Tankwa Karoo – June 2021
‘’wanneer jy hier ry, en om jou kyk besef jy dat jy rerig net n klein poeppie in die heelal is’’
This place is just another world altogether, and I will never get bored of the silence, the nothingness, the humility and peace that it brings every time you enter the dust of the endless R355.
We set out on a long weekend mission to the Tankwa Karoo. As usual Carel found us a new place to visit, that we haven’t even heard of before. A working farm about 90kms from Calvinia. The name of this sheep farm is Ymansdam.
We left nice and early on the Thursday morning and headed towards Wolseley forestry plantation where Carel grew up, we stopped in between the pine forest and yanked out the flask that we had filled at home, we enjoyed the fresh air and open spaces while reminiscing on the past with a cup of coffee.
We headed for Geldenhuys butchery in Prince Alfred Hamlet to buy our meat for the weekend. When going into the Tankwa Karoo on a roadtrip, biltong and droewors are obvious necessities. Their products are really good quality and you can support them when on your travels out that way again.
Last stop for diesel before we said au revoir to tar and society was at Op-die-berg. We made our way quickly out towards Katbakkies pass. To think a few years ago I had no idea this pass or place ever existed. Now it rolls off the tongue as if talking about Old Paarl road.
Katbakkies pass is always beautiful, view is breathtaking when you get to the top. The air doesn’t get much clearer than this. Dropping off on the other side with the Tankwa laying at its feet, you know you have said goodbye to average life civilization and entered a world of magic.
Yes, this place is Magic!
Quick pitstop at the famous Tankwa Padstal to stretch our legs then we headed towards our home for the next few days.
Right, the entire route was plotted with GPS, the map took us through the Tankwa Karoo National Park. So, we did what the lady on the little square screen in the corner of the windscreen told us to do. ‘’Draai regs’’ so we did, ‘’Draai links’’ so we did, and we went on and on…. and on.
She kept us busy with ‘’herberekening’’ for about an hour and a half. We soon realized that not even she knew where we were off too, who would of thought a woman without direction! Amusing to say the least but what better place to be lost than in the Tankwa. We decided to ditch the Afrikaans Tannie screaming from the little screen and work on gut feel making our way through the wet and narrow pathways through the park. The roads were wet, and certain places surprised us with mud and water potholes, which kept us alert and laughing as we missioned onward. Making our way finally towards to farm, the sun was setting.
We met the Steenkamp’s who live and own the farm Ymansdam. It has been in their family for a few generations, and they farm mainly with sheep.
We stayed in a little cottage next to the house. It was all we needed, furnished one bedroom cottage without electricity. They work on solar power for lights and gas for kitchen appliances. The water is kept warm with a wood fired ‘’donkie’’. It was perfect for us!
After a my mild panic attack for the limited WIFI, I was fine. To have break is necessary and we should grant ourselves this rest when it comes across our paths. If you need to switch off from the world then it includes your phone that has become a handicap item that we all now wear.
We ended the evening off with a fire going, meat making musical tunes as the coals tickle it from below. And don’t forget glass of something to keep the insides nice and warm.
Waking up to the sound of chickens and sheep, now I know I am not waking up in my own bed. Beautiful sunshine morning with clear skies. We headed out to go explore the farm on foot. The farm is about 5000 hectares and definitely didn’t get to all of those hectares in our time there.
After a quick breakfast, we packed our flask and snacks and headed towards Ouberg Pass. This is a beautiful dirt road pass, but if you are nervous for heights or don’t like living on the edge (excuse the pun) maybe you should do this one as a sleeping passenger.
Stopping on the lookout point, we took out our treats and made coffee. Now we can say we have made coffee in the middle of nowhere, on a ledge, with open skies and wide open spaces with not a soul in sight. We were about 1300m above sea level . Sipping my coffee looking out over the mountain , I thought to myself we haven’t even seen a human in about 2 hours.. do the people here even know what’s happening on the other side of the mountain? What is Covid and lockdown and Level 4.1.2 Annexure B?
On our way down the pass we were bought to an abrupt halt with the day to day traffic stop, sheep!
During the winter months the sheep are trekked down to lower lying farming areas, as temperature is a lot higher down below than up in the pass’s farming area. This trek is apparently nothing out of the ordinary and happens often. The sheep however are not afraid of heights as little bla-bla-black sheep scraped his hoofs on the edges making his way around our vehicle.
We entered Sutherland to get some last supplies for the weekend. And on our way back, we went over Gannaga Pass. We stopped at the famous Gannaga Lodge for a quick liquid refreshment before continuing down this beautiful pass. The winding turns coming down give a resemblance of Swartberg pass, but maybe a little more “Oopsie’’ moments if you don’t stay focused.
Another beautiful fulfilling day. The fire created heat while the Karoo night set in.
The next morning we headed out again on foot in the opposite direction of the farm house. The farmer told us he was struggling with foxes on the farm as they are becoming quite a menace. They break through the fences and just bite the sheep and leave them for dead while moving on to the next one. This causes huge financial losses for the farmer. This is a disadvantage of bordering on the National park. In true fashion my husband, Sherlock Holmes sets us walking in that direction, with me trailing nervously behind. We didn’t find any foxes but came across repaired and broken fencing, traps and holes that was not dug by Mary’s Little lamb.
I have a lot of compassion for the farmers, I doubt the everyday customer actually grasps what these people go though every day. Water, drought or flood, fire, wild animals, hail, snow. And don’t forget to add the unwelcome masked visitors. We just throw the meat in the trolley and if it is braaied to dry we moan it was the sheep’s fault.
We headed to get the bakkie and explore the rest of the farm for the day. Finding a peaceful spot in a dry river bed we parked and had a picnic. Moments like these are made for movies and novels. You can’t buy it, you can’t touch it, you just have to actually be there.
We did some 4×4 trails on the farm, I polished some skills behind the wheel as well and it was loads of fun.
Lighting the fire for the last evening was bitter sweet knowing that tomorrow night this time we would be on the couch watching the Sunday night movie.
The next morning we went on our last mission of exploration on the farm. A quick breakfast of champions – Leftovers ! We sat with Nettie and Arno Steenkamp for a few minutes before heading back towards ‘’The Normal’’ . they are humble and good people, we can recommend our friends to stop there on their missions through the Tankwa Karoo next time. You will be welcomed by this family and your stay will be something to remember. Just for them to share their home and family farm with us was an honor.
I can tell you about the views and open spaces we saw, but there isn’t really a picture that can justify this. I can tell you its peaceful , but you have to experience it yourself.
The Tankwa Karoo has a way of keeping you humble. The farmers and community that live here know what it is to struggle, but you don’t hear them complain.
We can all learn a little something here.
“At first encounter the Karoo may seem arid, desolate and unforgiving, but to those who know it, it is a land of secret beauty and infinite variety.”
Ons harts plek, ons sien julle nou nou weer.