Linda & Gerard's SA trip
15th Oct 2012 - 31st Oct 2012 - My First Trip
Vanrhynsdorp to Augrabies
We arrived in Vanrhynsdorp on Monday 15 October and booked into a caravan park just outside town. Vanrhynsdorp has a population of 5225 of which 23% are white and the majority coloured. It is in the Nama-Karoo which is semi-desert succulent vegetation. It is a small town and the post office doesn't even have a fax machine! Our scanner isn't working and as we had 5 batches of scan to email to do, this became a problem. The corner cafe could do it but only his wife knows how to and she wasn't there. Tourist info suggested the municipal office. This is in the RDP housing area and is a community centre that has a media room with 12 computers for the community to use free of charge. They give computer lessons to schoolkids and there are people there to help with any problems. They scanned all 25 pages in 5 different batches and emailed them to me free of charge. The post office charges R5 per page! I will take them a cake tomorrow to thank them!
We decided over the weekend to take over the employing of our drivers & conductors from Big Blue from 1 November so had to urgently apply to SARS for PAYE registration, Workman's Compensation, National Bargaining Council registration and get VIP Payroll set up. All done in Vanrhynsdorp - no problem! So this is what we spent Tuesday doing.
Wednesday 16 October. We went to Nieuwoudtville which is about 50kms from here. The houses are built from sandstone as well as the Neo-Gothic style NG church. To get there you travel on the Van Rhyns Pass one of the last passes built by Thomas Baines. In our travels we have travelled on a good few of his passes. He was a master engineer. We stopped at a waterfall along the way that is 90 metres high. It is quite dry at the moment but it was still lovely to see. We went to the Quiver tree forest which is the second largest in the world. The trees grow up to 4 metres and live for about 400 years. They store water in their trunk which enables them to survive in these arid conditions. The Khoisan people used the tubular branches which they hollowed out,as quivers for their arrows. We then drove to Loeriesfontein which is famous for having one of only two Windmill museums in the world. The other is in the USA. We took a drive on the Papkuilsfontein road to a little restaurant that was unfortunately closed.
We then went to the Knersvlakte. This is hilly terrain covered in quartz gravel and teeming with succulents - acres and acres of them. It is also called the succulent karoo. The name Knersvlakte comes from the "gnashing of teeth" caused by the hard quartz stones as the ox wagons road over them. Mom you would have spent the entire day there looking at the huge variety of succulents -most of which you would recognize and probably had in your collection. There were a few different species of Lithops one which is called baby bottoms.
There was a lot of mining in this area - gysum, zinc, diamonds etc. There are huge open areas with mountains of sand and stones which should really be rehabilitated. The mining has produced different coloured sands from yellow to pink. The soutrivier that flows there is as salty as the sea.
We returned back to camp weary after a full day out and settled down to some wine and a lovely braai. Our braai puts a true South African braai to shame as we only have 1 chicken kebab - Gerard and 1 lamb chop - Linda. See the pic-looks pathetic!
Thursday 18 October and we decided to do a hike in the Gifberg. The mountain gets it;s name from a shrub called Hyaena Poison Bush and was used by the early farmers who crushed the seeds to poison Hyaena. The Bushman also used the crushed seeds for their deadly poison arrows. The Gifberg pass is spectacular and winds up and around the mountains like a snake. Talking of which, we saw a Cape Cobra with it's hood spread and whilst doing our hike, a Puffadder slowly slithered across the path. We first hiked to the spoelgat and potholes. The spoelgat is a hole in the rock with the river dropping through it into a pool. The potholes are like a mini Bourke's Luck potholes. Absolutely beautiful to see and there were also Bushman paintings of 3 woman with huge bums! See pic. We then made some lunch and did 6kms of the 20km hike to a waterfall and more San paintings. Had lunch at the waterfall and a skinny dip in the pools and decided that that was enough walking for one day. One expects the top of the Gifberg to be deserted but there are plenty of farms on top of the mountain. It must be a really harsh place to live and miles from anywhere with the tiny town of Vanrhynsdorp your nearest town. They farm Rooibos, Barley, Oranges and Lemons from what we could see. We are packing up today to move on through Bitterfontein and Garies to a place called Kamieskroon. Not much English around here!
