Nestled in the heart of South Africa’s Succulent Karoo lies Tankwa Karoo National Park, a protected area that covers over 80,000 hectares of starkly beautiful landscape. Established in 1986, the park is home to an astonishing array of flora and fauna that have adapted to the harsh desert conditions.
What makes Tankwa Karoo unique is its status as one of only two designated Biodiversity Hotspots in Southern Africa, with the other being the Cape Floral Kingdom. Despite an average rainfall of just 80mm per year, the park erupts into a dazzling display of flowering succulents after the occasional shower, making it a sight to behold.
One of the best ways to explore the park is to take a night drive and spot the elusive aardvark, which is known to occur in dense populations throughout the park. For birdwatchers, Tankwa Karoo is a paradise, offering a chance to see the enigmatic Burchell’s Courser and a dense population of breeding pairs of Black eagles. With some luck, one may even witness these eagles hunting Klipdassies from the top of the Roggeveld Mountain.
The park offers several 4×4 tracks to complement the magnificent views throughout Tankwa Karoo. Visitors are advised to obtain prior permission from Park Management and be aware that modern facilities are not provided, except for the few prehistoric camping facilities.
Popular activities and tourist attractions at Tankwa Karoo National Park
Apart from birdwatching, there are several other activities to engage in and tourist attractions to explore in and near Tankwa Karoo National Park. The park offers ample opportunities for hiking, mountain biking, and 4×4 off-road driving, providing visitors with an up-close and personal experience of the surrounding landscape.
One of the most popular tourist attractions in the park is the Elandsberg Wilderness Campsite, a secluded campsite situated on a hill overlooking the park. This campsite offers visitors the opportunity to stargaze, watch the sunset, and enjoy the stunning views of the Tankwa Karoo.
Another attraction worth visiting is the Oudebaaskraal Dam, which is located just outside the park. This dam is a great spot for fishing and picnicking and is home to a variety of bird species, including flamingos and pelicans.
The park is also home to several historic sites, including the famous Tankwa Padstal. This roadside farm stall is situated on the R355, and its history dates back to the early 1900s when it was a vital stopover for travelers crossing the Karoo. Today, the Tankwa Padstal serves as a pitstop for tourists, offering a unique shopping experience and a chance to sample local cuisine.
For those interested in history, the park is situated in close proximity to several significant landmarks, including the Observatory Museum in Sutherland and the historic town of Calvinia. Both of these destinations offer visitors a glimpse into the rich cultural heritage of the area.
In conclusion, Tankwa Karoo National Park is a treasure trove of unique attractions and activities that will satisfy even the most discerning tourist. Whether you are an adventurer seeking thrills or a history buff interested in exploring the cultural heritage of the area, Tankwa Karoo National Park has something for everyone.
Oorlogskloof Rameron Pigeon Trail
The Tankwa Karoo National Park and the surrounding area offer a variety of activities and attractions for visitors to enjoy. One popular activity is hiking, with the Oorlogskloof Rameron Pigeon Trail being a must-do for any outdoor enthusiast. The trail takes hikers through the Oorlogskloof Nature Reserve, a stunning nature reserve in the Northern Cape that is home to a variety of plant and animal species.
The Rameron Pigeon Trail covers a distance of 53 kilometers and can take anywhere from four to seven days to complete, depending on one’s fitness level. The trail starts and ends at Groot Tuin, and hikers spend their evenings in campsites along the route. Each day of the trail offers its own unique challenges and rewards.
On the first day, hikers cover a distance of 5.9 kilometers from Groot Tuin to Kareebos. This leg of the trail takes hikers through indigenous forest along the banks of the Oorlogskloof River, making it a relatively easy and enjoyable hike.
The second day is a little more challenging, covering a distance of 7.9 kilometers from Kareebos to Kameel se Gat. Hikers follow the river bank until they reach a waterhole, then deviate from the Rock Pigeon trail to reach Kameel se Gat campsite.
The third day covers a distance of 4.6 kilometers from Kameel se Gat to Suikerbosfontein, following the third day of the Rock Pigeon hike.
Day four is a 6.3-kilometer hike from Suikerbosfontein to Swartkliphuis. Along the way, hikers pass several caves and graves attributed to earlier inhabitants of the area, making it a fascinating hike for history buffs.
The fifth day is an 8.1-kilometer hike from Swartkliphuis to Bo-kloof, where hikers will pass impressive boulders and rock paintings. The stream that hikers cross is the last chance to fill up on water before the final leg of the hike.
