Wednesday 20 August 2014

The Magnificent Silence Of The Tankwa Karoo

One of life's interesting aspects is the effort that we all put in to relax. Chill in the modern vernacular.

I recently returned from a sea voyage lasting two full months. Two full months at sea, essentially. And people I meet tell me how lucky I am to have such a wonderful relaxing experience.

Well, I have news for them. Passengers and guests may have a wonderful relaxing time on board, but not the skipper. You work extremely hard. And you don't get to sleep as much as the guests either.

So I needed time to chill.

After getting most of the post voyage admin out of the way and my teeth fixed, we set off for a weekend of chilling out away from the sea. (Yes, I lost some fillings while at sea.) The choice fell on the Tankwa Karoo National Park. About as far away from salt air as one can get in South Africa. A great place to do nothing. No cell-phone reception, no internet facilities. Not even a land line telephone. Gas stoves, electricity for the refrigerators and the lights. Nothing else.

And a great silence. It is so quiet that one can hear the airliners passing overhead at 36 000 feet. That is basically the extent of real urban civilisation to be encountered.

The road to this place leads through some of the most scenic parts of our country, passing through the picturesque town of Ceres. Ceres is situated at the top of a mountain pass, so it is easy to imagine the stark contrast of the beautiful verdant mountain passes versus the arid, stony countryside of the Tankwa Karoo.

The road to the park takes you from Ceres on the road to Calvinia, two hundred and fifty kilometres away. The turn-off for the park is about half way along this road. A dirt road to boot, with no fuel along the way. You fill the tank in Ceres, and let down the tyres to a pressure suitable for the roads and your type of vehicle, then you drive very slowly so as to not get a puncture.  A puncture may literally see you waiting in the road for more than a day, waiting for the next vehicle to come by to render assistance. You also watch your fuel consumption with a beady eye for the same reason.

We have never been down this way before, so it was with great surprise that we saw lots of motorcycles and other vehicles along the way. Afterwards we realised that these may have been weekend riders and visitors leaving the park on Sunday as we were arriving.

Another great surprise was the Tankwa Padstal, a roadside shop selling sweets, beer and coffee in tin mugs. You can also have a hamburger, but that is where the real food ends. Of course, being an oasis in this veritable desert, there were lots of patrons. Incidentally, they also sell braai packs and wood, so you can have your own barbecue right there on the premises. A braai pack, for my overseas readers, consists of a few portions of lamb or mutton chops and a piece of boerewors. This area of the country is famous for the tasty lamb and mutton, so it is a very popular choice for visitors.

After having a beer, we carried on with our journey. Even inside the car one can feel the silence enveloping you. The countryside is bleak and austere at a passing glance, but it tends to grow on you as time passes. You look into a far distant horizon lined with ragged mountains, forever changing hue as the clouds come and go and the sun changes its angle.

The park itself is another study in simplicity and peace. There are quite a few old sheep stations and old farmsteads, some now turned into very basic camps. These are all situated at springs in the dry, almost stone desert hills.

The overwhelming silence allows you to hear the sounds of the veld. No city noise pollution or telephones ringing to confuse the issue, you hear jackals calling at sunset and again in the morning. You hear doves cooing down in the dry river bed, other smaller birds chirping away happily around the house. And in the night your see the bats flying, catching insects in mid air. The barn owls squeaking their song as they fly.

And then a peace descends on you like nowhere else. You sit and relax, then your brain also relaxes and you sleep a deep, peaceful sleep. It is almost like being on a three day meditation trip.

For food we had picnic snacks. And the requisite lamb chops, done to perfection on the coals. Served with a tomato and cheese sandwich toasted on the coals, rounded off with a glass of red wine. Perhaps even two. Simple food to add to the simplicity of the lifestyle and the surroundings.

We came home different people, the better for he quiet meditation offered by the tranquility of the place.

Perhaps we are more blessed than we realize.

Authored by Johan Zietsman.

Last updated on 2014-08-20


  1. Lovely piece and stunning photographs as only you can do it, Ziets! Thank you for reminding us of the importance of taking time out to relax properly.

    1. Thanks for the compliment Chris,

      I just thought it fit to write something after I a wonderful experience.