Alexander Bay, Namaqualand

Way up the west coast of South Africa, virtually on the border with Namibia in a region known simply as Little Namaqualand, is Alexander Bay.

There is nothing more northerly than this seaside town that lies on the mouth of the Orange River – the river that feeds the Gariep and Vanderkloof dam and forms not only the south-western boundary of the Free State but later also the international border between Namibia and the Northern Cape.

Alexander Bay has something of an illustrious history. It was in the thick of the 'diamond rush' that gripped this part of the coast after diamonds were discovered here in 1925. Up until recently the town was invisible to the intrepid traveller prepared to head this far north en route to Namibia; closed to visitors and a high-risk area because of the diamonds, bar those with a permit.

Now Alexander Bay organises historic diamond tours and markets itself as the 'Diamond Coast – forever Namaqualand'. Even Google has managed to drive its main road and Google Earth gives you a good idea of the space, the desolation...

There is little more to Alexander Bay than mining houses and wide open, sand-ridden, mine damaged space. Which is where its secrets lie. Now that the diamonds have been well and truly mined, a closer look at the surrounds have yielded a feast of indigenous plants, animals and insects. And the wild, totally unspoilt coastline attracts those for whom getting away from it all is more than simply euphemism.

It gets hot this far up the West Coast – January to April record highs of 42 degrees Celsius, and even the winter months do not drop much below 9 degrees at night. Rain falls on maybe eleven days of the year, and sunshine hours exceed even sun worshippers' expectations – it's the driest town in South Africa.

Head here for: solitude, and guided Shipwreck and Strandveld Trails.

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