Larger than Life
Words and pics Romi Boom
When you first approach the Tankwa Guesthouse Complex, your eyes will pop. Is it an optical illusion? Is it make-believe? A figment of your imagination?
The homestead is impressive by anyone’s reckoning. The fort-like structure, situated on the southern boundary of the park and a stone's throw from the Oudebaaskraal Dam, imposes itself on the landscape. In the heat of midsummer it must float like a mirage above the moonscape of the surroundings.
It appears grandeur was synonymous with Oudebaaskraal. Until it was incorporated into the park in 2007, the farm, one of the oldest in the area (early 1800s), was home to the biggest private dam in Southern Africa. Holding around 28 billion litres of water, the immense, earth-wall Oudebaaskraal Dam was conceived and built by Alewyn Burger, an attorney specialising in water law and later Supreme Court judge in the 1960s.
Built for entertainment, Alewyn and Ria Burger’s farmhouse now hosts visitors to the park, in separate units sharing the largest kitchen I have seen and a stylish lounge. I could just imagine the preparations of yesteryear when a house party was in full swing.
Among the famous guests were several writers. Elsa Joubert is said to have written Die Swerfjare van Poppie Nongena at Oudebaaskraal. Heart surgeon Chris Barnard stayed for a weekend, with a photographer in tow. Burger himself was internationally esteemed and consulted in the United States. He wrote scholarly papers about the history of water law, going back to Roman times.
The Tankwa Karoo National Park is one of South Africa’s driest reserves. Farmers in this part of the world considered it a good year when they received a couple of centimetres of rain. Using flood irrigation, the Burgers raised crops of wheat and lucerne. A desert icon, the date palm, was originally imported from California and a grove still flourishes alongside the house.
At the right time of year, a humble gift from the skies will blossom into a carpet of flowers. Go see for yourself! Simply follow a game path through the Karoo bossies or hike along a gravel road.
The guesthouse complex is off-limits to anyone but residents and offers a range of accommodation. The fortress is a quaint setting for weddings, team-building exercises and film shoots. A 900m air strip is situated next to the main building, allowing fly-ins by guests.
Did You Know?
The R355 between Ceres and Calvinia is the longest road in South Africa without a town or a filling station.
Right of entry
When the first part of the park was proclaimed in 1986, most of the area had been farmed for generations and the land needed to rest. It was designated a Scientific National Park and few visitors were allowed. Gradually it became very popular with birders who came to see lifers such as the Burchell’s courser.
Getting there: From Cape Town, travel through Ceres and take the R355 towards Calvinia.
Rates: There is one unit that sleeps up to eight people. R635 a night for two people, R1100 for four, R220 an extra adult, R110 an extra child.
Source: Wild Magazine