On the sixth day, hikers cover a distance of 7.3 kilometers from Bo-kloof to Olienhoutbos. Along the way, they will pass two overhanging rocks adorned with rock paintings, providing a glimpse into the area’s rich cultural history.
The final leg of the trail is a 12-kilometer hike from Olienhoutbos to Groot Tuin, following the river bed until hikers reach the jeep track and on to the Groot Tuin turnoff. The rest of the route is the same as the Rock Pigeon hike.
In addition to hiking, visitors to the Tankwa Karoo National Park can also enjoy stargazing, birdwatching, and exploring the park’s many vehicle tracks. The park is home to a dense population of black eagles, which can often be seen circling overhead, as well as the endangered aardvark, which is frequently spotted during night drives.
For those interested in learning more about the history of sheep farming in South Africa, a visit to the Calvinia Museum in Church Street is a must. Housed in the old synagogue, the museum features exhibits depicting farming activities such as bucket pumps, flour mills, cobbling and blacksmith workshops, as well as soap and candle-making utensils. Visitors can also view a collection of utensils, clothing, porcelain, brass, and other items relating to the lifestyle of the early European settlers.
In addition to its fascinating exhibits, the Calvinia Museum is also home to the Calvinia Tourism Office. This office can assist visitors in arranging local walks and activities. There are several hikes in the surrounding area, including the Hantam Botanical Trail and the Hantam National Botanical Garden. The museum also serves as a starting point for a number of self-drive tours through the region.
One of the most popular tours is the Calvinia Flower Route, which takes visitors through the spectacular wildflower displays in the area. This route is particularly stunning during the spring months of August and September. Another popular activity is stargazing, and the region is known for its clear night skies, making it an ideal destination for astronomers and star gazers.
Visitors to the Calvinia Museum can also take the opportunity to explore the town itself. Church Street, where the museum is located, is a particularly interesting area with a number of well-preserved historic buildings. The town is also home to a number of shops and restaurants, serving up traditional South African fare such as biltong and potjiekos.
Calvinia post box
If you’re looking for a unique photo opportunity and a bit of quirky charm, then the Calvinia post box is a must-visit attraction in the Northern Cape. Located in the small town of Calvinia, this post box is not just any ordinary post box, but one that stands at over 6 metres tall – taller than an average double-storey house.
Originally built as a water tower, the post box fell into disrepair until a local doctor’s wife suggested it would make a great post box. The business chamber got involved, and with the support of the Post Office, the tower was transformed into the functional post box we see today.
The post box is hand-stamped with a flower, which is significant as Calvinia is part of the Namaqualand area that erupts into bloom every year, with veld flowers covering the region. The post box has become a popular landmark and is the most photographed attraction in the town.
While in Calvinia, visitors can also visit the Calvinia Museum, located in Church Street, which is housed in the old synagogue. The museum displays utensils, clothing, porcelain, brass, and other items that depict the lifestyle of the early European settlers, as well as exhibits illustrating the history of sheep farming in South Africa.
The Calvinia Museum also houses the Calvinia Tourism Office, which arranges local walks and activities. Visitors can also explore Hoop Street, where the post box is located, which is home to beautiful historical buildings and a few restaurants where locals and travellers can grab a bite and catch up with friends.
Calvinia is situated approximately 470 kilometres north of Cape Town, making it a great stop for those travelling between Cape Town and other Northern Cape destinations such as the Tankwa Karoo National Park.
Die Blou Nartjie
Die Blou Nartjie is a unique restaurant that combines the old with the new. Housed within an old synagogue that has been beautifully revamped, the restaurant’s open-plan design provides a glimpse into the kitchen where you can see your meal being prepared. The restaurant’s decor features antique furniture, artwork, and vintage photos that add to the dining experience.
The restaurant offers a great selection of food, ranging from traditional South African dishes to modern fusion cuisine. The Karoo lamb, feta and biltong salad is one of the most popular dishes on the menu, as is the wood-fired pizza, which is made in a proper wood-fired oven. All dishes are made using the freshest local ingredients, which ensures that the food is of the highest quality.
In addition to its delicious food, Die Blou Nartjie also boasts an excellent wine selection that supports local wine farms. While the wine selection may not be extensive, the quality is guaranteed.
Located in the town of Calvinia, Die Blou Nartjie is a great place to stop and grab a meal while exploring the Tankwa Karoo National Park and its surroundings. With its unique blend of history and modernity, the restaurant offers a dining experience that is unlike any other in the area.
