Take a trip to the Tankwa Karoo

You don’t have to wait for AfrikaBurn to take a trip to the beautifully desolate Tankwa Karoo. We recently spent a weekend staying at the Tankwa Karoo rest camp; this was our experience.

We decided in July that our office year-end function should be a weekend spent somewhere interesting, instead of just getting everyone together for one night’s craziness. This meant we had to choose a place that could host 20 people, and that wouldn’t break the bank. The natural options were to visit a space that does this kind of thing on a regular basis, such as the Goudini Spa in Rawsonville, or something in that vein. But normal was not what we wanted; we wanted to get away and really connect.

We looked at many other places but they were all too familiar and ordinary, so when the suggestion was made that we go to the Tankwa Karoo, we jumped at it. Weird, unknown, close enough to home, but also far away. Perfect.

We found the Tankwa Rest Camp to be the most viable option for our group. We reached out to them, got rates and dates sorted, and prepared our road trip itinerary from Stellenbosch to Tankwa. Finally the day came. Our cars were stocked with snacks, good coffee, a great playlist (Discover “Tankwa” by Henco on deezer.com), as well as a few motivational drinks. And of course a group of awesome people.

Enjoy the roadtrip

Our first stop after leaving Stellenbosch was in Tulbagh. One of our colleague’s family works at the veldskoen leather shoe makers, Tarzan. Since our team is generally curious, we made a stop there and were guided through their production line to see how these shoes are made from start to finish. This is naturally not for everyone but I do recommend that you stop and go in to take a look at their shoes, very well made and proudly South African. As the owner told us:“We want people to wear our shoes till the souls are worn through.” They are made tough.

After our shoe-shopping we stopped at Twee Jonge Gezellen, the makers and home of Krone MCC. The farm is situated in a valley surrounded by vineyards and a gentle river on the far side. Needless to say, drinking MCC while overlooking such beautiful scenery on a warm summers’ day is pure bliss. We had to pull the team away, otherwise it would have become a much longer stop. The Krone Night Nectar Demi-Sec Rosé, a Pinot Noir led MCC, was my favourite.

Into to the Karoo

From there we hit the dirt road towards our final stop: Tankwa Karoo Padstal. This family-run spot offers a restaurant with a separate bar, and shelves stocked with just about everything you’d need to survive a holiday in the Karoo. You can have a look at some reviews at tripadvisor.co.za. The owners, two down-to-earth and hospitable people, regaled us with stories of some of the bizarre people they have met over the years – you can imagine the variety of characters who pop in on route to AfrikaBurn. The food was really good, with vegan options, burgers and other great choices in-between.

The bar also poured us our first Skaap Choppie: one shot tequila with braai salt taken before the shot, and Worcestershire sauce taken after. This has become my favourites, and I think the only way I can get tequila into my body.

After our lunch we hit the road and promptly got our first flat tyre. Then our van got a flat tyre, and our other van developed a slow puncture. The road from Ceres to Calvinia, the only way to get to the Tankwa Karoo, is not bad – we drove in a T4 V40 Volvo – but the stones are extremely sharp and eat through tyres. Be sure to have a spare as well as a puncture kit if you are going to tackle the route. Fortunately, there is a tyre-shop at Tankwa Rest Camp where they were able to fix all three tyres for a nominal price – #gamechanger. I was dreading driving all the way home on our Marie-Biscuit spare.

Wheels changed, covered in Karoo dust and back on track, we arrived at our destination around 5pm. It had been a long day on the road.

Finally, Tankwa

Stepping out of the car was like stepping into a dry sauna; crazy hot. The tented camp has a large communal area where we met the owners, Wessel and his wife. They told us the house rules (don’t smoke dagga in the bar area) and showed us to our three chalets and seven tents. Considering the price and location, we felt that the accommodation was really good. After settling in, we all grabbed a drink and jumped into the pool, where we stayed until dinner.

Overall the food was generous and the bar was well stocked; the service was friendly and very accommodating. Make sure you try out the snuifmasjien, a strange contraption designed by a very sadistic man who clearly had a great hate for the human nose-area. I would recommend that it form part of a fine or penalty that is awarded to the person in your group who you most want to see hyperventilate and cry at the same time.

Over the two days we got to know the people and the surroundings very well, spending the morning going out to the AfrikaBurn site, where we did a treasure hunt, put together for us by a fellow by the name of Piet. It was a lot of fun despite the intense heat – we went through about three bottles of sunscreen and 15 litres of water.

In the afternoon – after another good few hours in the pool – we were treated to a sunset trip to one of the highest points in the area. While admiring the breathtaking views and the blood orange hues of a Karoo sunset, we listened as Wessel shared more about the region. According to him, the Tankwa Karoo National Park was created because it’s the natural migration path for the Cape Fynbos, and ever-encroaching construction or agriculture could threaten this. That is why they declared the park a national treasure. There’s no doubt that the Tankwa has something magical about it, and as we quietly watched the final rays dip behind the mountains, we were once again reminded to appreciate the slower, simpler pleasures.

For me this was the best thing about the weekend was the zero cellphone reception. You can buy a 100MB internet voucher for R30 from reception, but the hassle of having to connect the whole time, and the limited amount of data you get quickly forces surrender. As a group of people who are typically connected 24/7 (we’re a digital marketing agency, after all), we were now forced to engage with each other. No distractions or excuses.

If there is one thing that I will take away from this trip, it’s that we are becoming more and more aware of how our connected lives detract us from our real world. Personally I am going to choose to disconnect more, and spend more time enjoying the people I have around me. If that means going to the Tankwa Karoo, then you can definitely expect to see me there more often. Just being.

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