Writing Art History Since 2002

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Tania Harrison explores the South African ‘super destination’ known as the Karoo and explores its food, its history, and its effect on the soul.


ABOVE: An epic Karoo landscape. Photo courtesy of Louis Hiemstra.

I hail from a long line of Karoo farmers and had the rare privilege of spending winter holidays with my grandparents on their magical Karoo farm tucked away in a kloof near Cradock.

The time spent with them on the stoep (‘veranda’) eating biltong sandwiches, riding the boerperde (‘farm horses’) and getting some AGA action in my Ouma’s uber cool Karoo kitchen brings back memories so fond they actually hurt.

This is what the Karoo does to you – it explodes the soul. Its lure is mythical and unfathomable, understood only by those who have come and gone, and then returned in search of their souls that lingered long after they had left.


ABOVE: Farm fresh produce and farm fresh bread. All images courtesy of Louis Hiemstra.

Referring to the Karoo as a desert has never made sense to me. One might think it true when committed to the N1, only passing through on your way from one man-made destination to another. But in truth, it is nothing short of paradise – a place of abundance, unimaginable beauty, cultural idiosyncrasies, living traditions, humility and raw passion.

The landscape is majestic and beyond the ability of any artist to capture. It is the sum of all its elements: earth, sun, wind, cloud, and foliage, living and dying. Here nature dazzles the imagination and frees the soul. From the imposing, sculpture-like rock formations to vast uninterrupted koppies and vlaktes of grasses, bossies and land, brimming with slow contented life.

In the Karoo, culture and tradition is omnipresent. It is found in people, their voices, their words, their laughter and humility. Karoo folk are masters of design and engineering, fixing and surviving – they are truly skilled managers of land and follow nature’s rule book closely.


ABOVE: The Milk Way in all its glory. All images courtesy of Louis Hiemstra.

It is epic “nose to tail & farm to fork” country, where deli dishes are a daily nosh. Here the meat is more famous than the Michelin star chefs who prepare them. Lamb is the Prince of Protein – unmatched in taste and sought after worldwide. Bread is baked, not bought – and butter never causes cholesterol. Eggs come from chickens, not shops and fat is good, even in soap. Composting is not just another fad and life in all its forms is respected. 

Historic riches of rock-art, Bushmen paintings, pre-historic artifacts and fossils are found widespread in the Karoo, perfectly preserved for the next generation. For a more bucolic experience to fossil hunting, just put on your Solomons or grab a mountain bike and follow one of many sheep trails on the farms and you are likely to find heritage and the odd quill all around you. Nature at its best, as if designed just for you, for that moment. Glorious.


ABOVE: Not the territory for the squeamish – meat preparation in the Karoo. All images courtesy of Louis Hiemstra.

The Karoo is one of a the few places where time is not dictated by a watch, where silence is deafening, where darkness is filled with a million little lights, where nature smells natural, where noise does not exist and where no amount of human interference changes any given day.

It is a truly a South African super destination – one that is being rediscovered and embraced by all– herding and shearing with conviction and euphoric intent somewhere amongst the koppies between Britstown and Bedford.

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