Traipsing around the Tankwa-Karoo

KarinP's picture

Points: 0

I  just love April. Aren't all those public holidays great? The first three months of 2012 had been a bit hectic work-wise, so Gavin and I worked out a really great bribe to get my mom to come and look after the dogs for a few days while we headed out of town, looking for great coffee shops in faraway places.

We left Cape Town on Easter Monday, after our by-now-customary "start of trip" coffee at our favourite local coffee shop, Starlings. Over Bain's Kloof to Ceres; the stresses of the past three months falling away with every km on the bike.

Ceres was surprisingly cold, and we soon discovered why: Snow on the Matroosberge, and that in April nogal! We stopped as soon as we got to the first gravel to add a few more layers.

En route to Katbakkies Pass, stopping to add a few more layersEn route to Katbakkies Pass, stopping to add a few more layers

The road past Katbakkies Pass (past the entrance to Kagga Kamma) is one of my favourites. It is easy to ride, really scenic and generally in very good condition. Today was no different, and we did not even stop to deflate the tyres.

En route to the R355: Awesome roads, lovely sceneryEn route to the R355: Awesome roads, lovely scenery

We turned left onto the R355 to Calvinia, and shortly thereafter turned off to stop at the Tankwa Padstal to see what was new.

Local transport at the Tankwa PadstalLocal transport at the Tankwa Padstal

The Tankwa Padstal. The owner, Hein, grows organic artichokes when he does not manage the farm stall ;-)The Tankwa Padstal. The owner, Hein, grows organic artichokes when he does not manage the farm stall ;-)

You can buy pretty much anything at the Tankwa Farm stall. We loved their home-made ginger beer.You can buy pretty much anything at the Tankwa Farm stall. We loved their home-made ginger beer.

You can even get an ice-cold beer there. Don't you love the chairs!You can even get an ice-cold beer there. Don't you love the chairs!

We saw virtually no other traffic on the R355, and soon turned off to the Tankwa Karoo National Park.

Quiet roads, wide open spaces - I was in my element.

Open roads, open plains - aah what blissOpen roads, open plains - aah what bliss

Riding through the Tankwa Karoo National Park is a bit like eating one of those lollipops with the fizzy stuff inside that I used to love as a kid: You just know it's going to get even better. And Gannaga Pass did not disappoint.

At the foot of Gannaga PassAt the foot of Gannaga Pass

Two years ago, when I first rode this route, I was sleepless with worry before tackling "The Pass". Post-Sutherland trip reports spoke about loose stones and sharp U-turns; not terms that belonged in a beginner's vocabulary. 

How things change.

The loose stones were still there, as were the steep drop-offs and the U-turn at the top. But now the stones were a challenge to fast zig-zags; the U-turn merely a teasing reminder that I ought to practise cones a bit more often.

We stopped at the top to admire the view but did not dally too long... as was the case two years ago, we were staying at the Gannaga Lodge at the top of the pass - and the airplane had gone over long ago.

Top of Gannaga PassTop of Gannaga Pass

Driving into Gannaga Lodge was a bit like coming home. "It's been two years," Johan complained. "What took you so long?"

We had asked for the same bedroom we had before - the room that was originally the kitchen in Grandpa's house, with a lovely deep bath where the old Aga used to stand. The cold had followed us from Ceres, and the heater was on in the room - they now even have electric blankets on the beds (yeah!).

Before long we were at the pub, catching up on what's been happening in the Tankwa, and soon Johan had us in stitches with his stories about fixing the two leaks in the roof.

The pub at Gannaga LodgeThe pub at Gannaga Lodge

"I got this *** guy to come and put this *** white stuff in the roof," he pointed. "It keeps you warm in the cold and cool in the heat and it works. But the ** stuff leaks. We had a *** 60th birthday party here on Saturday and you know how much it ** rained. We were later *** falling over the ** pots and pans, and to think the week before there were only *** two ** leaks. Nee wat, he must maar *** come all the way from Cape Town to fix."

And in Middelpos, where Johan is the local police chief?

"Did you know we now have a goat dairy in Middelpos?"

No, we did not.

'S true, some 300 goats. The dairy is run by a lady who used to work at Fairview, and who is producing lovely, quality cheese. 

But the poor farm manager.

Apparently it's now mating season, and he has to make sure the right ones mate, at the right time, so he's not getting a lot of sleep. And he stinks - a lot, until the end of mating season.

Looking out towards the rantjies behind the houseLooking out towards the rantjies behind the house

Late afternoon at GannagaLate afternoon at Gannaga

Supper that night was some unbelievably tender free-range Karoo lamb - have I mentioned that Johan is also a chef par excellence? - with all the trimmings, plus a small cheese platter with some of the local chevin to round things off.

Magie vol, ogies toe, and so off to bed we trundled.

"I wonder if anyone has seen Oupa's ghost recently," I wondered before drifting off. Later that night I woke up from hearing a most unusual sound.

Not quite a grunt, not quite a groan.

I looked across to see if it was Gav snoring, but he was quietly asleep for a change. My heart started pounding, and I was almost too scared to look too deeply into the corners of the room. But slowly the noise got fainter until it stopped, and eventually I fell asleep again.

The next morning I asked Johan about it.

