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DDeep in the Great Karoo you’ll find the Tankwa Karoo National Park. Here you can spend hours gazing across the plains, marvelling at drought-adapted plants and hunting for sightings of long-legged secretary-birds and the cryptically coloured Burchell’s courser. And at night, the stars will make you gasp.
Over the Tankwa Karoo National Park, clouds sketch your thoughts in a blue sky. Before you, a vast space breathes an ocean of air. At your feet, a small beetle explores a tussock of bright flowers.
And that is the essence of this otherworldly, arid park, situated in a remote area south of Calvinia and west of Sutherland, and mostly falling into the Northern Cape, South Africa's largest and most arid province.
There are comparatively few large mammals to see. There are no organised night drives, no restaurants, no shops. There is only the sweet silence of semi-desert, as much solitude as you want, and a night sky bright with stars.
It's a perfect place to indulge in blessed idleness. But if you want to see the landscape and animals, you'll find rough roads and spectacular views from the mountains. There are no hiking trails. You pick your own path through the bushes.
Take along binoculars if you're a birder. You may see the cryptically coloured Burchell's courser and the Karoo long-billed lark. Also look out for Verreaux's eagles, spike-heeled larks and secretary birds. This park is a birder's paradise. About 180 species occur here, many of them endemic to the area.
The Tankwa Karoo National Park is part of the Great Karoo, one of the richest arid areas in the world; a 'friendly desert' filled with life. So, while it seems empty of life at first glance, it is a treasure trove of a more subtle kind. Much of its life is found at your feet – plants that are found nowhere else in the world. In some years, spring rains sometimes coax up a carpet of wild flowers from the earth.
Millions of years ago, the Karoo was a vast and fertile inland sea. The layering of sandstone in the hills tells mute stories of ancient broad rivers that swept silt down from vanished mountain ranges.
Nowhere do you sense the immense ghost of the vanished sea more acutely than in the Tankwa Karoo National Park.
TTravel tips & planning info
Who to contact
Tankwa Karoo National Park
Tel: +27 (0)27 341 1927
How to get here
It's about a 4-hour drive from Cape Town. Before Worcester on the N2 highway, turn off to Ceres, then take the R46. Nearly 50km from there, take the R355 to Calvinia, a dirt road. After nearly 70km, you'll see the sign to the Tankwa Karoo National Park. Remember to get all fuel and provisions in Ceres, Calvinia or Touws River.
Best time to visit
From autumn through winter to early summer (April to September).
Things to do
Drive up the Ouberg Pass to Sutherland.
You will have to bring a vehicle to the park. There are no organised game drives.
Length of stay
Come for at least 2 nights, more if you can.
What to pack
The Karoo is very hot in summer and can be bitterly cold in winter. Pack according to the seasons.
Where to stay
The park has a wide variety of places to stay, including old farmhouses that have now been adapted for visitors. Most do not have electricity.
What to eat
You'll have to be self-sufficient as there are no shops in the area. Bring plenty of supplies and water for the car in case of a breakdown.