Verneukpan, Namaqualand

Imagine, if you will, a place that is bone dry. Bone dry and very, very flat. And as far as the eye can see it remains flat – not a tree, a building or a hill in sight. Although you will see the odd fence because, believe it or not, what surrounds you is farmland.

This is Verneukpan. A 57 km long and 11 km wide salt or mineral pan, just northeast of Brandvlei, between Swartkop and Diemansput, and 90 km south of Kenhardt in the Northern Cape.

It's the kind of rough terrain that when you enquire about the camping facilities you are told there is no shade. And it's absolutely no exaggeration. But then, you don't go to Verneukpan for the accommodation. For this is the quietest place on earth. No people, no noise, no cellphone reception. Only the desert pan, and peace.

The pan is the only thing on the map between Askham and Fraserburg, and it was here that Malcolm Campbell (later Sir) tried to break the Land Speed Record in 1929 in his car named Bluebird, and failed. But his attempt placed Verneukpan on the map.

More stories of the pan and extreme sport include that of Johan Jacobs who died in 2006 whilst driving at the speed of 500 km an hour in an attempt at a new speed record. The remains of his car are still at the pan, the text: “If you think this is scary, read the Bible, it will scare the hell out of you!” painted on its side.

Verneukpan is popular with those who love extreme sports and adrenaline junkies. Bikers, 4X4 fanatics, and the kite sailing, skating, riding, jumping community. The latter because you can guarantee strong winds and completely level ground. But it's also popular with those travellers who seek far off destinations along a road less travelled.

On the pan, all depth and distance perception goes out of whack because of the size of the place, so people can get lost. Which gives credence to the salt pan's name – Verneukpan – Verneuk is Afrikaans for trick, mislead or swindle.

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