Tankwa Karoo NP is a place where time stands still. Silence invades the whole landscape and only the wind is able to break the moment when the clock stops and only finds you, the mountains and the desert. This national park, far from the touristic routes, on the way to the Namibian border, lies between the Roggeveld Mountains to the east, the Cederbergs to the west and the Kouebokkeveld to the north.
The park covers an area of 146.000 hectares and is managed by Sanparks. One of the most interesting things about the park is that it has a special biome and grows different types of succulent plants, as well as more than 188 different species of birds. You can also see, if you’re lucky, kudus, springbok or steenbok; among others. It has been declared a biodiversity hotspot in the country.
Due to the desert climate, there is very little rainfall, less than 100mm per year but next to Oudebaaskraal Dam if you are lucky, you can more easily see some species that are looking for water at this point.
We discovered this place because two women travelers who were on the Wine Route recommended it to us. We didn’t have it on our list, but when we travel, we are always open to changing our route to discover new places. In this case, because it was located in the north of the country and near the Namibian border, we decided to go on a day trip. Enough time to enjoy the solitude and see a lunar and rocky landscape totally different from what we were used to in the rest of South Africa.
Despite being a point away from the whole tourist route of South Africa such as the Kruger NP (if you want to read our experience you can click here), Cape Town (you can read how our visit was here) or the Garden Route (to see how we did the route, click here); Tankwa Karoo NP is a unique place in South Africa as it is a completely deserted park between mountains and where you will feel only as the only living being for many kilometers, apart from the different animals and birds you will encounter along the way.
How to get there?
Tankwa Karoo NP is about 5 hours from Cape Town, between the towns of Ceres, Calvinia and Sutherland. To get there, you will drive through dirt roads with very long straights and a dry landscape on both sides with the Cederbeg mountains as a background.
If you come from the north, the best way to get there is through the town of Calvinia, where you will find a gas station to fill the tank. Calvinia Road (R27) is about 120 kilometers from the N7 junction, the road from Cape Town to the Namibian border. You will pass a beautiful mountain pass, and just 4 kilometers before reaching the town, on your right you will find a turnoff that will take you to Tankwa Karoo NP. This is the R355 road, a dirt road that you will drive for about 50 kilometers and then turn left towards the Calvinia entrance gate of the Tankwa Karoo NP, where you will arrive after about 37 kilometers. You will have reached Tankwa Karoo NP and all you have to do is drive to the park reception to process all the permits. The reception is about 20 kilometers from Calvinia Gate.
If you come from the south, as we did, the best way to get there is through the town of Ceres. To get to Ceres you can take a beautiful mountain pass, which is the R301 road, which leaves just after Wellington, a village about 10 kilometers north of Paarl. When we went there, this road was closed for maintenance; so, we had to take the R44 towards Gouda, and from there take the R46 to Ceres. An 80-kilometer journey from Wellington to Ceres on a good road. Here at Ceres, we advise you to refill your petrol tank as you will not find any more gas stations until you reach Calvinia, north of the Tankwa Karoo NP.
Once you reach Ceres, you will have to follow the R46 to the east for another 40 kilometers until you reach the R355 dirt road. This is the road that connects Calvinia with Ceres and passes through the western part of the Tankwa Karoo NP. At the first crossroads after 6 km, turn left and drive for 63 km until you come to the Tankwa Karoo NP junction on your left.
You will have to exit the R355 and take this new road which is the P2250, and drive for 70 kilometers inside the park to reach the reception. You’ll pass by areas that were once waterlogged, such as the Tankwa Dam and some rivers, but were completely dry when we passed through. From Franschhoek to the reception of the Tankwa Karoo NP we took about 6 hours driving slowly.
There is another more remote entrance (Middelpos Entrance) just at the beginning of Gannaga Pass, northeast of the park. To get there, you will have to drive on the P2250 for 26 kilometers from the town of Middelpos. This village is 50 kilometers from the R63 junction, which runs from Bloemfontein to Calvinia via Victoria West.
Permits and prices
The Tankwa Karoo NP is run by Sanparks, the organization that manages most of the country’s natural parks. Entrance fee is 200 rands per person. You can pay by credit card.
In South Africa, however, there is the possibility of buying the Wild Card. The Wild Card is a card that allows you to visit all the parks in South Africa without having to pay for each day you visit them. It’s a great option if you visit a few parks or spend many days in the same park. It lasts one year. From the day of purchase until after 365 days, you can visit more than 80 parks in the country, including the Tankwa Karoo NP.
You can buy the Wild Card online here and you will receive an email with proof of purchase that you can print and show at the park gates. At the same time, if you book accommodation within a national park, remember to indicate that you have a Wild Card, so you don’t have to pay conservation fees and only pay for the accommodation you book.