"Eland," he laughed, perfectly mimicking the sound.  Apparently some 70 had been released in the area, and they sometimes travel past the lodge at night. Hah.

Oupa se huis, with five en-suite bedrooms and a loungeOupa se huis, with five en-suite bedrooms and a lounge. Johan has also converted the old stables into en-suite bedrooms to sleep 22 pax in total, and is working on some camp sites

Looking towards the restaurant, from Oupa's houseLooking towards the restaurant, from Oupa's house

Early morning at GannagaEarly morning at Gannaga

Lovely old farm implements form focal pointsLovely old farm implements form various focal points

Early morning shadowsEarly morning shadows

Although we did not really have enough time overnight to get hungry again, we tried our best to work our way through the breakfast buffet, with home-made bread and jams, fruit salad, you name it - all beautifully presented.

Breakfast buffetBreakfast buffet

I loved the pot and candle that kept the mieliepap warmI loved the pot and candle that kept the mieliepap warm

After breakfast, we rode off to Middelpos to go and look at the new dairy and refuel, and got chatting at the fuel pump to a couple on a GSA who was en route from Sutherland.

"Great area for biking," I commented.

"Great area for biking," they agreed.

Yep, great area for bikingYep, great area for biking

From Middelpos we went to Sutherland, stopping at Jurg's restaurant for coffee.

Coffee at Halley-se-kom-eetCoffee at Halley-se-kom-eet

Tuesday was a Noah's Ark kind of day. We saw two tractors, two farm bakkies, two jackal, two sheep running in the road, two klipspringers and later two cars.

And that was it.

That's what I like about riding in the Tankwa. You have the place to yourself. You can drift across the road a bit, looking at whatever, and you know you have to worry more about hitting a bokkie than a car.

From Sutherland we took the road through the farms to Ouberg Pass.

Top of Ouberg PassTop of Ouberg Pass

At Ouberg the road simply drops off the edge of the plateau, leaving you with the whole Tankwa below. The view takes your breath away.

Gavin about to go over the edgeGavin about to go over the edge

A bit further down Ouberg PassA bit further down Ouberg Pass

The last bit of Ouberg PassThe last bit of Ouberg Pass

We went back to Gannaga Lodge through the Park, and back up Gannaga Pass, and soon sat with a whisky in hand.

Then a local farmer and his wife walked into the pub.

Within five minutes we had received an invitation to visit them on their farm, 30km away. "Come and stay, come and ride our horses, come and ride your bikes on the farm!" Where else but on the friendly platteland would you receive such an invitation from a total stranger, hand-drawn map to the farm included?

It was with a heavy heart that I packed the bike the next morning.

We travelled back to Ceres via different roads, this time not even seeing one car.

The Bossieskerm was unfortunately closed - I was really looking forward to a cool drink!The Bossieskerm Honesty Shop was unfortunately closed - I was really looking forward to a cool drink! It's open only in winter/flower season

Soon it was time for the last quiet roads before rejoining the R355 near Ceres.

Heading back to CeresHeading back to Ceres

We refuelled at the same garage where we had stopped on Monday. Could it have been only three days ago? I was so rested after the peace and quiet of the Tankwa, it felt like much longer.

From Ceres we headed home for the night to check that the dogs and Ouma were still all in once piece, before leaving early the next morning to explore unfamiliar gravel roads en route to Prince Albert, Die Hel and Calitzdorp.

But that's another story altogether... 

Tony's picture
Joined: 2008/08/24

Oiy!, you can't stop now Wink

A bend in the road is not the end of the road... unless you fail to make the turn. ~Author Unknown

KarinP's picture
Joined: 2009/04/30

Sorry Tony, quick supper break... Tongue out

Hayleyscomet's picture
Joined: 2007/06/30

Stunning Karin. 


Do you have your route in Gpx maybe ?

Cant wait for th rest. 



Ride Like the Wind


KarinP's picture
Joined: 2009/04/30

Hi Wayne, yes we do have the gpx files - will upload as well...

Joined: 2009/12/09

Kan net se, Karin en Gavin - FANNNNTASTIES!!! Daai wye vlaktes - MMMAN....! En pragtige fotos'. Doet zo voort.

GeelKameel's picture
Joined: 2007/06/21

Heerlik, baie dankie! Great report, great ondervinding.

Ekself het baie lanklaas 'n sinvolle toer gedoen (agv baie redes, o.a. 'n oor-operasie wat my balans erg deurmekaar gekrap het).

Terwyl my giroskoop herstel (dit vorder heel goed) maal my gedagtes by allerhande roetes en plekke om te besoek. Nie meer lank nie dan sal ek iewersheen 'n toer kan doen. Kannie wagnie.


Mwendo's picture
Joined: 2011/04/13

Wonderful report, as usual, Karin - thank you!

The only problem with hindsight, is you don't see it coming!

Geoff Russell's picture
Joined: 2007/09/25

Great report, keep it coming.

Committee: Ride Captain

BobGoode's picture
Joined: 2010/10/07

Thanks for a great report & pics, Karin. Looking forward to the next episode.

Let it be.

Joined: 2007/06/25

As always beautifully written, the photographs are magic, tx. for sharing and igniting memories.

Think before you ink.

Trust is the most valuable asset.

I have the rest of my life to get old.

zebra's picture
Joined: 2008/03/28

lekker trip report - well written!


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