Tarkastad is a little Karoo town on the banks of the Tarka River in the Eastern Cape province of South Africa. Tarkastad lies North of the majestic Winterberg Mountains, between Cradock and Queenstown. Tarkastad is on a plain to the north of the Winterberg mountain range on the R61.

The first people to occupy the area around Tarkastad were the San who left an abundance of rock art paintings in Grootvlei just north of the town. The name Tarkastad is believed to come from the Khoi-Khoi word Traka (meaning women) or the Celtic word Tarka (meaning otter) and the Afrikaans word Stad (meaning city). The fact that the town is overlooked by Martha and Mary; two peaks which look like two women resting after a hard day’s work, also lends to the name.

Tarkastad Tourism

Commando Drift Nature Reserve

35 km’s from Tarkastad the 6 000ha Commando Drift Nature Reserve is perfect for travellers who love water and the great outdoors. At the heart of the Reserve is the Commando Drift Dam – a great expanse of water perfect for fishing, boating and water sports. The dam is fed by four rivers and covers 950ha when full, creating a cool oasis in the bushveld.

Commando Drift is roughly 60km north of Cradock on the road to Tarkastad. The road condition is poor – 2×4 or 4×4 required.

The name Commando Drift can be traced back to the original farm owned by Voortrekker leader Hendrik Potgieter, who lived in the area in the early 1800s. The beautiful landscape is made up of karoo veld, grassland and sandstone cliffs, and is home to various small game, including black wildebeest, Cape mountain zebra, blesbok, kudu, aardvark, warthog, springbok, steenbok and caracal, to name a few.

Great for Birding

Over 200 species of bird have been listed in the area – African fish eagles can be seen swooping down on the water while blue cranes stalk the riverbanks and grasslands.


There are a number of great hikes in the area. The Bushman Trail is an enjoyable 6km hike along the edge of the dam that also explores the Palingkloof. This hike is perfect for the whole family – water birds and game can be spotted along the route. For the more serious hikers, the Endurance Trail is a challenging adventure. It follows a circular, two-to-threeday trail that spans 28km of awesome grasslands, gorges and veld. The hike covers the lower slopes of the Rooiberg and the Springbokvlakte, where there is likely to be more game.

Snow has been recorded in the surrounding mountains in winter months, so be prepared for cold weather! The mountain backdrop and wonderful wildlife make the Reserve a great biking destination. The mountain bike trail is fairly easy, but be prepared for some challenging hills, rocky terrain and a few devil thorns! There is a circular route and a number of alternative trails. It takes about four hours to complete. A permit is required for the biking trail and is obtainable from the Commando Drift Nature Reserve Office.


Lake View Chalet and the Fish Eagle Cabins are comfortable self-catering establishments, with lovely views of the lake and all the basic facilities one needs. The campsite is grassed and well maintained with excellent access to the dam.

Tsolwana Nature Reserve

Just 30 km’s from Tarkastad situated on the northern slopes of the commanding Winterberg mountain range, Tsolwana Nature Reserve’s landscape is one of striking beauty. The name Tsolwana is a Xhosa word meaning ‘spike’, and refers to a conical hill that can be seen in the Reserve. Tsolwana is 8 500ha in size and marks the beginning of the Karoo plains.

Located 60km west of Queenstown and 30km south-east of Tarkastad. 2×4 or 4×4 is required.

The mountainous slopes, grassy plains and acacia thornveld are home to a wide variety of wildlife, making game viewing a major attraction. Animals to spot include bat-eared fox, ant bear, black wildebeest, Cape mountain zebra, black backed jackal, baboon, springbok, mountain reedbuck, oryx, blesbok, dassie, eland, gemsbok, kudu, lynx, mongoose and meerkat. Enthusiastic birders and nature lovers must keep a look out for some of the 241 different bird species.

The climate can be extreme, with greatly varying temperatures and unpredictable heavy summer rainstorms with hail. In winter, snow falls frequently, so be prepared!


Tsolwana’s experienced rangers are available to take visitors on self game drives, combining 4×4 adventure with awesome wildlife viewing opportunities. They also offer guided game walks. Other activities include hiking, horse riding, mountain biking, swimming and the chance to see incredible San rock art. Hiking trails follow game tracks and gravel roads. They vary in length from a couple of hours to a two-day overnight trail in the western part of the Reserve.


Otterford Lodge is a beautiful, fully equipped old farmhouse situated in a quiet and secluded part of the reserve. It sleeps four people.
Indwe Lodge is a fully equipped lodge with excellent views of the Winterberg mountains. It sleeps four people.
Tibet Park Lodge has two quaint flatlets with en-suite bathrooms. They each sleep two.
The Fundani campsite is available for those who enjoy the great outdoors.

All accommodation is self-catering.

For bookings and tariffs, contact our Reservations Unit at:
Tel: +27 (0)43 705 4400
Fax: +27 (0)86 611 1623/4
Email: reservations@ecpta.co.za

Tarkastad is located in Tsolwana local municipality.

Key Statistics 2011

Total population 1,604
Young (0-14) 31,9%
Working Age (15-64) 58,5%
Elderly (65+) 9,6%
Dependency ratio 70,8
Sex ratio 86,1
Population density 20 persons/km2
No schooling aged 20+ 6,4%
Higher education aged 20+ 15,1%
Matric aged 20+ 24,8%
Number of households 499
Average household size 3
Female headed households 43,5%
Formal dwellings 98%
Housing owned/paying off 70,6%
Flush toilet connected to sewerage 82,6%
Weekly refuse removal 96,4%
Piped water inside dwelling 90,4%
Electricity for lighting 98,4%