It was Easter weekend and we needed a plan…
One of our goals that we are working on is to visit all the National Parks of South Africa. With a limit of 4 days and no option to fly into a given destination, we looked for a park that was in close proximity to our home in Cape Town. The only park in this vicinity that we have not managed to visit to date was the Tankwa Karoo National Park.
Having recently completed our December holiday in both the northern parks of Southern Africa, namely the |Ai-|Ais/Richtersveld and Kgalagadi Transfontier parks, we felt at home in another Arid park. The notion of getting away from the crowds was another attraction.
In our endeavors to understand and plan the trip, we first explored the SANParks website and a few other online articles. This being the youngest of all the SANParks, the information available was limited. We booked our accommodation 1 week prior to departure. Soon our day of departure arrived upon us, we packed our Toyota Raider as if going back to the |Ai-|Ais/Richtersveld – a feeling of complete bliss – and head off into the unknown in search for big open sky country.
On arrival we were greeted with your typical Karoo scrub, wide open spaces and not a person in sight. This is not your average park and we were surprised to find that there was no official gate like all the other parks do have. Following the main dirt road, which lead us directly to the information centre.
After checking in and a quick explanation of the park facilities and highlights, we were on
our way to our first nights’ accommodation at the Tankwa Guest House. The accommodation on offer consists of old farmsteads that have been converted into self catering guest houses. This gives one the sense of a moment in time and a way of life as experienced by the farmers of the past in this area.
The Tankwa Karoo is a rugged environment and even with our 4×2 Toyota Raider, we were not spared the fate of a flat tyre. It is recommended that anyone who wishes to take one these trails, we suggest that you come prepared.
That night we shared many fun stories with fellow guests around a awesome camp fire. The following morning we were up early to catch the beauty of the Tankwa’s sunrise.
After bidding farewell to our new friends who were passing through from George, we made our way along the 4×4 track to the top of the Elandsberg viewpoint. Here the entire park beauty and vast openness stretches out as far as the eye can see.
We were warned in advance that the overnight camping facilities were very informal, so were not that surprised to discover our lodging consisted of a tree in the middle of nowhere. After exploring the site, we decided to give it a miss as the flies made it unbearable.
We proceeded with haste in the failing light to find an alternative location. After one of the most enjoyable evenings under the stars, we once again experienced the magic of Tankwa’s big bright bold stars and the comfort that we were experiencing this unique setting all on our own.
The morning presented us with another magical sunrise and we were treated to a wonderful display by the local Red Hartebeest coming for their early morning drink. After we had quenched our thirst on the magnificent display of photographs on offer, we broke camp. Our next item on our itinerary was to make our way up the Gannaga Pass, which offered breathtaking vistas of the Karoo landscape. It was here that we met up with the passing by of the local karretjie mense making their way down this rugged route.
Not wanting to miss this opportunity, we set up position for a dramatic photo of these hell drivers speeding down the seemingly impassable mountain pass. At this point it was that we learnt never to startle a donkey coming straight down the mountain. At such a speed, these homemade brakes served no purpose and our vehicle became the point of impact. Never did we ever think that our paths would cross in such a manner.
Luck was on our side that neither passengers nor donkeys sustained any injuries. The startled donkeys were treated with our complete supply of Woolworths apples to calm their nerves. After sorting out the running repairs we were relieved to be able to set them on their way again. It was not an easy or convincing story when we had to file our report at the police station about this accident.
The day continued with explorations of the rest of this magical landscape, and eventually we made our way to our final overnight accommodation at Paulshoek, a delightful farm style cottage set on the mountain slopes of this beautiful area. With a glass of wine in hand and a cozy campfire, we were treated to another memorable display of Tankwa’s dramatic display of stars. The following morning we bid a farewell to this park, promising to return once again in the flower season.
One thing the Tankwa has taught us, is that this is not a place to visit if you want to place to find many wild animals. It’s a place of stark beauty, peace and quiet with few people and a getaway from the hustle and bustle of city life. The Tankwa has its own unique sense of harsh beauty. Only with a true heart, will the beauty of this land reveal itself.
Know before your go:
- Last stop for fuel is Ceres, Sutherland and Middlepos
- Diesel available in the park
- No shops, restaurants or ATM’s
- No Cell phone reception, but a pay phone at the Information Centre
- Wood is for sale in the park
Bring along with you:
- Insect repellent and sun block
- Extra fuel, water and spare tyre.
- Birding books and Binoculars
- Bokomo Rusks
Camera Gear used:
Canon 1D Mark III, Canon 5D Mark II, 16-35 2.8is Lens, 17-40 f4 Lens, Manfroto Carbon Tripod with a Wimberley II Gimble head and remote shutter release.
Alex Aitkenhead & Juanita Welgemoed