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Tankwa National Park, FD's visit

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Unread post by francoisd » Tue Feb 12, 2008 11:35 am

I assume Gwen is hinting at me so here is my "report". Do I get a prize? :P

I was in Tankwa National Park last week but mainly planned to stay there as a base for birding the surrounding Tankwa Karoo area.

I did venture out into the park on Thursday (7 Feb 2008) with the intent of finding Burchell’s Courser and visiting the dam / riverine bush close to Tankwa Guesthouse. This trip however turned into a bad experience for me. I will include some of the few photos taken inside the Park.

On Wednesday (6 Feb 2008) I left Gordon’s Bay around 03:30 to get to the Karoo poort at sunset to start birding on the R355 gravel road which leads to the P2250 to Tankwa NP. Below a photo taken of the Tankwa sign at the turn off of the P2250 from the R355. The road leading into the distance is the R355 towards Ceres, the direction I came from. The other way runs to Calvinia. The R355 is the longest road in SA uninterrupted by a town, ± 250km in total.

Here is a photo taken as I walked back to the car after taking the photo above with the P2250 leading into the Karoo nothingness

At the 25km marker on the P2250 this sign was posted. Not sure if it refers to the P2250 though as there aren’t any other access routes from the Cape Town side which I know off.

I arrived at the Tankwa NP office at around 15:30 with the temperature as indicated by the car at around 42°C. I originally booked the Maansedam house but shortly before I left for Kruger Tankwa NP phoned to inform me that the appointed a new staff member and that they would be using Maansedam as accommodation. They offered me Paulsehoek house at the same rate as Maansedam which I accepted.

I was met at reception by Cobie, who turned out to be the one now living in Maansedam. After receiving a map and keys I proceeded to Paulsehoek where I arrived around 16:00 tired after a long day of birding which delivered 7 lifers.

Paulsehoek is situated about 4km from the Park office on an open plain with no houses in sight.

View in front of the house

View of house as you approach

Back of house

Front of house

The house consists of 2 bedrooms each with a double and single bed. There is a lounge, kitchen and bathroom (shower, basin and toilet). There is no electricity and lighting is provided by oil lamps and candles. There is a wood burning stove, gas two plate and gas fridge/freezer. Hot water for the shower is provided by a “donkey”. A donkey is a steel drum under which you make a fire to heat up the water. This was however not necessary as the water from the cold tap was warm enough to shower in and even to do dishes! About 20 meters in front of the house is a little waterhole where birds come to drink.

Below some photos of the inside of the house

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When I arrived at Paulsehoek I have not yet seen a Namaqua Sandgrouse. While sitting at the waterhole taking photos one came flying over and by the time it was dark I saw more than 70 coming to drink at the waterhole in groups of 5 to 10 birds at a time.
There were a number of Pale Chanting-goshawks keeping close to the house and I assume they were after the birds at the waterhole especially the sandgrouse although I never saw one making an attempt to catch a bird.
While enjoying my supper at the table in the kitchen on the first evening I heard a jackal call outside. It being dark moon and no light outside I could however not spot it.

Thursday morning I decided to travel to the southern boundary of the park as according to SABirdfinder this is the best area to spot Burchell’s Courser. The map supplied indicates sedan, 4x2 and 4x4 routes and I planned a route via Varscfontein on the sedan routes. Even though it says sedan routes I will maybe not visit this Park in a sedan again as even the access road to Paulsehoek house had a big hole in the road which was VERY tricky to get through.

So off I go around 6am cheerful of the expectation of seeing Burchell’s Courser and Karoo Korhaan. First stop the dam next to the Park offices to tick some waterbirds. The road is still in good condition here as you are still traveling on the P2250 and the speed signs say 60 and even 80km. I see a small antelope re din colour and white under the tail disappear between the low shrubs and 2 springbok in the distance.

From Maansedam I make my way down into the valley and the road is quiet bad at places and I wonder how they classify it as fit for sedan but with careful wheel placement and slow speed I manage to get into the valley. As I travel I come to the realisation that in the rainy season some stretches of the road I’m traveling on will be a mud nightmare. There are also stretches with deep ruts, potholes and thick sand but I manage to get through although I nearly got stuck towards the end of that road.

Scattered through out the Park are old dwellings like the one below

This is Pramberg in the distance and marked on the map as a camping spot

Shortly after passing Pramberg I notice some movement in the distance to the left. Through the binoculars I see 3 Bat-eared foxes moving to the right. I try and estimate where they will cross the road and move a little closer as I want a photo. They however decided that today is not photo taking day and turn around to run in the opposite direction.

Now is a good a time as ever to enjoy breakfast and as I did not receive any rules stating anything to the contrary I take out my chair and enjoy cereal in the open expanse of the Tankwa Karoo, unsuspecting of the problem that lies ahead.

I arrive at a T-junction where the road to the left leads to the Tankwa Guesthouse and to the right you can exit the park through private land. I turn left as I want to bird the riverine trees of the Tankwa River and also see if I can get close to Oudebaaskraal Dam. I find my way forward blocked by a deep sandy patch and get out to inspect. I decide that the sand is to thick and the stretch off sand also has bumps in it which is to high for the Corolla to clear. What to do now?