Wild Card prices depend on whether you buy the card for one person, for a couple, or for a family. At the same time, it depends on how many parks you want to get on your card. If you check their website, you will be able to see a list of parks for each option and make the relevant calculations. As we traveled all over South Africa, we bought the ALL PARKS CLUSTER INTERNATIONAL option for a couple, and it cost us 5.100R. It’s a lot of money at once, but once you start doing park calculations and the number of days you’ll be there, it usually pays off. So, before you start the trip, we recommend that you make a list of all the parks you will visit, check the entry fees and compare it with the Wild Card. In this way you will see if it really pays off or not for your journey!
What to do in Tankwa Karoo NP?
If you go to Tankwa Karoo NP, time will stop. However, you can do different activities such as:
– Drive through Gannaga Pass
Gannaga Pass is located at the top of the Roggeveld Mountains. You can drive across the road through these mountains to the Karoo Desert Plain and enjoy the fantastic views of the ascent. It can be done by car, motorbike, bicycle or on foot. Think that the descent is even better, because you will enjoy a better view of the whole park.
We did it in the afternoon, and we were able to enjoy a mountain road that went uphill in the form of axes, while leaving behind a rocky and desert landscape characteristic of this national park. There are different viewpoints during the ascent to stop and be able to take some pictures.
– Get on the Elandsberg viewpoint by 4X4
If when you visit the park, you go by 4×4 and you like to do all-terrain routes, this is your activity! This viewpoint is located at the top of the mountains, north of the national park. We didn’t do it because we didn’t have much time and there was a threat of rain to the west; but they say that the first part of this road is the most complicated. Then, once you reach the top and head towards the viewpoint, the path becomes easier and from there you can enjoy fantastic views if the weather allows.
– Try to see animals in the middle of the park and distinguish some curious plants
The Tankwa Karoo NP is not a park that stands out for its animal life. There, if you are lucky, you can see springbok, oryx, baboons… Therefore, if you are looking for animal wildlife during your trip to South Africa, we advise you to prioritize other parks such as the Addo Elephant NP (you can read our article here) or the Kruger NP.
However, this park is notable for its bird watching. Especially from August to October when you can see many of the endemic birds of this area such as the red lark, the black-eared Sparrowlark, the Karoo Korhaan, the Karoo Lark… Also, you can enjoy its flora, which stands out for 615 species of succulent plants.
– Enjoy the solitude of the park
There is no coverage throughout the park, so take the opportunity to do a tech detox and disconnect from the rest of the world. At Tankwa Karoo NP you will find the silence you need to meditate, rest and enjoy being in a remote place with little or no human presence.
Take the opportunity to bring a good reading book or diary and write during your stay in this national park. At night, go out to see the stars on the sky as well. Being a fairly uninhabited place, the skies are spectacular. Therefore, the Tankwa Karoo NP will be a good place to unwind from the hectic life of the city and the most touristy places in the country.
Where to sleep in Tankwa Karoo NP?
At Tankwa Karoo NP, you can sleep in different accommodation options. There are informal campsites, in which there is nothing, that is, no toilets or access to water. You need to be self-sufficient, and enjoy of an isolated and desertic place. There are also formal campsites where you will find toilets, kitchen and water points but no electricity points. Finally, you will also find lodges that have all the comforts that can be had in this place, such as energy, hot water, electricity… Therefore, among these options we highlight:
– Swaapwagterspos Campsite: Accessible to all vehicles, this informal campsite was what we had to go to. There is no water or toilets. Two vehicles per place. Price is 155 R for two people. However, we did not end up going there and slept on a park esplanade as we were unable to find our way to the campsite.
– Steenkampshoek camp: This informal campsite south of the park reception is only accessible by 4×4 cars. There is no water or toilets. Two vehicles per place. Price is 155R for two people.
– Langkloof campsite: This formal campsite, accessible to all vehicles except in the rainy season, which is recommended for 4×4 cars, is located east of the Tankwa Karoo NP reception. It has toilets with shower, sink and also place to make fire. It also has a kitchen, but it has no electricity. Price is 420R for two people.
– Elandsberg Rest Camp/Cottages: This fully equipped lodge for 2 to 6 people is located north of the park, very close to the Elandsberg route. They have all the possible facilities: solar energy, toilets, kitchen, satellite TV, place to make fire, swimming pool… Prices are around 1.755R for 4 people.
Tankwa Karoo NP is a park quite unknown to international tourists. If you are traveling for two or three weeks in the country, you are really far from the other tourist attractions in South Africa that we think are better than this one. On the other hand, if you travel with your car for a sabbatical year or you have time, Tankwa Karoo NP is a good choice to observe a different landscape, discover a new national park and enjoy an uninhabited environment and starry skies.