The Northern Cape. I expected miles and miles of desert. I even thought it may be a bit bland, somewhat boring. How very wrong I was. While there were indeed, miles of flat, desert-like plains, it was heart-achingly beautiful, with rocky outcrops and lunar landscapes under a bright blue sky that stretched to forever. The people, as warm as warm can be.
Landing in Kimberley, I realise that there’s something about the place… Maybe that it’s named after a woman (I must look that up)? We arrive as the sun sets on an ordinary Wednesday night, but she puts on a show of colour and emits a licentious aroma as we book into the Boy’s Club, I mean Kimberley Club, for the night.
The cigar smoke-soaked wooden-panelled passages and high-ceilinged rooms whisper stories from a town that made its living from sparkling stones, dug from the enormous hole in the centre of town. There’s some kind of conference going on. It’s their ‘conference dinner’, and everybody’s speaking in hushed towns in the dining hall as we explore. I have to squash the 10-year old boy inside me who wants to skateboard past, a beatbox (yes, I’m that old), blaring heavy metal.
Heading north-west to Kuruman along miles of beautiful, tarred road bordered by fields of grass and spring-blooming bushes, we stop in at Gong Gong, a tiny settlement on the Vaal River. Near the clinic, a caravan out of a ‘Roadtrippin’ Across the USA’ movie has retired next to a thorn tree that is split through the middle. Lightning never strikes twice.
A little further up the R31, it’s home time for the school children of Delportshoop, filled with beautiful, old, falling-down houses. A kid at the café makes a zap sign at us, strangers in his town who won’t tell his mother. We don’t know her, so he’s safe.
At Ulco, the air is thick with lime from the mine as we make our way through the village, everything a slightly pale shade, except the trees who are opening their new spring leaves, as yet unpowdered. Rows and rows of identical round-roofed houses, each one trying to outdo the next with his wall paint. The air feels too thick to breathe.
We arrive in Kuruman as the sun is starting to set, driving through its wide, pot-holed streets awash with litter. The air here was not filled with lime, but a strange dilapidation. The Eye, in the centre of town cheerfully spills out clear water into a pond filled with happy fish. It’s the place to go, to hide from the rest of the town.
Sadly, if the Eye could walk and talk, instead of just seeing its fern-filled grotto, it would probably hide its face in shame. By the looks of the streets of Kuruman, Service Delivery left town a good few months’ back, leaving neither a note, nor an excuse.
When a petrol tanker overturns on the N14 between Kuruman and Kathu, closing it completely, it may not be wise to ask Google Maps for an alternative route. You might find yourself at a dead end after 20 km of bone-rattling dust road, where a farmer will tell you that you need to go back and head to Hotazel and then on the back roads to Kathu.
It will, however allow you to meet said farmer – the people of the Northern Cape are friendly and lovely and down-to-earth hospitable – and take a close-up picture of the beautiful flowering bushes that fill the Northern Cape in springtime.
Kathu offered up serendipity by the ton – bumping into family, followed by sweet rock stars and even sweeter shared vodka and Crème Soda from the mini bar, an unexpected fun night out in Small Town, Northern Cape. It’s one of those places, where you expect nothing to happen, and it proves you wrong. Feisty little town.
The cashier in Pick ‘n Pay imparts some wisdom (in case we’d had thoughts of doing some sewing) as we head away from the city lights of Kathu to the quiet of the bush:
“Jy kannie naaldwerk op ‘n Sondag doen nie, jy sal die Here se oog uitsteek.“
(You can’t do needlework on a Sunday, you’ll poke the Lord’s eye out.)
The road from Kathu to Witsand is not for the faint of heart. Seventy kilometres of corrugated dust rewards you with children’s drawing clouds in a heart-piercingly blue sky (see pic at the start of this blog), as your insides rattle and the cobwebs in your head get cleared out.
Witsand is incredible. It’s a nature reserve with some chalets (which are really more like houses in their size!), bungalows and camping sites. The brochure pull of the place are the ‘Roaring Dunes’ – in the middle of pretty Northern Cape bush, these dunes rise above the landscape and roar when the wind blows. They were perfectly silent for us, but that was fine too. Wwe all have those quiet moments.
The thing that makes it so wonderful, I think, is its remoteness. Like I said, the road is a bit of a mission (especially in a non-4X4), so there are few people and there is lots of space. It’s exactly how the bush should be.
Sitting next to the fire, under an enormous Camelthorn tree, I watched tiny bushbuck, mongoose, meerkats and hundreds of birds as they came to drink from the water hole not two metres away. The place has a magical air about it, making you feel as if you’re the only humans on earth.
Later, we brought the meat out to braai and three naughty striped genets snuck through the shadows to try and steal our chops. We slept like the dead in the noisy silence and fresh air of the bush.
Heading toward Upington, it’s almost impossible to describe the unbridled joy and freedom of driving through the Northern Cape under an enormous blue-that-squeezes-your-heart sky, with Dave Mathews loud loud, the Orange River, with her green shawl, zig-zagging through the dry and rocky landscape. It is achingly exquisite.
I must stop now, and I’m only four days into the ten day trip – so much to wax lyrical about. Part two to follow. If you want to see more photos, you can see my album on Stalkbook.