November 2012 Short get-away to Tankwa Karoo

Good to get away for a short break before schools break up and the roads become unpleasant.

On the spur of the moment we checked the Sanparks site and much to our surprise discovered that our favourite farm-house Varschfontein in the Tankwa-Karoo is vacant for 4 days. No brainer – book on line – pack & go…………..

Tankwa Karoo Trip

Leaving Cape Town early we head up the N1, Agter Paarl turn off via Wellington, stay on R44 past Hermon to Tulbach. I had hoped that there was a route over the Grootwinterhoek range to the Witzenberg Valley. T4A shows tracks but upon investigation we discover that this is a no go – looking at the Sat photo and the terrain you can quite see why – it must be possible by horse but no way for 4×4’s.

Witzenberg Valley

Witzenberg Range – Tulbach on other side

We carry on the R44 onto the R46 and into a still sleeping Ceres. There had been labour unrest on the farms in this area and so we pushed on to get away from town as soon as possible, we headed up past Prince Alfred Hamlet and the magnificent Gydo Pass.There was a security presence at the top of the pass and at some farms but all appeared to be quiet. At the top of the pass we did something we have always promised to do, but well… never done….

Taking a left off the R303 & down the D1468 & exploring the Agter Witzenberg Pass & valley which is where you would come out if you could get over the mountain range from Tulbach.It is a beautiful drive and the scenary is stunning. We go as far as we can in one direction to the Oplaas farm and then head back in the opposite direction where the road stops on the Olifants river and private property. Looks to me as though there are farm tracks all along this valley to Citrusdal – worth finding out for the future. Magic setting.

So having finally explored this beautiful valley we head back up the pass and back to the R 303 to Op die Berg for a breakfast stop.

Road to Katbakkies Pass

At Op die berg we turn off & head for the Katbakkies pass & the turn off for Kagga Kama before decending to the good old tyre eating R355 Ceres to Calvinia Road. It has to be said that this road has improved beyond all measure and is a wonderful gravel road to take at a leisurely pace.

As we are going to be doing a circular route over the next few days we take the first turn off into the Tankwa Karoo skirting the turn off to Oubasskraal Dam and heading straight for the Park offices.

As usual here we are greeted with kindness & enthusiasm and in short order are heading out across the empty land to Varschfontein Farm House. We see no one !! Wonderful !

Varschfontein Farm House

Varschfontein is every bit as wonderful and accomodating as we remember – firewood has been left for us for the water donkey and everything is spick and span. The silence is deafening. The heat is shimmering. Eventualy the wind comes up and the old windmill springs into action pumping water into the small dam. We are glad of the breeze.

We go off and do the little 4×4 route near here – this time we do it the right way round 🙂 but like last time we meet no one and have the place to ourselves. The views are endless.

Back to the house, I start the donkey, and make a fire for cooking. End of a perfect day.

In the morning the sun is up & working overtime really early. It is hot. One of the Resident Owls in the Palm tree outside is on mouse duty. The mice are scurrying around dashing from cover to cover but the owl is too quick for them – Owl 1 Mice 0. Springbok come down to drink at the waterhole nervously checking us out between hurried sips.

After a slow and contented breakfast we set off for Calvinia back via the park offices and thence north and up and over the Gannaga Pass – another favourite of ours. We see no one. Stopping on the pass we look back to see the haze from the excessive heat frying the land of the Tankwa. There is no one in sight anywhere.

Gannaga Pass

Gannaga Pass

To Middlepos – signs of life – but instead of taking the R354 we decide to swing a left onto farm roads just after the village. What a pleasant surprise this turned out to be. This road rejoins the R354 just before the junction with the main R63/R27 just outside Calvinia. But this gravel road unveils all sorts of delights upon the way.

Flamingo Haze

Calvinia – the purpose to this little jaunt back to civilisation – for a moment – is our customary raiding of the local cafe fridge for all the farm butter we can find. We have phoned first to make sure that they have stocks and upon arrival greedily pack their entire stock into our freezer – should last a while 🙂

Leaving Calvinia we head out of town and for once there have been no police blocks on either side and we turn down the good old R 355 towards Ceres. The road sings along with us and we are having fun. We decide to travel all the way down and then turn in at Stonehenge and thus back into the park and the short distance to Varschfontein. Again we see no none.

Start the donkey and light the fire for the braai – the wind is really pumping and the windmill is doing overtime; clack clack, clack clack……..

The porcupine appears tonight and we get lucky and get some photos, he is unconcerned about us and eventually runs off into the veldt with a most strange and fast gait – never seen a running porcupine before.

Next day after breakfast we tackle the route up to the Elandsberg area and drive up the 4×4 route to the lookout point at the top. Two Rangers are there having a break, they are friendly and give us some info before returning to their duties. The views from the top are exciting but not good for photos due to the excessive haze from the heat. Man it is hot.

Land of the rising sun………….

From the top of Elandsberg

View from Elandsberg


From Elandsberg

Given that we have not seen any other visitors the whole time that we have been here we go down to the cottages at Elandsberg and have a picnic lunch on one of the stoeps in the shade. These cottages, which I know many people like, are just far too modern and “comfortable” for us. The bees are out in full force at the little pool and the thing that strikes me most is that given the trouble they went to building these places why did no one think of providing some shade for cars. The car is like an oven when we get back to it after lunch. Nice views from here though it must be said.

We decide that its a bit early to go back and we want to check out Trevor Rouxs place “Hammeshoek” which is on the other route back towards the R355 & Calvinia. We find the turn off and end up at a small farm house which apart from a barking dog is devoid of anyone or any real info – we push on into the next farm but again encounter no one – I know there has to be more to this than what we are seeing but eventually we give up having a had a bit of a drive around. Getting back to CT I check out the website – what is there is so hidden that I have no clue of where it can be. Looks stunning thought from the photos. Note to self – follow up for future reference.

We decide to retrace our path given that we will have to take the R355 tomorrow on leaving and eventually in a round about way find our way back to Varschfontein – again we see no one.

The owls are out again. We make the braai inside in the generous hearth tonight as again the warm wind has come up – it doesn’t worry us and I soon have the donkey going again for showers.

watching me watching you………..

Sunset view across to Tafelberg

We wonder what it must have been like trying to eke out a permanent exsistance in this place in the old days – slow transport – the occasional smous – no communications – no nearby shops – no trees for firewood – how did they cope. A solitary existance and a daily grind thats for sure except that Varschfontein does have underground water as evidenced by the windmill and small dam.


With a heavy heart we pack up the next morning and change our plans and decide to exit the park via the dreadful hard stony road via Oubassdamskraal. The dam is full – what a joy to behold – it was not so long ago that the drought had really taken hold here but now there is green all around the dam and it resembles a small lake. The ground, as ever, is unyieldingly hard.

We head out of the bottom and back onto the R355 and this time take the road all the way back to the R46 and Theronsberg Pass to Ceres and home.

It has been a good break and we are re-freshed for the holiday period and madness of Cape Town to come. Tankwa karoo, a place to go for peace & quiet and to re-charge. Can’t get enough of it 🙂

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