Natures Kaleidoscope | 440km

Namaqualand flowers.

NAMAQUALAND

Visit the Namaqualand on your South African holiday. It is named after the Khoikhoi Namaqua people, who settled in the area south of the Gariep (Orange) River with their flocks of fat-tailed sheep some 2 000 years ago. Namaqualand covers 55 000 km2 of quartz-strewn plains, undulating hills, granite outcrops and rugged mountains. Bound in the north by the Gariep River, this vast region stretches southwards to the Olifants River, and extends from the cold Atlantic Ocean in the west to Bushmanland in the east.

Namaqualand is home to over 3 500 plant species, among them the dinstinctive quiver tree, the famous Namaqualand daisy (Dimorphotheca sinuata), bokbaai vygie (Dorotheanthus bellidiformis), gousblom (Arctotis hirsuta) and the beetle daisy (Gorteria diffusa). For a brief few weeks each year, the arid plains are transformed into one of nature's greatest spectacles, the annual wild flower display 1 and 2. The appearance of the flowers depends upon the right amount of rain, as well as follow-up rains two or three months later.

Guest on a South African holiday can enjoy the flower season, which usually begins in early August in the Sandveld along the coast and in the Klipkoppe area around Springbok and Steinkopf, moving southwards and eastwards as the weather becomes warmer. The flowers are at their best between 10:00 and 16:00 on warm, windless, sunny days. Because the flowers orientate themselves towards the sun, they are best viewed from the north side (with the sun behind one's back).

SPRINGBOK

...the commercial centre of Namaqualand, lies in a basin surrounded by imposing granite domes, locally referred to as klipkoppe (rocky outcrops). It was the copper ornaments worn by the Khoikhoi at the Cape that led Governor Simon van der Stel to mount an expedition in 1685 to find the Copper Mountains. The expedition reached the mountains on 21 October 1685; after two weeks of prospecting, three shafts were sunk at what is today known as Van der Stel's Copper Mine near Carolusberg.

The low grade of the ore and logistical problems discouraged mining, and commercial exploitation of the rich ore deposits only became a reality in 1852 when the Blue Mine came into operation. The site of the town was known to the Khoikhoi as Guchas, a name meaning 'springbok', and the early pioneers named the mining village Springbokfontein, which was later shortened to Springbok. Relics of the early mining days include the open-cast Blue Mine west of Springbok, the historic smokestack and the country's first commercial furnace, where ore was smelted between 1866 and 1871.

Among the other places of interest for visitors on a South African holiday are the Anglican Church (1871) - the second oldest church in Namaqualand - the first Dutch Reformed Church, which was used until the inauguration of the Klipkerk (Stone Church) in 1921, and the Synagogue (1929) which is now a museum. The Springbok Lodge houses an extensive collection of over 900 rock, mineral and gemstone specimens. Among the specimens on display are amethyst geodes, unusual quartz crystals from a nearby mine, azurite and dioptise.

GOEGAP NATURE RESERVE

...lies to the southeast of Springbok and covers 15 000 ha of sandy plains interspersed with granite outcrops. Centred around the 4 600-ha Hester Malan Wildflower Garden (proclaimed in 1960), the reserve was enlarged in 1990 with the addition of the farm Goegap, a Khoikhoi name meaning 'fountain'. Many of the nearly 600 plant species recorded are annuals, and the reserve's main attraction is the annual spring flower display 5, when guided tours are conducted.

An extensive collection of succulents can be seen at the Hester Malan Wildflower Garden, and at the nearby information centre visitors can learn more about the flora of Namaqualand. Game to be seen includes gemsbok, springbok, klipspringer, steenbok, bat-eared fox 3 and Hartmann's mountain zebra. Visitors can explore the reserve along a 17-km tourist route suitable for sedan cars, a 4x4 route and mountain bike trails. There are also two short nature walks.

OLD COPPER WAY

The scenic Messelpad Pass was built between 1867 and 1869 after it became necessary to improve the original route along which copper ore was transported from Springbok to Hondeklipbaai, where it was loaded onto ships. Named after the neat embankments of dressed stone, the pass was built by convict labourers - at times, up to 400 convicts were employed on the project. The old jail where the convicts were housed and a cemetery can be seen on the banks of the Buffels River at the foot of the pass, 48 km from Springbok.

Following the completion of the railway line between Okiep and Port Nolloth in 1876, however, the pass ceased to fulfill its original purpose. Beyond the Messelpad Pass, the road winds down the Wildeperdehoek Pass (wild horse corner), presumably named after a miner or prospector's horses which ran wild.

SOEBATSFONTEIN

...meaning 'spring of pleading', is said to have been named when a goatherd, Hendrik Sievert, was shot dead by a band of San, led by Barend Goeieman, in 1798, despite his pleas for mercy.

NAMAQUALAND NATIONAL PARK

The nucleus of this park is the Skilpad Nature Reserve, which was originally created in 1993 to protect the unique flora of Namaqualand. When the national park was proclaimed in 1999, it was expanded by incorporating 50 000 ha of land between the Groen and the Spoeg rivers, while a further 24 000 ha is to be acquired. For most visitors on a South African holiday, the park's main attraction is the mass display of spring flowers, particularly the orange daisy Ursinia cakelifolia, which predominates on the abandoned wheatfields of Skilpad.

In the surrounding veld, however, there is a wealth of succulents and other dainty flowers often overlooked in favour of the spring flowers. Since the park is still being developed, the Skilpad section is only open during the spring flower season. Facilities include a 5-km scenic circular drive, two short nature walks, picnic places and an information centre.

LELIEFONTEIN

The presence of water in an otherwise arid area and the fact that the spring attracted the pastoral Khoikhoi in summer undoubtedly influenced the decision of the Wesleyan missionary Barnabas Shaw to locate his mission station at Leliefontein. Situated east of the Khamiesberg, the mission was established on a loan farm awarded to the Namaquas by the Dutch Governor, Rijk Tulbagh.

Immediately after his arrival on 23 October 1816, Shaw set about building a mission house, a small church, school and other buildings. He also established a garden which produced substantial annual crops of wheat and vegetables. The settlement was named after a member of the lily family, Androcymbium, which grows in profusion in the sandy soil. Of historical interest in this typical Namaqualand village are the neogothic church (1855), old parsonage and an ornamental sundial presented to Shaw.

KAMIESKROON

When the Dutch Reformed Church decided to establish a seat in Namaqualand, the choice fell upon a valley on the farm Wilgehoutskloof, 8 km north of Kamieskroon. The church was inaugurated in January 1864 and became the focal point of a small village. Initially named Bowesville and later Bowesdorp in honour of Dr Henry Bowe, a well-known doctor in Namaqualand, a shortage of water and the narrow valley made expansion impossible.

In July 1924 Bowesdorp was relocated to nearby Kamieskroon, and all that remains of the village today are the ruins of the old church and a few derelict buildings. Kamieskroon itself is named after the distinctive crown on the Khamies Mountains, whose Khoikhoi name means 'grassveld mountain'.

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