South Africa TravelThe Northern Cape, South Africa
Vast expanses of space and silence, drought and blazing summer sunshine. Across the arid landscape, the Orange River flows, at places in a sluggish tide, at others in a powerful explosion of sound and fury. Were it not for the river, much of the region may well have remained bleak and populated only by nomadic bands of Bushmen. Instead, prosperous towns and villages have risen from its banks, and large stretches of once-barren land have been transformed into fields of cotton, Lucerne, dates and grapes.
In addition to the fabulous diamonds discovered which catapulted the city of Kimberley to fame and fortune, and changed the course of history, a rich bounty of alluvial diamonds is mined off the west coast. The wild and lonely western coastline is also one of the world's most prolific fishing grounds, providing yet another source of revenue. Wealth there is too, in copper, but to some, the greatest gift of all lies in the extravagant beauty of Namaqualand's wild flowers. The area is also notable for fine examples of Bushman art, abundant deposits of semi-precious stones, and friendly hospitality. Four major wildlife santuaries and a number of smaller reserves provide endless opportunities for getting back to nature.
Kimberley, "The Diamond Capital of the World", is the largest and most modern city of the Northern Cape, with much to see and enjoy, especially from a historical point of view. Kimberley is also the gateway through which most travellers enter the province.
Also historically interesting, the town of Kurman provides a pleasant base from which to explore the surroundings. Westward, the facilities at Upington offer a relaxing interlude, and from there, it's a short and pleasant drive to the spectacular Augrabies Falls. Wildlife enthusiasts should spend a day or two in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, and those who are looking for an unparalleled adventure should head for the Richtersveld. Visitors to Springbok, in the centre of the country's famous wild flower region, will find fascinating relics of the early copper mining days. Apart from stunning scenery, Calvinia enjoys a pollution-free atmosphere, providing excellent views or stargazing opportunities.
Today, Kimberley's open-cast mines are nearing the end of their productive lives, but along the Vaal River, diggers still sift the gravel for diamonds, searching for the stone which will bring them instant riches. Abandoned diamond fields scattered throughout the region are marked by countless holes, mounds of rubble, rusted machinery and empty shacks.
Southward, the immense, spacious plain of the Great Karoo, covered with grass and acacia trees, forms the backdrop for far-flung towns and villages, old battlefields and epic adventures. This is not a soft, gentle landscape. The wide open spaces and distant horizons are characterised by crisp dry air, clear skies, flamboyant sunsets, brilliant starry nights, and enormous sheep farms. To serve the needs of the farmers, typical South African towns, each dominated by an imposing Dutch Reformed Church, are inhabited by genuine, hospitable people with wisdom that comes from respecting Nature's rules.
The semi-desert wilderness area of the Kalahari supports sweet grasses and water-storing plants, which in turn sustain enormous herds of wildlife, mainly in reserves. The dunes and dry river courses of the Kalahari are also the last refuge of a few nomadic Bushmen (San), living their hunter-gatherer lives in harmony with the natural world.
The green agricultural belt which flanks the Orange River as it nears the Atlantic Ocean provides a lush contrast to the ruggedness of the Richtersveld. Nestled between the river and the ocean, the saw-toothed mountain peaks, winds sculpted boulders and colourful indigenous flora of the Richtersveld have a unique beauty found nowhere on earth.
Along the coastline, small fishing villages have been established to harvest the shoals of fish in the cold Benguela Current sweeping north from the Antarctica. Some boats put to sea with nets; others carry divers and suction pipes to exploit the diamonds that lie on the bed of the sea. The promise of riches brought a tide of humanity to the lonely north-west corner of South Africa.
The Namaqualand copper rush of the 1850s was the catalyst for the evolution of these once undeveloped wastelands. Although the boom years are long over, mining is still carried out in the region. For much of the year, the undulating semi-desert of Namaqualand harbours an unseen treasure house of dormant floral glory. After the right amount of winter rainfall, the landscape in spring is transformed into a carpet of brilliant blooms form one horizon to another.
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