Tankwa Karoo National Park is a desolate stretch of semi-desert in the Northern Cape.
Tankwa Karoo National Park is situated on the southern boundary of the Northern Cape with the Roggeveld Escarpment to the east, Cederberg to the west, and Klein Roggeveld Mountains in the south. It is the driest land in all of South Africa, with summer temperatures regularly soaring into the 40's. Even so, after the occasional shower, the park erupts into a dazzling display of flowering succulents.
Only two Southern African regions have been bestowed the honor of designation as Biodiversity Hotspots by Conservation International. One is, of course, the Cape Floral Kingdom, and the other the Succulent Karoo. For those whose image of the southwestern Karoo is a shimmering wasteland to be endured as briefly as possible en route to Cape Town or Johannesburg, this may come as a surprise.
Though the remarkable endemism and diversity of the Succulent Karoo flora (at its most spectacular from August to October) is its most renowned aspect, the Karoo as a whole naturally has a great deal to offer the birder as well. The Tankwa Karoo National Park protects one of the most starkly beautiful tracts of the Tankwa Karoo and is well worth visiting for several reasons, amongst them its koppie-studded, moon-like landscape, diversity of succulent plants and fine Karoo birding. When taking a night drive, you may be surprised to find aardvark, which occur in large numbers in the park.
The Tankwa Karoo National Park provides visitors with the opportunity to truly break away from their busy lives and enjoy an African experience in an area that is unscathed by civilization to a large extent. There are no restaurants, shops or ATM’s in the Tankwa Karoo National Park. We will ensure that you have everything that you need prior to your arrival so that you enjoy your time there worry-free.
As the Tankwa Karoo National Park is relatively far from any big cities, you will see the stars very clearly from this area. It is unlikely that you will ever again see the Milky Way, Orion’s belt or the Southern Cross as brightly and clearly as you will while star-gazing in this National Park. The Southern African Large Telescope (SALT) also lies in the Karoo, just outside the sleepy town of Sutherland.
The Tankwa Karoo National Park does not offer any organized tours. Therefore you can go on a tour to look at the wildlife, birdlife and take in the nature at whichever time you prefer, for as long as you want. African Sky will make sure that you are always comfortable in an air-conditioned vehicle with an expert guide. There are also no official hiking routes, so you can go exploring where you please.
The nearest airport to the Tankwa Karoo National Park is Cape Town International. Guests will be met at OR Tambo in Johannesburg and assisted with transferring to Cape Town. The short flight offers a great view of the Karoo on a cloudless day, so try to sneak a peek out of the window if you can. From Cape Town you will be driven either directly to the park or your first tour destination in the Western Cape.
The Great Karoo stretches hundreds of miles over central South Africa and getting to the Tankwa Karoo National Park requires an almost 5 hour scenic drive from Cape Town, with magnificent views of the arid landscape. Guests will of course be transported in an air-conditioned vehicle from either the airport or their previous tour destination to the park.
The Tankwa Karoo is a very dry area. The Word “Tankwa” is Khoisan for “land of thirst” – which should give you a good idea of the weather in this area. It is one of the most arid regions in South Africa. This, of course, stimulates a very specific plant growth. Be sure to pack warm clothes, though - no rain does not mean that it does not get cold in the area, especially in winter.
The days tend to get extremely hot with temperatures sky rocketing to almost 40 degrees Celsius in the summer months (December through February). During the winter the temperatures drop, however, and once the suns sets it can be freezing. The days, however, are actually more comfortable than in the blistering summer months, and less windy.
It is hard to believe that the Great Karoo once overflowed with water. Carbon dating and archaeological evidence have revealed that this area was a vast and fertile inland sea hundreds of millions of years ago. The Tankwa Karoo National Park was only proclaimed in 1986, and added to the South African National Parks group portfolio in order to conserve the unique biodiversity of the park. The conservation area has grown to about 146 ,373 from its original 27, 064 hectares, and has been occupied by people for at least 10 000 years. It was first inhabited by the Bushmen, whereafter the Khoe pastoralists entered the region. They moved their livestock in sync with the migration of the wild animals.
