1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Karroo

KARROO, two extensive plateaus in the Cape province, South Africa, known respectively as the Great and Little Karroo. Karroo is a corruption of Karusa, a Hottentot word meaning dry, barren, and its use as a place-name indicates the character of the plateaus so designated. They form the two intermediate “steps” between the coast-lands and the inner plateau which constitutes the largest part of South Africa. The Little (also called Southern) Karroo is the table-land nearest the southern coast-line of the Cape, and is bounded north by the Zwaarteberg, which separates it from the Great Karroo. From west to east the Little Karroo has a length of some 200 m., whilst its average width is 30 m. West of the Zwaarteberg the Little Karroo merges into the Great Karroo. Eastward it is limited by the hills which almost reach the sea in the direction of St Francis and Algoa Bays. The Great Karroo is of much larger extent. Bounded south, as stated, by the Zwaarteberg, further east by the Zuurberg (of the coast chain), its northern limit is the mountain range which, under various names, such as Nieuwveld and Sneeuwberg, forms the wall of the inner plateau. To the south-west and west it is bounded by the Hex River Mountains and the Cold Bokkeveld, eastward by the Great Fish River. West to east it extends fully 350 m. in a straight line, varying in breadth from more than 80 to less than 40 m. Whilst the Little Karroo is divided by a chain of hills which run across it from east to west, and varies in altitude from 1000 to 2000 ft., the Great Karroo has more the aspect of a vast plain and has a level of from 2000 to 3000 ft. The total area of the Karroo plateaus is stated to be over 100,000 sq. m. The plains are dotted with low ranges of kopjes. The chief characteristics of the Karroo are the absence of running water during a great part of the year and the consequent parched aspect of the country. There is little vegetation save stunted shrubs, such as the mimosa (which generally marks the river beds), wild pomegranate, and wax heaths, known collectively as Karroo bush. After the early rains the bush bursts into gorgeous purple and yellow blossoms and vivid greens, affording striking evidence of the fertility of the soil. Such parts of the Karroo as are under perennial irrigation are among the most productive lands in South Africa. Even the parched bush provides sufficient nourishment for millions of sheep and goats. There are also numerous ostrich farms, in particular in the districts of Oudtshoorn and Ladismith in the Little Karroo, where lucerne grows with extraordinary luxuriance. The Karroo is admirably adapted to sufferers from pulmonary complaints. The dryness of the air tempers the heat of summer, which reaches in January a mean maximum of 87° F., whilst July, the coldest month, has a mean minimum of 36° F. A marked feature of the climate is the great daily range (nearly 30°) in temperature; the Karroo towns are also subject to violent dust storms. Game, formerly plentiful, has been, with the exception of buck, almost exterminated. In a looser sense the term Karroo is also used of the vast northern plains of the Cape which are part of the inner table-land of the continent. (See Cape Colony.)