Tag Archives: Gannaga Pass

Gannaga Pass – Tankwa Karoo National Park

It has been a while since I wrote my last blog – a lot of water has passed under the bridge since then – but now that we have our house move out of the way and we are settled in our new retirement home in beautiful Knysna in the Western Cape, it is time to resume my writing.  I promised that I would write about our visit to Gannaga Pass on the eastern side of the Tankwa Karoo National Park, so here goes.

Up the pass we go

There aren’t too many animals to look at in this rather arid park, so one has to appreciate the stark beauty of the area, and by driving up Gannaga Pass you will be able to take in the vast expanse of landscape from a high vantage point.  The drive up the pass is about six kilometers long and there are a couple of places along the way to stop and enjoy the beauty as it unfolds below you.

Ruin of a stone cottage

At the foot of the pass the vegetation comprises mostly of Gannaga bush and succulent plants like the botterboom trees, which faintly resemble baobabs with their bulbous bases.  Scarce as animals are, one has the chance to catch a glimpse of kudu and eland here as they feed on the Gannaga bushes.  Before ascending the pass, one drives past the remains of a stone cottage let go by humans and grabbed hold of by Mother Nature.  Who lived there, one might ask, in this harsh environment, and why and when did they leave?  What was it like living here all those years ago?  There are more questions than answers.

Beautiful vistas

As the road snakes up the Roggeveld Mountains the air gets thinner and cooler and the sky somehow looks more blue.  We stopped often to drink in the scenery and to watch the landmarks and insulbergs below getting smaller and smaller.  Rob commented that it would be amazing to cycle this pass, so I knew what was occupying his mind as we drove slowly higher.  Quite near the top of the pass is a viewpoint where one can relax with a cup of coffee and meditate on the peace and silence.  From here you can trace the course of a long-gone river by the ribbon of trees that hug the dry bed, and gaze on the Cedarberg Mountains on the horizon that look both blue and very far away.

A rare appearance by yours truly

As one climbs higher the vegetation changes until one reaches the top of the pass where it flattens out and grasslands prevail.  What an experience it is to scale these dizzy heights and absorb the beauty and silence of this magnificent pass.  The way down is best taken slowly lest you meet an oncoming car on the narrow road.  We descended reluctantly, not wanting to end the experience too quickly.  All too soon, however, the road deposits you back on the flat plains where the occasional Springbok was caught grazing in the morning sun.

Beautiful vistas

This is an area to explore if you want to get far away from the madding crowds and think about what it means to be disconnected from society for a while.  Don’t bother to go there if you want to be entertained, need animals to fill your time or are looking for lush vegetation.  This spot is arid and Zen-like.  Enjoy it if you dare!!!

Time Out in Tankwa

You know when you pass a sign that reads “Absolutely Nothing From Here” that you’re heading into a remote area.  Rob and I had a chuckle when we saw that, but instead of putting us off we were eagerly anticipating the vast empty plains and vistas of the Tankwa Karoo National Park that sits on the border of both the Northern and Western Cape.  We’ve always loved the arid Namibian landscape, so as the trees and houses gave way to barren wide open spaces we really felt like we were being welcomed by the silence and the beauty of this region.

You've been warned!!

We drove in from the Oudtshoorn area, taking the R46 and then the R355 towards Calvinia.  It was hot and we looked forward to camping in dry conditions over the Easter weekend.  The campsite that we were allocated was perfect for our ground tent and we had good shade the whole time that we were there.  A bonus was having our own ablution block with piping hot showers, thanks to a nearby solar panel.  Water tanks high on the hill above us gave shade to a troop of baboons and their calls serenaded us at all times of the day.

Our campsite in Tankwa Karoo Nat Park

Tankwa Karoo Park is not for folks who need to be entertained by animals or gadgets.  There is no electricity or cellphone reception in the park and very few animals, apart from the odd Eland, Gemsbok or Zebra.  This area, known as the Succulent Karoo, is for pure nature lovers, especially those interested in rare, endemic and endangered mammals, plants and birds.  In Spring the when the wild flowers bloom they cover the plains with a welcome mat of amazing beauty.

Amazing scenery in Tankwa

Previously home to the San/Bushmen, the Tankwa area gets its name from the Tankwa River, and is thought to mean “thirstland” or “place of the San”.  Apart from many crumbling old houses that were once occupied by trekboers (farmers), we came across some forlorn looking graves that had been taken over by Nature – their markings worn away by the sand, wind and time.

Deserted graves in Tankwa

Many would find this landscape bleak, but it is actually a photographers paradise with photo opportunities aplenty, especially if one heads up the beautiful Gannaga Pass (which I will write about separately).

Lonely road

It’s not only the scenery that is dramatic and exciting, the sunsets and stars at night are incredible.  Tankwa is only 140kms away from Sutherland, home to SALT (Southern African Large Telescope) one of the largest telescopes in the world.  This alone tells you how clear the skies are in this area at night.

Evening in Tankwa

Besides camping and birding, we were on a mission to find an elusive Aardvark, but apart from seeing some abandoned holes, we were out of luck.  I will blog next time about the birds that we saw.

Needless to say, this soul-expanding area is amazing and one that will definitely see us again – most probably when the flowers are in bloom.