In the 1700’s, the Trekboers started appearing in the area and ultimately the landscape served as grazing pastures for their sheep. Cattle farmers also tried settling in the area, but the arid land was not ideal for their cattle to graze in. Overgrazing severely damaged the soil and, subsequently, the park was not open to the public for the first few years. Ever since its proclamation, conservation of the endemic fauna and flora species has been the main concern for the park administration. South African National Parks made this area a priority by adding high biodiversity land and buying the surrounding farms to enlarge the conservation area to what is known today as the Tankwa Karoo National Park.
A variety of animals can be found in the Tankwa Karoo National Park today. Smaller mammals such as the steenbok and klipspringer, and larger antelope including the Cape mountain zebra, grey rhebok, kudu, springbok, and eland reside in the park, and are most likely to be found in the eastern reaches. Various antelope species had to been reintroduced to the region, with the aim to restore the natural ecology of the area and in doing so maintaining its rich biological diversity. Radio transmitter-collars were fitted to some of the animals, including gemsbok, red hartebeest and springbok, to track and monitor the movements of the various groups.
This reintroduction program started in June 2004, with ten Cape mountain zebras, 114 gemsbok, 89 red hartebeest and 170 springbok. A further 245 springbok and 60 eland were added between 2010 and 2012. An aerial game census of the Tankwa Karoo National Park in 2013 showcased the program’s success through the indication that the animals had reproduced and spread over the entire park. If you’re very lucky, you might even spot the elusive leopards that naturally roam the area. The region is also frequented by over 180 species of birds, and is a favorite among birders because of the 18 species that are endemic. Birding buffs should also be on the lookout for the Verreaux's eagle.
The Tankwa Karoo National Park is situated in the Great Karoo, a vast semi-desert ('semi', because it receives too much rainfall to be classified as a desert) that is sometimes also referred to as a ‘friendly’ desert. The area falls in the Succulent Karoo Biodiversity Hotspot, which is one of the 25 richest and most threatened reservoirs of plant life on earth. The Karoo and the park are therefore home to the world’s richest succulent flora. The biome is vulnerable to overgrazing, the illegal collection of plants for trade and climate change, and conservation of the vegetative species are one of the top priorities for SANParks.
Vegetation types that are conserved by the South African National Parks in the Tankwa Karoo National Park include the Central Tanqua Grassy Plain, Roggeveld Shale Renosterveld, Tanqua Escarpment, Succulent Karoo, Roggeveld Karoo, Tanqua Wash Rivers, and Nieuwoudtville Roggeveld Dolerite Renosterveld. One of the most prominent aspects of the park is the remarkable endemism and diversity of the Succulent Karoo flora, with approximately 1 500 species that only occur in the Succulent Karoo biome. The vegetation is also one of the park’s main attractions, especially after the summer rains when the various plants bloom and the landscape is drenched in color.
The self-drive game drive is the most common activity at the Tankwa Karoo National Park. This allows you to observe the variety of animals, bird species and different plants at your own pace. Make sure to get the list of animals and birds found in the park from reception, so that you can know what to look out for and tick it off the list once you’ve seen it. There are also 4x4 tracks for the more adventurous, namely the Leeuberg 4x4 Eco-trail and the Watervlei 4x4 Route. There are a number of other off-road tracks, but these should only be attempted by very experienced off-road drivers. Luckily, the spectacular Gannaga Pass and Elandsberg viewpoints are easily accessible.
Bird watching is a popular activity in the Tankwa Karoo National Park, with the annual Tankwa Birding Bonanza held in the park every April. The Oudebaaskraal Dam is a popular spot for bird watching, especially for several waterfowl species. Altogether, there are 187 species of birds in the Tankwa Karoo National Park, of which 18 are endemic, so be sure to take your binoculars. If you enjoy hiking or cycling, you are more than welcome to engage in these activities inside the park, however, there are no official hiking or cycling trails so be careful and stick to the marked roads for your own safety. The vast landscape also offers great photographic prospects.
When visiting the Tankwa Karoo National Park, travelers will relish the otherworldly solitude and sheer nothingness. Far removed from the din of civilization, you will find your senses heightening, augmenting an appreciation for the smaller things.
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