First published in Travel Ideas Magazine (www.travelideas.co.za).
10 days/ 25 km per day/ 250 kilometres total
The Tankwa Camino will lead you through some of the Karoo’s most arid landscapes. This ten-day hike starts in Calvinia in the Northern Cape and finishes 250 kilometres later in Ceres in the Western Cape. Hikers walk on average 25 kilometres per day and are continuously exposed to harsh elements. It is not an experience for the faint-hearted, but if you have an appetite for endurance, you’ll be treated to sun and moon rises, the magical quiet of the Karoo, the night sky ablaze with stars and a special kind of camaraderie. We talk to Marlize Stander, a marketing consultant from Stellenbosch, about what to expect. Marlize walked it in 2014 with her sister.
Route & Terrain: The walk starts at a big, red postbox in Calvinia. Here you will meet the organizers, Danie and Rhina Pieterse, and your fellow hikers. The first stretch of the trail will bring you to the edge of The Great Escarpment; thereafter you’ll walk on flat dryland for days on end. You’ll see Karoo shrub for most of the way and occasionally veld flowers. If you’re lucky you may see African Wild Cat. You may also come across snakes and scorpions and at night you’ll hear the calls of owls. There are no towns along the way, only wide open spaces. You’ll have no cellphone reception for the duration of the walk, but every other day a ‘bakkie’ or a biker will pass by and be gone in a cloud of dust. The route follows a long and dusty road, which makes it impossible to get lost. You hike at your own pace until you reach the overnight camp.
The Logistics: The Tankwa Camino is hosted twice a year by Danie, Rhina and a dedicated team, and consists of groups as big as 60 hikers. At the start of the camino each hiker is allocated a plastic crate in which everything from tent to sleeping bag is placed. These containers are then transported every day by truck to the next camping destination. You only have to carry your daypack. By the time you reach your camping destination, your belongings will be waiting. It’s then time to erect your tent and find shade for a restful afternoon. Dinner is served in the evenings around a bonfire where stories are exchanged. In the mornings hot water is provided for a cup of coffee.
Required fitness: This is not a trek for first-time hikers. An average-to-good level of fitness is required, as well as mental strength to endure ten days of exposure to the elements. Some people have been known to run the entire route!
Food: You pack your own breakfasts and lunches. Fruits, nuts, jelly babies, biltong and energy bars are good options. Dinners are provided and comprise of hearty stews or chicken curries served with rice or pap. Sweet treats are often provided too. A big highlight is on day seven when you pass the Tankwa Farmstall, situated near where Afrika Burn is hosted every year. Here you can enjoy a cup of coffee and a koeksister. All along the way, drinking water is provided.
The People: Your fellow hikers are down-to-earth, nature-loving types. Most are South African and hail from all over the country. Some are seasoned hikers, while others are less experienced. Couples, groups of friends, mom-and-daughter duos and solo hikers walk the Tankwa Camino. Like the Camino de Santiago in Spain, the Tankwa Camino is an open forum. Hikers cry and laugh together and share their stories. You’ll quickly form a bond of camaraderie with your companions. Sometimes you might decide to walk alone for hours on end. It’s your decision when to walk alone or with others. You decide whether to walk alone or with others.
– Look after your feet. Blisters are common and very uncomfortable – learn how to treat them and wear tried-and-tested shoes.
– Start walking before 7:00am to reach your campsite before the afternoon scorcher sets in.
– Appreciate the interaction with fellow hikers. You’ll remember it for life.
– Take wet-wipes for general cleaning.
– Be a nature hater. You’ll be submerged in nature at its rawest for ten days straight.
– Be unfit. You need to be okay with tackling long distances on-foot.
– Act fussy. Leisurely baths and soft mattresses become distant memories – this is not an experience for princes and princesses!
– The dryness – every person is given 5 litres of water per day with which to wash. Drinking water is luckily always available.
– Constant exposure to heat, wind, dust and the cold (especially at night).
– Lack of luxuries (e.g. a shower).
– Strong camaraderie among hikers.
– Shared stories.
– Natural beauty along the way.
– Early mornings when the moon sets and the sun rises at the same time.
– The peace and quiet of the Karoo.
– Technology detox.
– An unrivaled starwatching experience.
– The sense of accomplishment at the end.
The Tankwa Camino is organized twice a year in April and September. For more information see www.tankwacamino.com. Email: email@example.com. The price for 2017 is R5500, 00 per person (R2000 deposit is payable to secure your place).
All featured photographs credited to Marlize Stander.