An early morning hike up a mountain might seem like a mission reserved for the fit and adventurous. Yet, the pointer trail in the Karoo National Park is rewarding for everybody that tackles it, although a certain level of fitness will not hurt.
Words: René de Klerk
Picture: Petro Kotzé
Free of charge for overnight visitors, bookings must be made at reception by 19:00 on the day prior the hike. These guided walks take place from 06:00 and 11:00 in summer and 07:00 and 11:00 during winter months.
Although the walk starts quite steep, it is not an endurance test. Rather, its an introduction to the fascinating Karoo ecosystems. Gregory Fish, the friendly ranger and field guide that led the walk, ensured that the trip was interactive, and that hikers remembered the interesting facts they learnt along the way.
Fish says, among other interesting facts, that the last thing you want to do is walk through open patches used by animals for mud baths. Zebra use this technique to rid themselves of ticks and other parasites. Stand in it and you may just find yourself in hospital from tick bite fever or even Ebola, spread by the African bont tick.
You will learn just as much about plant species. Not only will you be able to identify the karoo shrubs, but also learn interesting facts about them. The boesmanskers (Sarcocaulon), with its stems sprouting from the ground will carry a single bright flower at the end of the stem resembling a flame. Interestingly, when you set a piece alight, the waxy bark can burn for around 15 minutes, explains Fish.
Aloes are all bitter and no animal will go out of their way to nibble on these plants, though Kudu have been known to take a bite to cure stomach ailments. Whenever you see a dug-out spot right next to a plant with some roots exposed it is likely the work of a porcupine. While these animals will never dig out a whole plant, they will eat a piece of the root and move on to the next in order to preserve the species.
On the walk a number of animals were identified by their droppings. Although it doesn’t sound glamorous, it is truly exciting when you start identifying animals correctly. The only animals we physically came across along the way were the rock hyrax and a mountain zebra with her foal.
If you’re up to it, you can walk all the way up to “The Pointer” to gaze at the Karoo from 680m above sea-level. The park has excellent guides, who will answer questions on anything from geology, plants and mammals on the way up.
After the experience, you too could be able to, among others, identify the sex of animals from long distances by their horns. You may even spot fossils among the rocks as the area is known for its rich geological history.
A walk in the Karoo National Park may provide you with much more than you expected and you will finish feeling enriched and more educated. The beautiful views of the park from the top of the mountain simply make the experience so much more rewarding.