Oasis of the Kalahari | 545km

Moffat Mission.

KURUMAN

The strong spring surfacing at Kuruman has attracted people for thousands of years. The early Tswana inhabitants named it Gasegonyane, or 'little water calabash'. With a daily flow of 20-30 million litres of water, Die Oog (The Eye) - as it is known locally - is the biggest natural spring in the southern hemisphere. The abundance of water produces an unexpected swathe of green amid the barren plains, and Kuruman is justly known as the Oasis of the Kalahari.

The Second Eye, on the eastern outskirts of the town, has been developed into a holiday resort, a great place to stay for guests on a South African holiday. To the north of the town is the Kuruman Moffat Mission 2, established by Scottish missionary, Robert Moffat, for the Bathlaping people in 1824. Within a few years, the mission 3 and 4 developed into a thriving community and became widely known among travellers and missionaries.

Among the buildings to seen at the site are the 800-seat stone church (completed in 1833), the school room (1829), the Moffat homestead (1826) and the Livingstone Rooms, where famous Scottish explorer and missionary, David Livingstone, lived in 1853.

Also of interest are the town's bird sanctuary, where 115 bird species have been recorded, the 1 131-ha Billy Duvenhage Nature Reserve and the Kalahari Raptor Centre, where injured and ill raptors are rehabilitated. Kuruman is the principal town of the Kalahari and the commercial centre for the surrounding stock farms and mines. Minerals and gemstones occurring in the area include iron ore, manganese and tiger's eye.

KATHU

Surrounded by a dense 'forest' of camel thorn trees, Kathu owes its existence to the rich iron ore deposits which lie under the acacia woodlands. The town was established in 1972 to serve one of the five largest open-cast iron ore mines in the world, situated on the outskirts of the town.

OLIFANTSHOEK

Guests on a South African holiday can visit this town which was established at the foot of the Langeberg in 1895 as a centre for the surrounding cattle farms.

WITSAND NATURE RESERVE

To the west of the Langeberg range, the characteristic orange sands of the Kalahari unexpectedly give way to a field of stark white dunes and natural vleis that form the focal point of the Witsand Nature Reserve. This quirk of nature has been created by the continual leaching of the red oxide coating of the quartzite grains by water from two underground reservoirs.

With a height of between 20 m and 60 m, the dunes extend over an area 9 km long and 4 km wide. Another major attraction for visitors on a South African holiday is the Brulsand, or Roaring Sand, at the southern edge of the white dunes. Here, the white sand overlying the red dunes makes an ominous rumbling sound when the surface is disturbed. This phenomenon has been attributed to friction between the uniform-sized sand grains and the absence of the iron oxide coating.

A third requirement is dry air, as the dunes do not produce any sound when the sand is moist. Witsand Nature Reserve offers a choice of accommodation types, and facilities include swimming pools, a ground-level bird hide and nature trails.

GRIQUATOWN

...takes its name from the Griqua people, who settled along the Gariep (Orange) River under their leader Adam Kok in the early 1770s. Pastoralists of Garigriqua Khoi and mixed origin, they were also joined by displaced Khoisan, Basters and fugitives, and by the latter part of the 1800s they dominated the middle Gariep River area.

The town began its life as a mission station established by the London Missionary Society after Cornelius Kok was persuaded to settle near a spring in 1804. Originally known as Klaarwater, the name was changed to Griquatown during an inspection of mission stations in the interior by John Campbell, a director of the society.

Visitors to Griquatown can see the grave of the Griqua leader, Niklaas Waterboer, and the old mission house, now the Mary Moffat Museum. Among the exhibits is a pulpit made from local timber and packing cases by Robert Moffat.

POSTMASBURG

...was originally the site of a mission station named Sibilhong founded by the London Missionary Society. It later became a village of the Griquas who called it Blinklip - a reference to the numerous shiny hematite and specularite stones littering the ground. In 1892, it was founded as a religious centre for the Reformed Church congregation and named in honour of the Reverend Dirk Postma, a founder member of the church.

The town lies in an area rich in minerals: diamonds were discovered near the town in 1918, and the old Posmas Mine was exploited to a depth of 45 m before the diamonds ran out, while manganese has been mined at Beeshoek, northwest of Postmasburg, since 1935.

DANIŽLSKUIL

...like many other South African towns, owes its existence to the presence of a spring, around which a centre for the surrounding farming community gradually developed. The Tswana inhabitants of the region knew the spring as Tlaka le Tlou, or Tlaka lo Tlou, meaning 'elephant reeds', and apparently refers to an elephant killed in the reeds near the spring. The Afrikaans name means 'Daniel's pit' and may stem from the resemblance of a 6-m-deep hole in the limestone to the biblical lion's den braved by Daniel.

Following the discovery of limestone and diamond deposits in the area, DaniŽlskuil has become an important centre for the nearby mines. Points of interest in and around the town are a British blockhouse built during the South African War and the Gaol, a natural limestone sinkhole erroneously said to have been used as a prison by Griqua leader, Adam Kok.

WONDERWERK CAVE

...was formed approximately 800 000 years ago when rainwater charged with carbon dioxide percolated along cracks in the dolomite rock, which eventually dissolved to form a cavity extending 140 m into the hillside. With a floor area of 2 000 m2, this cave provided a perfect home for Stone Age people and is one of the few caves in South Africa to be occupied as far back as the Earlier Stone Age. Visitors on a South African holiday can see a vast amount of archaeological relics recovered from the site, such as hand axes, decorated ostrich egg shell, cleavers and bone arrow-points.

One of the most significant finds, however, was a small slab of dolomite rock decorated with an engraving, dating back some 10 200 years. Near the entrance to the cave, a variety of animals are depicted in black, yellow, ochre and white rock paintings, while a beautiful stalactite is unlikely to escape attention. The cave was not only home to early humans: from 1909 to 1911, the Bosman family lived in the cave while building their farmhouse, and in the early 1940s they exploited the cave to a depth of 35 m for bat guano.

Although the archaeological material taken from the cave is displayed at the McGregor Museum in Kimberley, displays on the cave's geology and archaeology at the site museum make a visit well worthwhile.

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