If mountains, open spaces and the dustiness of arid regions turn you on or you just want to get away from the city buzz for a day or two, then the Tankwa Karoo National Park is the place for you.
You’ll find it a four- or five-hour drive from Cape Town, plonked somewhere between Calvinia, Ceres and Sutherland in the Karoo. It’s a stark landscape of sand and stones, koppies and succulents, particularly pretty when it’s awash with wild flowers in spring or covered by snow in winter. It’s also the only arid region in the world recognised as a biodiversity hotspot – and that’s pretty darn special.
The park is still a work in progress, with farms being bought up over time to add to the conservation area managed by SANParks. To give you an idea, in 1986 it was just 36 000 hectares; now that’s ballooned to 137 000 hectares – and it’s still growing. Once the bits and bobs of farms still on the radar have been included, the whole area will be fenced and it should be more obvious to visitors just exactly where they enter or exit the park (at the moment it’s a bit fuzzy).
This isn’t a park that’s very well known yet – probably because it’s so much in the back of beyond, and until recently there wasn’t really anywhere to stay. That’s all in the past. You can now choose from four or five lovingly-restored old farmhouses with thick walls, wooden ceilings, huge kitchen hearths and friendly donkey boilers for a hint of nostalgia. Or you can book one of the five new cottages at the Elandsberg Wilderness Camp. They’re built in the same style as the old ruins that dot the landscape of the park, using rocks and unbaked mud-and-straw bricks. Each has a view of the Karoo plains and Roggeveld escarpment. There’s a fireplace in the living room for cold winters (below freezing at times) and a splash pool for hot summers (usually close to 40°C).
If you really want to experience the silence and space of this special corner of the Karoo, book at one of about seven rustic campsites (no ablutions) around the park. Be warned, though, that you need a 4×4 to get to some of them, especially if it’s been raining, so check before you book. You also need to carry your own water and an extra canister of fuel because the closest fuel stations are more than 100 km away.
If you’re a lover of succulents you’ll be thrilled by what you find. The park is a great place for birders too, giving you a chance to tick a lifer like the double-banded courser or black-eared finchlark. Other creatures lurking about include aardvark, meerkat, Cape mountain zebra, gemsbok and red hartebeest.
But of all the things to do and see, it’s the vistas, the sunsets and star-filled Karoo skies that will live in your memory the longest. I know they will in mine.
Elandsberg Wilderness Camp
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