We took some cake to Randall that scanned all our docs for us and did a little shopping and drew some cash as not many places from here on have credit card machines. For the first time ever, I wanted to draw R2500 then the machine said no more than R1500 and it only gave me R500! It had run out of cash. Has this ever happened to any of you? Anyway, thank goodness they have one other machine in Vanrhynsdorp. We also realised that we needed a pump to pump the tyres on this 4X4 trail so can you believe we got the only pump in the town for a 10% discount!!
We left Vanrhynsdorp at about 13h00 with some fresh chicken mayo sarmies for padkos. We have been going through all these 'fonteins as in:
Yzerfontein, Vonkelfontein, Soebatsfontein, Canariesfontein, Tweefontein, Kersboschfontein, Modderfontein, Olyvenfontein, Brakfontein, Grootbrakfontein, Ezelfontein, Wilgehoutfontein, Buffelsfontein, Kootjesfontein, Couragiefontein, Papkuilsfontein, Lookfontein, Quaggafontein, Klipfontein, Biesjesfontein, Silverfontein, Rietfontein, Platjesfontein, Matjiesfontein, Strandfontein, Bitterfontein, Leliesfontein, Loeriesfontein, Eksteenfontein and then we get a sign saying
Where the friggin hell did that come from?????
Anyway we went through Bitterfontein which is a tiny town with 2 claims to fame. It has no water supply so uses borehole water that is de-salinated by the first de-salination plant in the Southern hemisphere and then purified by Reverse Osmosis. The same water I used to buy for the water changes in my marine tank. The second claim to fame is that they mine the world's only green granite. They send this by rail to Cape Town where it is exported.
Then we went through Garies pronounced Garries with a soft G. Nothing happens there. We eventually arrived in Kamieskroon and headed for the caravan park that our last camping neighbours recommended. It was such a lonely sight. Even though it is next to the police station, we still felt that our caravan would not be happy and safe if we left it for a night to do the 4X4 trail. Speaking of which, one of our trucks parked at the police station in Umtata last month and had 23 X 50kg bags of rice stolen off it right under the noses of our dedicated police force! So we decided that we would try the only other caravan park in Kamieskroon which is part of the only hotel in Kamieskroon. Much better!!! And we decided to have dinner at the hotel tonight with rolled stuffed shoulder of lamb or game pie on the menu. Delicious!!! Gerard has connected the TV so we will be able to watch the rugby tomorrow. It is actually freezing today as in 8 degrees and windy and rainy! I have just packed away my winter clothes!!! The electric blanket is on & the heater is going full blast!
We again had the entire caravan park to ourselves and watched spectacular sinsets over the Kamiesberge. Our view was really awesome. They have a Yellow Mongoose here which we had never seen before. We had one that frequented our campsite during the day and it was really cute with a white tip on it's tail. Can you believe there are 33 species of Mongooses in South Africa.
While browsing the net, I came across the Caracul 4X4 trail which goes from Kamieskroon past Hondeklipbaai and back to Garies. It is 200kms and takes about 8 hours, so we decided to overnight in Hondeklipbaai. Here is Gerard's article on the trail which he wants to send in to Getaway and GO magazines.
After having spent six weeks in the Langebaan area during the height of the flower season we started to make our way up towards Augrabies falls and found ourselves overnighting at a tiny dorp called Kamieskroon about 500 km north of Cape Town on the N7.
We booked into the caravan park behind the hotel with the idea of spending a day or two and that is where we came across the Caracal 4x4 Eco trail in the Namaqua National park. Although the park was proclaimed in 1998 it is still being developed and currently doesn't offer much in the way of accommodation but there is a lodge which is being renovated and which will provide a nice break in what is essentially a two day drive.
The recommended starting point is at the Namaqua National Park's offices at the Skilpad wild flower reserve, which lies roughly 20km west of Kamieskroon. This reserve was established in 1998 with 900hectares and has since grown to 150,000 hectares. It lies within the succulent Karoo and has over 6500 plant species of which 40% are endemic. There are still some farmers who have a few years of farming left on their leases, so there are a few gates to be opened and closed. A nominal R100 fee is paid and one is presented with a guide booklet. The actual Eco route only commences about 16 km past this point after one has descended the Soebatsfontein pass.
The route is very well signposted and co ordinates are given for all junctions but a nice addition would be to provide distances for each leg. We eventually set off from Skilpad at 9 30 and took it pretty easy, stopping often to admire the view and reaching Hondeklipbaai, where we had booked in for the night, at about 16 00.