Hantam Huis Restaurant
For adventure seekers, the Oorlogskloof Rock Pigeon Hiking Trail is a must-do activity near Tankwa Karoo National Park. This 55 km trail takes approximately five days to complete and is well signposted with distance plaques to guide hikers along the way.
The trail is situated within the Oorlogskloof Nature Reserve, which covers 4,776 hectares of mountainous terrain through which the Oorlogskloof River flows through a dramatic gorge. The reserve is located 16 km outside of Nieuwoudtville and offers hikers the chance to overnight in four campsites with dome tents and foam mattresses provided.
The trail starts and finishes at Groot Tuin and covers a range of terrains and landscapes. On day one, hikers will walk 4 km through a wild olive and yellowwood grove in the Saaikloof from Groot Tuin to Brakwater. Day two is a little tougher, covering 8.5 km from Brakwater to Driefontein, where hikers will need to climb up to the plateau before descending to the Oorlogskloof River. From there, hikers will reach the campsite via a rock tunnel behind a waterfall.
Day three is a 12 km hike from Driefontein to Doltuin, taking hikers on a steep descent back to the river before crossing and climbing the opposite slope. The route includes climbing a rock chimney with the aid of chains and walking through protea stands and sandstone flats along the cliffs. Wild donkeys can be spotted along the way.
Day four covers 17 km from Doltuin to Prammkoppie and is a day for spectacular scenery and negotiating numerous rock arches. Hikers will reach the highest point in the reserve, Arrie se Punt, but must crawl through a narrow passage via breathtaking rock formations to get there.
On day five, hikers will walk 10.7 km from Pramkoppie to Groot Tuin, passing rock art before reaching a viewpoint and Spelonkop. Hikers will twist and crawl their way through rocks before heading back down the original path to Groot Tuin.
The trail is suitable for fit hikers and has been designed to tax the average hiker. It is recommended to combine day one and two, although day two is known to be more strenuous than the others. The trail is an excellent opportunity for hikers to explore the stunning landscapes and diverse terrain of the Oorlogskloof Nature Reserve.
The Tankwa Karoo National Park offers visitors a range of activities and attractions to explore, including the challenging but rewarding Tankwa Camino. This 10-day slack-packing trail through the Karoo wilderness offers a unique way to experience the park’s incredible natural beauty.
Unlike its Spanish counterpart, the Tankwa Camino is known for its toughness and demands a high level of fitness and mental endurance. The trek covers around 256 kilometers, and hikers must carry a daypack with essentials like food, water, and sunscreen while the rest of their gear is transported by truck to the next camp.
The trail is set up with refueling stations every 25 kilometers, where hikers can restock on food and enjoy some traditional Afrikaans delicacies like cinnamon-sprinkled pumpkin fritters. The Tankwa Camino is also a slack-packing trail, meaning hikers set up their own tents but are responsible only for carrying their daypacks.
The Tankwa Camino offers hikers an opportunity to disconnect from modern life and experience the endless expanse of the Tankwa Karoo. The trail’s mental and physical challenges make it a perfect choice for experienced hikers looking to push themselves to their limits. However, it’s important to note that the Tankwa Camino is not for the faint of heart, and hikers should be well-prepared with comfortable boots and enough food and supplies to last the full 10 days.
Visitors to the Tankwa Karoo National Park can also enjoy other attractions and activities, including wildlife watching, stargazing, and exploring the rugged terrain on a 4×4 or mountain bike. The park is also home to several unique plant species, including the Tankwa dwarf quiver tree and the Tankwa aloe.
For those interested in local history and culture, the nearby town of Calvinia offers a glimpse into South Africa’s colonial past. The town is home to several well-preserved historic buildings, including the Dutch Reformed Church and the Calvinia Museum, which showcases the town’s history and culture.
In conclusion, the Tankwa Karoo National Park offers visitors a range of activities and attractions to explore, including the challenging but rewarding Tankwa Camino. Whether you’re an experienced hiker looking for a new challenge or just looking to connect with nature and disconnect from modern life, the Tankwa Karoo National Park has something for everyone.
Tankwa Karoo is a region that has long been overlooked by tourists in favor of more popular destinations. However, with its unique ecosystem and breathtaking scenery, this national park is a hidden gem waiting to be discovered. Whether you are a nature lover, a birdwatcher, or simply seeking a break from the bustle of everyday life, Tankwa Karoo National Park is a must-visit destination that will not disappoint.