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A South African Gem

Story ID:667
Written by:Nancy J. Kopp (bio, link, contact, other stories)
Story type:Foreign
Location:The Karoo National Park South Africa
Year:2005
Person:Mavis Power
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A South African Gem

A South African Gem

A South African Gem

By Nancy Julien Kopp


My husband, two South African friends and I settle on the covered porch of the Cape Dutch style chalet with a cold drink. The day’s drive from Johannesburg in light rain left us all with a need to relax. The late afternoon sun erases the gloom of the rainy day as we scan the horizon for signs of wildlife.

Within minutes Ken spies a small herd of Cape zebras in the distance. He grabs the field glasses on the table and zeroes in on the small striped mammals. Mike does the same with another set of field glasses. “Move over to the right of the zebras, Ken. You’ll see some springbok moving toward us.” They pass the glasses over to Mavis and me so that we can see a close-up of the two herds. No cages in a zoo for these animals. They roam free in The Karoo National Park.

In South Africa, the desert area is known as the karoo, and this national park is the country’s largest ecosystem. The Nuweveld Mountains serve as a natural backdrop for the rolling plains covered in scrub brush, rocks, and scattered bushes. Mike explains to us that there is a diversity of life here—mammals, reptiles, and birds. I find it hard to believe the brochures that tell us there are 63 species of mammals and more than 200 bird species. I don’t even want to consider the number of reptiles.

We watch the zebras and springboks draw closer as the sun turns to flame and begins to sink slowly behind the small mountains. Dozens of beautiful yellow and black birds congregate on the branches of a bush right in front of our chalet. I learn later they are Masked Weavers.

While Mavis and I sort through our food supplies, Ken and Mike walk the winding path behind our chalet to look over the swimming pool and the reception building, which is home to a full service restaurant. Our chalet has two separate units with three single beds, a small, fully-equipped kitchen and full bath in each. The dining table and chairs remain on the porch. A well-used charcoal grill sits outside. In South Africa, a grill is known as a braii. No matter the name, it will be the source of energy to cook our meat this evening.

The men return and, despite a strong wind, manage to get the charcoal lit and ready for the lamb chops and sausages we’ve brought with us, typical meats here for a braii. Potatoes baked in the oven, pork and beans from a can, and tomatoes complete our meal. We eat on the porch in the quiet night while sipping wine produced in Stellenbosch, the Napa Valley of South Africa. “Listen,” Mike says, “the silence is deafening.” Mavis tells us that on a clear night thousands of stars carpet the sky. But on this night, there are more clouds than sky to be seen. As we finish our coffee, a patch of clear sky emerges, brilliant stars twinkle at us, and the summer night surrounds us with a serenity seldom found.

The next morning Ken rises early and walks to a Fossil Trail, which has been adapted for blind and other handicapped visitors. On his return stroll, a huge tortoise crosses his path, blithely ignoring the two legged hiker.

We pack the car and go to the restaurant for the breakfast that is included in the price of an overnight stay. I am pleasantly surprised by the appearance of the restaurant. Many floor to ceiling windows, formally draped, afford spectacular views. We fill our plates and bowls with fresh fruit, cereal, and toast, then pour juice and coffee. Once we’ve eaten all that, the waitress arrives to take our order for the hot food—bacon, sausage, eggs, and grilled tomato. As she is serving our plates, another waitress appears with a large basket of scones, fresh from the oven. The aroma calls to us, despite the full stomachs we have
.
Our overnight stay, with the breakfast, costs the equivalent of $50 for each couple. The price is somewhat higher for the tourist than for South African residents. Lucky us—Mike made the booking and paid in advance, so we got the in-country price.

Before we leave, we tour the reception center where large bulletin boards detail the birds, animals, and reptiles found within the park. We see sign-up sheets for guided night trail rides in 4 x4’s or land rovers and maps of the nature trails hikers may use. We learn that there are larger chalets that sleep six and also a caravan park for campers. It’s a perfect stopover for South Africans and tourists alike.

Our friends tell us they’re happy we like it so well because we’ll stay here again as we head back to Johannesburg.. I vow to eat less breakfast the next time. Our car moves slowly down the winding road that leads out of the park, and we study both sides of the road this sunny morning in hopes of seeing more wildlife. Our only reward is a flock of karoo sheep grazing nearby. They nibble at the scrub brush around them, oblivious to the clear blue sky above or the gawking tourists in the vehicle nearby. I don’t mind bidding farewell to this gem of a national park since we’ll be returning within a week. Perhaps we’ll see that carpet of stars across the sky on our next visit.