That day saw us going through undulating plains until we got to the Wildeperdehoek pass which is characterized by smooth rock faces and large rounded boulders. We saw numerous antelope including wild horses,Gemsbok, Red Hartebeest, Steenbok and of course Springbok. Two remarkable things worth a mention are that between leaving Skilpad and arriving at Hondeklipbaai some 7 hours later we did not see another person or vehicle. The other thing is the numerous abandoned settlements along the way complete with lonely cemeteries, which only adds to the sense of desolation. Some of the headstones are dated as recent as 2007. There is a shorter option to day one where one cuts out the Wildeperdehoek pass. This pass was built in the late 1800's to transport copper ore from Springbok to Hondeklipbaai which used to be a port for copper ore exports and later a crayfish factory.
The first day was on fairly good roads with one or steep inclines and dongas if you chose the Wildeperdehoek option, however there certainly weren't any sections that would challenge your average 4x4 enthusiast, it simply is not that kind of trail.
After a lovely stay at Die Baai se Bek in Hondeklipbaai we started the morning with a quick look around town and discovered that the university of Stellenbosch is funding a project to investigate the feasibility of farming perlemoen on the west coast. They are making use of the old crayfish factory and have been going for some five years. Perlemoen is only marketable when it is 5 years old. The little town of Hondeklipbaai used to thrive on Diamond and copper mining as well as crayfishing. Man has again, however, depleted all these resources and the inhabitants battle to survive. The population is 540 with 36 whites and the rest coloureds. The coloureds live in RDP houses and survive off grants. The few whites have guest houses or a restaurant. No ATM, no petrol and very dodgy water. The new Caracal Eco route will boost tourism there which is what the town survives on.
Later that morning we set off to continue with the 4x4 trail which we joined 13km inland. We turned south and the first 20 km or so consisted of a teeth jarring, chassis rattling corrugated stretch where we probably averaged 10 km/ h. And then we hit the coast and for some 50 km were treated to spectacular ocean views, sometimes with pristine beaches and often with the sea fragmenting itself on the jagged rocks which make up a big section of this coastline. Once we hit this stretch we discovered that there are numerous little bays and picnic spots which can be accessed from the main road. Not only that but most of these are linked so that it is possible to drive a fairly considerable distance almost within spitting distance of the sea. This was the only stretch where an all wheel drive vehicle was essential as there were patches of talcum soft sand where it became necessary to deflate our tyres. De Beers mining made this 55 km stretch of coastline available to Sanparks on a 99 year lease in 2008. They never mined this area at all so it is relatively untouched by human activity. Apart from only one fresh water spring, there is no fresh water along this stretch. The cold Benguela current however, causes regular mist which nourishes the unique plant communities of this section. Heaviside's Dolphins are endemic to the West Coast and can be seen along this stretch.
Sanparks are busy developing a few campsites which have between 2 and 10 sites each and eco loos. No water available, so no shower facilities.
The Eco trail ends at the cape nature offices at Groenrivier from where one can take a short drive to the lighthouse and the estuary, which is very saline but features the lesser flamingo. From here it's a 73km hop on a gravel road back to Garies, the closest town on the main N7 road. Altogether, from leaving Kamieskroon the day before, we covered 330 km on gravel roads and tracks, plus another 50 km on the tar road back to Kamieskroon, a trip that one would be hard pressed to complete in one day.
The trail is rated easy to moderate and I would strongly suggest taking a pump so that tyres can be inflated after the sandy sections. It would also be a good idea to advise someone of your route and estimated time of arrival as there is very little cell signal along the way. If you are planning to spend the night at Hondeklipbaai remember that there is no fuel to be had and it is also advisable to take your own drinking water.
I would rate this as one of the highlights of our trip.
The following day, we decided to go to Leliefontein which was a coloured settlement during the Apartheid years. It became a mission station in 1816 and comes to life during the flower season of August and September every year. We visited the origin of the fontein ringed with Arum Lilies, hence the name Leliefontein. The spring still runs today and the Arum lilies are still there after 196 years! The little church is cute and one of the locals, Vera, an entrepreneur of note, has built a couple of Matjies huts which are huts made from a frame of saplings covered with woven grass mats. She rents these out to tourists in the flower season with beds, linen etc for comfort. She also has a kookskerm where she prepares traditional Nam meals. The government have since given her a loan to build a few rooms to boost her tourist industry. I was rewarded with a donkey cart passing us on our way out!