Either I go back the way I came and then proceed to Tankwa River which is a very long way round and I also nearly got stuck and I know how bad that road is. I will also have to get out of the valley on a bad road. The other option is to exit through the private road, then join up with the R355 and then P2250 to Tankwa Guesthouse area. I decide that the last option might be shorter and start driving. Not long though I find some long stretches of sand but I clear it without to much hassle. Then after about 3.5km I attempt another sand crossing which appears like the rest but halfway through I get stuck good.

I see some house in the distance and after 20 minutes walking end up at empty places. I return to the car. My first attempt at getting the car out only wins me about 10 meters. I realise that the sand is about 20cm thick and underneath is hard soil so I proceed to dig out a path way for the car into the adjacent veldt where the soil is harder. Having no spade I have to make do with my coffee mug. I proceed to make a “new” road past the sandy stretches by clearing some of the higher shrubs and walking a lot to check what lies ahead. After 3 hours at 43°C I’m back at the gate where I exited the Park. I take the road I drove earlier the morning trying to keep the abuse to the car at a minimum.

I arrive back at Paulsehoel at around 15:20 tired and not in the mood for exploring the Park anymore. I park the car at the waterhole to be used as a hide later on. Go to the house, have a shower, make some food and a nice cup of tea which I enjoy in the car while taking snaps of the sandgrouse.

Friday morning before 6am I’m on my way back home but not before I hear and see a number of Karoo Korhaans.

List of birds seen in the Park
African Spoonbill
Black Harrier
Blackbreasted Snake Eagle
Blackshouldered Kite
Cape Bulbul
Cape Bunting
Cape Francolin
Cape Sparrow
Cape Teal
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Wagtail
Common Waxbill
Egyptian Goose
Eurasian Swallow
Familiar Chat
Fiscal Shrike
Greater Kestrel
Greybacked Finchlark
Jackal Buzzard
Karoo Chat
Karoo Eremomela
Karoo Korhaan
Karoo Prinia
Lanner Falcon
Longbilled Crombec
Namaqua Dove
Namaqua Sandgrouse
Pale Chanting Goshawk
Pied Crow
Redbilled Teal
Redcapped Lark
Redfaced Mousebird
Redknobbed Coot
Rock Kestrel
Rock Martin
Rufouseared Warbler
South African Shelduck
Spikeheeled Lark
Thickbilled Lark
Threebanded Plover
Tractrac Chat
Whitethroated Canary
Yellow Canary

List of animals seen
Bat-eared fox
A small antelope (disappeared too quickly)

Last notes:
1. No electricity so you’ll have to take along enough batteries for your camera or get an inverter to charge it from the car battery.
2. The tap water is drinkable but hot. When out in the Park make sure to have at least 5L of water per person as you never know when you might get stuck.
3. Day time temperatures reached between 40-44°C at around 15:00. Both evenings at around 21:00 it was still 35°C outside and early morning about 23°C (measured with the car’s temperature sensor)
4. I would advice against visiting with a sedan. Rather take a vehicle with high ground clearance and 4x4 might add peace off mind. Most stretches on the "sedan" routes I drove was good but there are bad stretches that might damage your car and you might even get stuck. I will not take a sedan in the rainy season.
6. From the guestbook in the house I stayed the Park can be very cold in winter as well.
7. The closest fuel stops if I’m correct is 110km at Calvinia and 180km at Ceres (that is for unleaded fuel). I filled the tank at the Ultracity in Worcester and when I went past there again I traveled 608km. Fortunately the Corolla has good fuel consumption so I even made it back to Gordon’s Bay on that tank a total of 732km.
"The measure of life is not its duration but its donation." - Peter Marshall

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Unread post by francoisd » Wed Feb 13, 2008 8:27 am

Restio I prefer the heat over the cold.

In my opinion if you want to get away from the hustle of the city and spend some time somewhere basically doing nothing then Tankwa Karoo NP is the place to go.

Yes you can drive around bird watching and maybe spot an animal but you can find a lot of birds walking around the house you stay in.

The stars are even better than in Kruger as there are no camp lights etc and also no noisy neighbors where I stayed (well no neighbors at all).

I also have to add that for Paulsehoek SANParks supply the wood to heat the water system but not braai wood but this you can buy at the office if you forgot to bring your own. That is all the sell so fire lighters, food and drinks you will have to bring along.

I found a past issue of Getaway magazine in the house which had Islands as its main theme but also contained an article on the Tankwa Karoo in general during the flower season and the photos in there made it look like a total different place than the one I saw.

I hope we will see and hear of more Forumites who visit this Park.

One suggestion for the Park will be to put up a "Key Box" at the office. They only open at 08:00 and when I left at 06:00 I had to hang the keys over the door handle of the office and also had to stick my note about the broken fridge between the handles. I did not receive any phone call from Cobie so trust the keys stayed put till the opened the office.

Oh yes, Japie Claasen of Karoo Birding Safaris emailed me this morning and he agree with my observation that using a sedan in the Park can be difficult but don't let it put you off from visiting. In hind sight it might be a good idea to leave a note at the office stating the route you plan to travel and to say that you will report back to the office at around such-and-such a time. This way if you do not show they know which area to look for you.
"The measure of life is not its duration but its donation." - Peter Marshall

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