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Tankwa Karoo: it’s dry, but you can drive it

“A red Coca Cola-branded water tank, a light blue skedonk with its bonnet buried in the ground, and a signboard that reads “Free Wi-Fi” indicated that this must be it. It’s hard to believe that there’s any form of network connection here so we remained sceptical…”

The Koue Bokkeveld is a place surprisingly unbeknownst to many Capetonians. I recently celebrated my birthday on a farm in the Koue Bokkeveld and it was a tricky thing to explain to my guests how to get to there.

“Koue Bokkeveld? What’s the closest landmark?” someone asked.

“Probably Op-die-Berg,” I replied. That didn’t mean much to them as it sounded like a town you’d find in an Afrikaans fairy tale. Thankfully I was able to drop a pin on WhatsApp and everyone managed to find it.

Apart from the Bokkeveld (as the locals call it) being renowned for, you guessed it, being cold, we were expecting lovely weather and everyone pitched their tents. Soon the sizzling sound of chops and boerewors on the braai was accompanied by an irresistible smell. Then came the wind – a ruthless wind that almost blew the meat off the braai and the tents into the orchards.

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The next morning, wind still howling, someone cooked up a plan: “Let’s take a drive to the Tankwa Padstal?” he said with a slightly desperate tone in his voice. “Google Maps says it’s not too far from here?” His hayfever-eyes, slightly swollen, were pleading.

This turned out to be a marvellous idea for those like him who didn’t adore the wind and the sneezing that accompanied it and for those like me who secretly wanted to take the new Volkswagen Touareg for an off-road spin. The N1 is only that exciting.

With all five seats occupied, the sunroof open, and the playlist selected, we set off on our little road trip. The Touareg’s InnoVision cockpit was being thoroughly explored by my co-pilot and with each discovery she made, the crowd in the back seats gave a unified “Whoah, cool….”

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After turning left at a signboard that reads “Ceres Karoo / Cederberge” just before Op-die-Berg, we sailed along smoothly in the 4,878mm metal ship. I always wondered where one would end up if you took this turn.

This part of the world is all about fruit: apples, citrus, cherries, and the like and the gorgeous green orchards set against the rocky Skurweberg mountains are a marvel. Onions are also becoming a popular thing to grow in this region.

After a couple of kilometres, we passed Boplaas where literary legend Boerneef grew up. The greens quickly turned into browns as we left the farmlands behind and the landscape suddenly turned moonlike. Gigantic rocks looked like they were carefully placed in the most random positions – almost as if by a giant playing rock-jenga. How do they not tip over?

Eventually, we turned right onto the gravel road towards Kagga Kamma. This area falls under the Swartruggens Conservancy and you can also find historical rock paintings in certain areas.

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After a long stretch of gravel, which the Touareg made to feel like tar thanks to its large alloy wheels, we arrived at Katbakkies Pass which would take us from the Bokkeveld into the Ceres and Tankwa Karoo.

Katbakkies has a maximum altitude of 1200m and used to be an old sheep-trekking route over the Skurweberg mountains. Back in the day, most farmers in the Bokkeveld also had a farm on the other side of the mountain in the Ceres and Tankwa Karoo regions where they would take their sheep before the cold Bokkeveld winters commenced. If they didn’t make this trek, their sheep would surely die from the cold.

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Coming down the other side, you enter Skitterykloof (loosely translated to Gastro Gorge). But you won’t see a signboard with that name on. That’s the beauty of knowing some locals who can share stories. This section of the pass is where the farmers would hastily chase the sheep because if they stopped, the sheep would nibble on a certain plant that would give them gastro.

Finally, we reached the R355 and turned left. By this time the conversation in the car was all ‘AfrikaBurn’ – even though no one in the vehicle had ever been before – as the Tankwa Karoo is where the massive temporary city of art with theme camps, costumes, music and performances takes place every year.

A red Coca Cola-branded water tank, a light blue skedonk with its bonnet buried in the ground, and a signboard that reads “Free Wi-Fi” indicated that this must be it. It’s hard to believe that there’s any form of network connection here so we remained sceptical, thinking it was perhaps a marketing tactic. It wasn’t.

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Our car stood out like a sore thumb in between all the motorbikes. It’s clearly a popular spot for bikers, but it’s definitely not an atmosphere where we felt unwelcome.

We ordered what everyone orders at the Tankwa Padstal – a roosterkoek with jam and cheese.

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The man behind the counter was owner, Hein Lange. He lifted his eyebrows and brushed a dreadlock out of his face.

“How can I help? I have anything you might need,” he said. And he was serious.

“Baby powder-flavoured incense? I have it. Chakra bells? I have all the sizes,” he picked up each one and gave it a ring.

“I also have maps, leg warmers, sweets, chappies, iron kettles, braai roosters, ribbons, marijuana pipes, lanterns and knives,” he pulled out his basket of knives and I began to sift through it.

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It’s easy to get lost in here, marvelling at all the stuff. “Stuff” – that’s what you would think is on the shelves of the Tankwa Padstal. But Hein’s wife, Susan, explained that she goes on “treasure hunts” and everything in the padstal has a specific purpose.

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“People in this area have three main modes of transport: bicycles, donkey carts, or their feet. So that’s why I have donkey cart starter packs and anything else a donkey owner might need,” she pulled out a large bag and gave me a glimpse inside.

“I also have shoe soles and laces and bicycle patches,” she went on to show me plenty other jewels in her treasure trove behind the counter. 

Not long before my nose started following the smell of the freshly made roosterkoek on the stoep. I took a sip of my ice cold Savanna. “Savanna: it’s dry but you can drink it,” they say. I looked over the arid Karoo landscape, the windpump unhurriedly creaking and the bikers vrooming away into the distance.

As the dust settled, my eyes fell on the Touareg pridefully standing its ground in the scorching sun and thought: “Tankwa Karoo: it’s dry, but you can drive it.” Thankfully with air con.

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KNOW BEFORE YOU GO:
Accommodation options:

Volkswagen Touareg 3.0 TDI (Executive) fast facts:

  • Power 190kW@4 500rpm and Torque 600Nm@2 510rpm
  • Transmission 8-speed DSG (Tiptronic)
  • Top Speed 235km/h
  • Fuel Consumption (combined) 7.1 litres/100km
  • Fuel Tank 90 litres
  • Luggage capacity 750 litres
  • Maintenance Plan 5 years/ 100 000km
  • Warranty 3 years /120,000km
  • Price as standard: R1,088,200

Ilse van den Berg

Ilse is a freelance writer and editor (@WordUp) with a passion for people and their stories and experiencing different cultures and places as she travels. She believes each person's story is powerful and important as stories shape us and have the power to change us. She has lived in Johannesburg, Cape Town, and Varese in the lake district of Italy and has ticked off 15 countries, with still a very long bucket list to go. She is a lover of adventure, coffee, wine, and ice cream. If she is not travelling or road tripping, she is probably writing, reading, hiking, testing a new car or surfing. Follow her on Twitter (@ilse_vdberg) and Instagram (@WordUp).