A Jimny journey through Tankwa Karoo National Park

By Pia King

I wish we could jump into a Suzuki Jimny and drive off into Tankwa Karoo National Park all over again.

The spirit of last weekend will live with me forever. The scene was quite different from when we visited last July – there were fewer flowers, and while it was as peaceful, it was somehow more ethereal. The shade outweighed the light and the heavy grey clouds that lurked above made me ponder on the likelihood of ghosts that haunting the area at night.

The look of the chunky tyres on the Jimny, however, gave me some re-assurance that we would not get a puncture easily, landing up stuck by the side of the road for paranormal beings to prey on. And so, I almost forgot about ghosts and possibility of having to spend the night exposed to the elements in the back of the Jimny, in the middle of nowhere, with very little other than a lunch box containing two egg mayonnaise rolls and a chocolate bar. My friend (and driver of the vehicle) would have thought the same – if she had known! But I decided to say nothing.

The Jimny stood up to the stony track easily, rolling effortlessly forward into the tyre marks of illusionary traffic. The gravel vibrated like machinery beneath us, as we drove over it and dust particles settled on the vehicle like the kind of fine powder you’d expect to find in your Grandmothers’ makeup box. Sticking to everything.

The drive to the Park from Ceres was further than I remembered (3 hours) and I’m glad I made a mental note to stop at the Tankwa Padstal on our way back. It looked like a desolate dwelling of nothingness, very similar to the vast emptiness of our surrounds. I soon learned that I was mistaken on both accounts.

We covered a lot of ground – rather brave, considering we weren’t sure about our fuel consumption figures. Thankfully, we were fine. Our tank was full, and we were wise enough to turn off the air conditioner.

Looking beyond the simple dashboard of our Suzuki 4×4 into open ochre spaces, I began to thinking about what was actually there. An environmental scientists dream, for sure; the rocks, the sand, the geology. The stones – tons and tons of them. At one point, I picked one up and wondered how many of these made up this huge space, and how long they had been there. Longer than the ghosts, I think.

So much life must have roamed across this land by now. I wondered what this place would look like if it was completely stripped bare in years to come? Would future generations hear the sounds of the ghosts that had previously inhabited it? Or would they just hear the sounds of shots gunning down the baboons? We saw a troop of them; they ran in fear when we stopped the Jimmy nearby. I was stunned. The kind of shock you feel when heavily struck down in a paint ball game, but this is not a game; it’s a gut curling pause for thought.

While we longed to see a black-eared fox and aardvark (anteater), we were out of luck. We did see a group of Springbok in the distance though, totally camouflaged and leaping as gracefully as ballerinas.

En route to the new campsite at Perdekloof (which greatly impressed us), we saw a lone tortoise shuffling along. Squinting closely at the rings on its shell, I wondered how old it was. It was hard to tell. I’ve heard that some tortoises can live up to 150 years, you know.

I’d definitely camp at Perdekloof. I’m not really big on camping, but each campsite (there are 6) has a bathroom with toilet, shower and basin, plus kitchen. There are no cooking facilities, but there are braai spots. Also included is a gas geyser and solar lighting. There are no electric points. It’s advisable to take a 4×4 in rainy seasons and I could see why by looking at the rocky road that stretched into the distance. We decided not to explore this route, largely because we wanted to test the Jimny on Gannagapas, our next stop. By then, we had eaten all our padkos, but we had a beer to look forward to at the top of the pass.

The Jimny went up and up until it reached the top of the pass. The road was littered with sharp rocks, the kind that could slice like a chef’s knife – I was spooked (I shut my eyes and tried again not to think about the tyres, just enjoying the see-saw effect of the ride) – but the bumper of the Jimny easily cleared all the obstacles.

The view from the top extends further than the human eye can see. And we sat staring into it, sipping a beer, trying to solve many of life’s problems.

We were test-driving the new-design Jimny. This one was a lovely metallic blue. While most of the changes were to the overall look of the vehicle, I thought the new bonnet scoop and chunky grill bulked the vehicle up quite nicely. The great thing about it is that the rear seats can be folded flat. This is fabulous for someone like me, who travels ‘heavy’ – I do need to learn how to pack light. The cloth upholstery is chic. And this is fabulous – for the City Girl – who leads a double life. The Jimny is perfect for city living and takes to the road as easily as a city girl sips on a smooth cocktail. But at the same time, is ready to rough it up – a bit like the Captain Morgan I was served at the Padstal which we had passed earlier.

The Jimny swayed its muscular body steadily down the rocky pass and back onto the gravel road as we started our descent and journey back towards Ceres in the late afternoon. It had been a thought-provoking day in so many ways. This place makes you stare deep into its soul – and your own. And the views that stare back at you are like phantoms. Phantoms of the past and present, and hopes for the future.

But – before I end, I have to tell you about the Padstal. It’s a landmark. We passed it right at the start of our trip. It almost set the tone for our journey. A trip into the unknown. It was just 85 km outside of Ceres. We saw what looked like boogeymen hovering outside (bikers perhaps?) And I can tell you a little secret? The Padstal is not empty.