible to tourists. This will change in the future with the construction of additional roads, says Van Zyl.