November 2015 Tankwa Get-away

The Essence of the pull of the Tankwa Karoo

A brief long-weekend planned at the last minute proved to be just what was needed before the onslaught of the silly season and over-crowding of Cape Town during the period to come. However not was all plain sailing. We had taken the Cruiser out the weekend before up to Elgin to look at possible wedding venues for our youngest daughter and all seemed fine…..Tuesday night, putting last minute food into the freezer I noticed oil on the floor at the rear near-side wheel ! Oh Boy….Managed to get the car down to Leon Levitt at Mazals first thing in the morning.I hoped that being closest, he would be the most likely to be able to do a last minute assist. This proved to be correct.

We had planned to leave at 1.00pm on the Wednesday and guess what ? we did !! but not until after Leon had removed the shaft and found a leaking seal of which Toyota predictably only had one of in the whole Western Cape, and that was in the Strand, so it involved sending someone out there especially – but all turned out well and we got away as planned.Toyota and spares is not funny these days 🙁

We knew that we wanted to get to our favourite cottage in the Tankwa Karoo – Varschfontein – via a long way around – Ouberg Pass – and that this would take all day – so Heinrich Calitz suggested a stay over in Ceres and as it happened I had a long outstanding meeting with a client in Prince Alfred Hamlet and Heinrich’s suggestion of Rhodene Farm proved to be just what we needed.

The Farm Cottages are adequate, nothing really special but convenient for a place to stop over, close to home. Small but well equipped. Seems to be a stop-over place for cyclists.

Early the next morning we set off for Tankwa.
Ceres to Varschfontein

We had the roads to ourselves and once on the gravel of the R 355 and the 356 – true peace settled upon us. Those huge wide vistas, the barrenness of the surroundings and not a soul or car to be seen. We travelled the long way round and onto the R 354 and the Verlatekloof Pass before turning off 9 kms before Sutherland onto the gravel again, direction Ouberg Pass. An all time favourite of ours.

Ouberg Pass
Ouberg Pass

Ouberg Pass
Ouberg Pass

We met no one on the Pass but in any event this road has many passing places and it is not a difficult route at all, merely very long & very steep.

Abandoned House
Abandoned House

Whenever I pass abandoned houses or out buildings I always wonder that they have been left to fall into this state and ponder whatever happened to the people who tried and probably failed to eke out an existence in this harsh terrain. What dreams and lives they had. Sad to see and yet they make such a striking impact on the scenery.

Late afternoon we rocked up at Tankwa Park Reception and all was fine, very pleasant and efficient. We had only been able to get Varschfontein for two nights, the third we had booked at Paulshoek, which is fine, but I would have preferred to spend the whole time at Varschfontein. It is what it is.

Sanparks Link Tankwa Karoo:


Getting to the cottage which is on the far side of the park, about 10kms away from the R 355 is always like coming home. However the first thing I noticed was that the old cart at the outbuildings had been moved around and on entering the cottage was upset to see that they had replaced the original old farm furniture in the lounge with “Phil Morkel” type modern crap – totally out of keeping with the place. This stuff could be used as extra beds but given that the hot water is donkey fired and there is only one loo, I question why you would want to fill this place when there is Elandsberg for that sort of “family” thing. In any case it was good to be there and in no time we had unpacked, got the braai and the donkey going. The wind was coming up and the windmill was noisily doing its thing.

Climax Windmill

Quite so…….

Klein Tafelberg from Varschfontein sunset

The wind really came up later and stayed like that for the whole time we were there.

The Wind was blowing 🙂

Outbuilding at Varschfontein – falling down – no maintenance 🙁

In the morning after a good nights sleep I had a wander around and saw that the roof trusses in the outbuilding were in danger of collapsing totally, the cart has been messed around with and will in no time simply fall to pieces. It was also evident that there has been poor maintenance at the actual cottage too, a window has been replaced and where the wood has disintegrated the space has been filled with putty left raw. The windmill main shaft has only one bolt holding it instead of four and the whole contraption is held together with bailing wire. It is leaking far more than last time. I have written to Sanparks IRO – and I reported it at reception, it will be interesting to see if anything is done.

The Cart has been messed around with ! 🙁 going to disintegrate soon – Maintenance ?

Varschfontein Cottage

I find it strange that there are quite a few old farm cottages in various states scattered throughout the park but nothing is being done to preserve them. On the other hand they are in the process of building another 5 “up-market” cottages up at Elandsberg; plus staff housing there too; which they hope to have complete by Oct 2016. I am sure that there are many people like ourselves who actually enjoy the old cottages and having to use a donkey and having no electricity – it’s what makes the park so attractive. I can’t understand the need for more Luxury accommodation – this is not the place for it in my opinion. The whole reason for visiting here is to get away from everyday life and to be quiet and alone without distractions.


other side of cottage

The waterhole on the other side of the cottage was popular with very nervous Springbok and Gemsbok – but good to see them in such good condition.

As usual the views do not disappoint.

To Klein Tafelberg

Having sat and chilled for most of the day I persuaded Lin that we really “SHOULD” drive the 4×4 leeuberg trail, after all the batteries needed charging ! Just into it she says; we’re doing this again why ? Engage rear diff lock and toddle along, but I did forget just how long those steep uphills are……Lin was not impressed.

Leeuberg 4×4 Trail

Afraid of heights !

The very first time we did this trail I did it the wrong way around in error – don’t ask ! At least I now know which way to go and to remember the very sharp turn at the top.

At Top of Trail

The views up here are great and the wind was pumping.

Trail Top

What an oasis Varschfontein is when compared with the surrounding land.

Varschfontein seen from trail top

Park Wildlife !

Back down at the cottage the wildlife came back to the waterhole and the birds were not to be outdone.

Mob Rule

Sadly we had to move on the next day, so with heavy hearts we packed up and worked our way back across the park to the main gravel road and thence decided to make the trip up the Gannaga Pass to Middlepos. Stopping at the Gannaga Pass lodge we thought to go and have a look, but there was a not a soul to be seen anywhere. I always wonder if anyone actually stays here.

Gannaga Pass Route to Middlepos

The Gannaga Pass is not a place to meet someone coming in the opposite direction, there are many places where it is narrow and difficult with poor vision, Lin was nervous as usual, but in the event we saw no one either up or on our way back down. The Pass is great to drive however and the views fantastic.

Gannaga Pass

Glad to see that these have not been stolen as tourist trophies.

On Road to Middlepos

“People Are Living here” – Quote

Cloud Train

And so in the late afternoon we found our way to Paulshoek and in quick order again got the donkey & the braai going. I will say this, the wood supplied by Sanparks always burns a treat. The cottage was in good condition and unchanged from the last time we were here, and yes; it was nice to be here again too.

View from Paulshoek

At Paulshoek

Karoo Flaura


House Gecko

The wind had died down by now and we enjoyed a still clear night. The whole time we were in the park we only saw one other car and that was Sanparks cleaning staff. What a joy.

Klein Tafelberg from Paulshoek

Red Hartebeest

Wot we going to do today then ?

Sadly go home ! We enjoyed a leisurely breakfast and then set off out of the park and back to the R 355, stopping off at the Padsaal which was doing brisk business with the “biker” brigade, but all very pleasant. Before we knew it we were back on the tar and crossing Theronspass and into Ceres. An uneventful return journey via Agter-Paarl saw us back at home just after lunch on the Sunday.

A welcome break – the weather in Cape Town was predictably cold and wet !

Nice time had by all. It was our wedding anniversary.