Travel: Tankwa Karoo


Words and image by Andrew Middleton

Most of the time, an invitation to go somewhere or do something leaves you with a vague impression of what to expect. In the case of a long-weekend trip to explore the upper regions of the Tankwa Karoo, my initial expectations would be shattered like glass under a brick. My co-driver (who is not much of a camper) and I would depart at the crack of dawn, coffee in the belly, sleep in the eyes and the rising sun glinting through our still sparkly windscreen.

With our Touareg’s twin turbos spooled up, we quickly made our way to the front of our six-vehicle convoy, passing the poor overburdened Landy – which would soon to be relegated to a dust cloud of biblical proportions. A shiny red Metalian Mini trailer followed us as Cape Town slid behind the Dutoitskloof Mountain range, and the Tankwa Karoo’s fringes hove into view near Ceres. The Tankwa is a mystical place, often overlooked as an empty stretch of nothingness on the way to nowhere, but, in fact, the lack of people and its stark landscape are its best attributes.

From the south, we turned onto the notorious R355 – a gravel road that is the most direct route north to Calvinia, via the now sort-of-famous Tankwa Padstal. Our first evening found us established in the Tankwa Tented Camp, a lovely place in the Stonehenge Nature Reserve, just over an hour-and-a-half’s drive down the R355 from Ceres. Apart from my pale skin having turned into something resembling crispy bacon, there wasn’t much to report. Group leader Johan Viljoen had his solar panels all set up and his fridge going full-blast so that he could shell out icy Jägermeister shots to unsuspecting passers-by. Everyone was in high spirits, keen for a taste of adventure in places where few dare to roam.

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