13 January, 2015

Tankwa Karoo - Elandsberg, Gannaga, Leeuberg

- gardening for biodiversity
in Cape Town, South Africa

On the map we found an unknown nature conservation area. The Tankwa Karoo National Park. We booked a cottage for the spring flowers in September 2011. The annuals on the plain, as far as the eye could see, were seedheads bobbing in the wind. August would have been different.

In the Karoo, usually there is a sandy rocky river bed, with a ribbon of green winding across the landscape, as the roots reach down to hidden water. Each of our concrete bridges was marked by careful craftsmen with the year it was built. One day we’ll find mine.

Bridge over the Doring River

He stopped to lower the tyre pressure. Roads are notorious. Sharp stones (we admit it’s our fault, we blew a tyre on the way to Kgalagadi!)

Remember before GPS? My father was a civil engineer; from him I learnt this is a trigonometrical survey beacon. Driving across country the beacons seem unattainable, but of course there is a road. Elandsberg was an easy 4x4, or a long walk. From where the world drops away, dizzy making.

Trig survey beacon on the Elandsberg

In a Henry Ford – any colour you want so long as it’s black – this magenta vygie covered the plains, poured up the mountain slopes, climbed thru the rocks. The shimmering electric colour was eye-watering. Vygies – ankle to knee high succulents, in every colour you can imagine, except blue.

Vygies, succulents, mostly magenta!

Up the Gannaga Pass. Stopped to admire skilled stone work, as we wound our way up. Modern repairs are done with a slab of grey concrete.

Gannaga Pass
milkweed flower?

Winding back across the plain, we saw Hoodia in bloom. It was used by nomadic San/Bushman hunters against hunger and thirst. Tucked at its base, grateful for any shade, are yellow daisies. Not the same as we saw later in the Hantam NBG.

another yellow daisy

On the Leeuberg 4x4 trail. The road climbs up; over the bonnet is nothing but blue sky. On the crest, beyond the bonnet is an endless abyss. NOT an adrenaline junkie, I used my wide brimmed hat, looked at rocks and plants, where the world still existed.

Leeuberg 4x4 trail in the Tankwa Karoo

Trusting the Ungardener to drive his Land Rover with skill. Deep breath. Now we go down. And stop. For the flowers. Red and orange leaved Oxalis, a Euphorbia not the usual lime-gold but a gorgeous glowing tomato red, and Karoo violets. Where he trusted the Land Rover to STAY, good dog!

Do not adjust your set
The road really was like that

Karoo violets Aptosimum indivisum
Oxalis, Euphorbia

BUT. At the bottom of that slope was a steep V-shaped gully. Up began with a heap of loose stones. Two car lengths, and we paused to slide slowly, back, down. To the bottom, diff lock, and try again, a little faster. I hold my breath. The Land Rover does its magical moonwalk on four feet! And we climb ponderously, like an elephant.

Rock by nature above left
Fifties farm house

The rock is broken by nature into tidy rectangular geometrical pieces. Which lend themselves to building. This mud brick (adobe) farmhouse returning to the earth, was still used in the Fifties.

Old steam engine in the Tankwa

Amongst the quiver trees Aloe dichotoma, a steam engine. Quiet now.

We stayed, with the birds and the bees, in the Elandsberg cottages. Off grid!

Pictures by Jurg and Diana Studer  
of  Elephant's Eye on False Bay 

(If you mouse over teal blue text, it turns seaweed red.
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  1. oh my gosh what an amazing trip, the landscape , the plants,that HILL!!!! Wow, it is truly amazing, thank you for sharing,

  2. Congratulations on your move Diana. The doorway shot took my breath away for an instant. I love visiting your site because of the scenery I experience, the things I learn, and the sensitivity you have for the world. Also....happy cats in the sun!

  3. You live in a beautiful place Diana.

  4. Good luck with your new garden - I look forward to seeing it grow.
    And what a wonderful piece of landscape you show in this post!
    I do love the word "vygies" - I've always had trouble saying mesembryanthemums, so will now call them vygies, to myself at least, as no one here in the UK will know what I mean.
    All the best :)

    1. to their friends, they are mesems (like 'mums)

  5. Wow Diana what a bit of excitement for you! Good luck and may the road rise with you! Can't wait to see more and more.....

  6. Congratulations on the move! And, my goodness, what an exciting adventure you had! The wildflowers are beautiful. And the scenery ... stunning!

  7. What gorgeous flowers! And I'm trying to imagine that shocking-pink Vygies pouring out of every available surface (the Indian in me quite enjoys the idea ;D). I've recently taken a fancy to succulents so the idea of all those amazing ones which are probably commonplace for you, is fascinating!

    1. Never commonplace!
      We have a huge variety, many endemics - and the Tankwa was proclaimed to protect its own unique diversity.

  8. I have never been to the Tankwa Karoo. Some people think there is nothing to see, but for those who appreciate that kind of beauty it is a wonderland.

    Thanks for the link the other day. I showed it to the Damselfly and she really appreciated it.

  9. It sounds like it was quite an adventure to get to see all those beautiful plants -- but definitely worth it. -Jean

  10. Amazing landscape and beautiful plants. It must have been an exciting trip!
    Have a wonderful 2015 with you new adventures!
    Have a great weekend!
    xoxo Ingrid

  11. That was quite an excursion in the land-rover. The photo of the yellow vehicle perched on the steep road, with flowers the same color of yellow blanketing the hillside, would make a great postcard! I am impressed with all the colorful flowers growing in an area that looks rather desolate otherwise. It reminds me of springtime in the Sonoran desert, near Phoenix, Arizona.

    1. Sonoran desert is on my bucket list.
      Like our Namaqualand, if you choose the right year, and month, and weather on the day - it can be stunning.

  12. So someone had to get out to take that photo...I would have been the first to offer to get out if my jeep was going down that steep hill...wow, it's steep!

    The flowers, oh the flowers, miles and miles of them. Breathtaking.

    And to see for so far....my heart aches to go somewhere like that. It's all mountain range here, I love it, but when I see something like this....sigh. Beautiful.


    1. we were both busy with photos.
      Sometimes I love to be in wide open spaces, where the soul can breathe.

  13. I still say you have the best, most beautiful wildflowers....