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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.