A strange thing to see at the hotel in Kamieskroon, was that the owner put plastic shopping bags over the side mirrors of his vehicles. When I asked him about this, he said it was for the wagtails who fight their reflection to death sometimes in the mating season. Apparently the males get very aggressive with each other and sometimes kill each other or themselves thinking their reflection is another male!!
We left for Springbok on 24th October and spent a few nights there just to re-group, do some washing and get our month-end stuff ready. It is the biggest town in the Namaqualand area and survives on tourism and mining. We did a 4X4 trail in the Goegap Game Reserve - Goegap meaning waterhole in Nam. In 1960 Okiep Copper Mining donated 600ha of land to Sanparks for a Wild Flower reserve. This area only gets about 80 to 160mm rain per annum and has temperatures of between 10 and 48 degrees. So, not much to do here! The caravan park we stayed at was really nice and very secure with loads of people coming and going using it as an overnight stop on their way to Namibia.
We left for Augrabies and on the way popped in to see what Aggeneys was all about. It is a small mining town established in 1976 and is between Springbok and Pofadder. Black Mountain Mine is an underground base-metal operation mining zinc, copper, lead and silver. and employs 600 permanent staff. Aggeneys means Place of water in Nam and my goodness, the town is like an oasis in the semi-dessert landscape. It has a golf course that is so green and palm trees line the roads with magnificent lawns everywhere. The spring cannot supply all the water, so water is pumped in from the Orange River 40kms away. A beautiful little town!
Next stop Pofadder where we thought we would spend the night. We didn't even stop! However, we can at least now say we have been to Pofadder! Used in the same way as Kalamazoo and Timbuktu, Pofadder is used to represent somewhere very remote and off the beaten track. It is not named after the snake but after the koranna chief, Klaas Pofadder. Not much more to tell!
We arrived at Augrabies in 38 degree heat with the aircon not working in the cruiser. We booked in for 4 nights planning to do some hikes, chill at the swimming pool etc. The caravan park looked nice enough and we found a site under some big trees for shade and set up camp. It was so hot in the caravan and even in the shade of the trees so we decided to go for a swim and lie at the pool. The water was glorious but the little flies were up your nose, in your ears and eyes and chased us back to the caravan. It was too hot to be inside and too hot in the shade and the flies and miggies were so irritating! Next up a troop of about 12 baboons came marauding through the camp. We were able to defend our camp with a broom but our neighbours had their rooftop tent used as a trampoline which the baboons managed to all but collapse. By the time I saw what was going on, they had shat all over the place. I chased them away with the broom but one couldn't walk around their Landrover without standing in Baboon crap which was buzzing with bluebottle flies by now. They had to move their camp for the night. There are signs in the camp saying Baboons do damage to caravans and tents. At the restaurant there are signs saying The restaurant cannot be held liable for food taken by the monkeys. Do not leave your plate unguarded. Who is ruling what here? How can Sanparks allow these animals to run riot like this? If you cannot keep them out of the park with an electric fence, then have a guard there to chase them! Well, there was noway I was spending another 3 nights there and we would have been reluctant to leave the caravan unguarded. Baboons have been known to rip the flysheeting, force the windows of the caravan open etc. So, the next morning we walked to Augrabies Falls at 06h00 before it got too hot and the flies and miggies started their attack. Incredible what a narrow gorge this mass of water from the Orange River has to squeeze through. We then had breakfast, packed up and went to the office to get a refund. "We don't give refunds " I was told. They didn't know who they were dealing with! Their headoffice phoned me today to confirm the refund would be paid.
Augrabies is on the banks of the Orange River which is the biggest river in South Africa. It is a semi-desert landscape but because of the abundance of water from the Orange River, it has a green belt running along the banks of the river and there is a canal irrigation scheme that is used for flood irrigation of farmlands. Grapes are farmed in abundance as well as potatoes and barley. The soil is very fertile but you wouldn't think so looking at the un-farmed areas that are dry and dusty.
The Orange River starts at Mont Aux Sources in the Drakensberg and flows for 2200kms before flowing into the Atlantic Ocean at Alexander Bay. The Vaal River joins the Orange River in Douglas Northern Cape.
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