The Northern Cape is a vast province. It occupies a chunk of South Africa’s north western territory, curving around the southern projection of Namibia, sharing parts of the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park with Botswana, and bordering on the Eastern Cape’s Venterstad, and the Free State’s Christiana.
People head to the Northern Cape to disappear. It isn’t difficult given the countless little towns about which nobody has heard – Melkboom, Breeshoek, Aggeneys, Rooiputs and Hotazel are just a few of them.
All that remains of the country’s aborigines, the KhoiSan (the collective term for five main groupings of the San, Griqua, Nama, Koranna and the Cape Khoi) live in its extremities, their culture celebrated on the periphery by the few who visit places like Riemvasmaak, Lekkersing and Khuboes.
To visit is to experience the unusual. Banal this countryside is not. For buried in amongst the rocky landscape, little towns, byways and gravel roads are at least 10 oddities that distinguish the Northern Cape as a gem of a place to visit…
If you want to ascribe classic Northern Cape to any one feature then it has to be the corbelled houses found around the towns of Fraserburg, Carnarvon and Williston. The trekboere (migrant stock farmers) who headed into the interior of the Northern Cape were hard-pressed to build dwellings and granaries from the bushes and odd Acacia trees that dotted the landscape and so they turned to dolerite and sandstone, of which there is no shortage.
The Halfmens (half human), or Noordpool (North Pole) trees, together with camel-thorn and quiver trees, are synonymous with the Northern Cape’s landscape, particularly in the Richtersveld. They look more like little heads with Afro hairstyles poised on the end of long trunks than plants, hence their name. Interestingly the trees are used for arrow poison as their sap is poisonous.
PELLA’S KULTUUR KOFFIE KROEG
Ouma Toekoes is Pella’s unofficial tourism officer. In her replicas of the traditional Nama hut, or matjieshuis, she offers tourists who are brave enough to venture this far a place to overnight. These huts come complete with modern amenities (she is busy building one without any of the modern comforts, by popular demand). And for those just passing through, then a home-brewed cup of coffee and a traditional Nama sweet treat will do just as well.
THE ANNUAL BURNING OF ART
Every year a group of almost 10 000 people come together on Stonehenge Farm in the Tankwa Karoo to wear elaborate costumes, create decorated ‘mutant vehicles’ and burn art. The event is a form of creative expression where free spirits gather to create a temporary city based on radical art, self-expression, self-reliance and a sense of unity. Money has no role at the festival as Africaburn fosters giving and letting go of material goods to reclaim the essence of human nature.
THE BOERE STAAT OF ORANIA
Just inside the Northern Cape border, on the province’s western flank with the Free State, is a self-governed Afrikaner state known as Orania, an ‘intentional community’ where, two decades after the end of apartheid, only white Afrikaans people live. Self-determination, or discrimination – visit to decide.
THE CATHEDRAL IN DIE MIDDEL VAN NÊRENS
In Pella, 25 km from Pofadder, is a palm date oasis where you will find a yellow cathedral. It isn’t just any cathedral, despite its position so far from anywhere. This beautiful building took Brother Leo Wolf, and Father Simon, seven years to build from a picture in an encyclopaedia (there cannot be many places in the world that can make such a claim). The resident nuns will be only to happy to give you a tour.
THE GIANT POSTBOX OF CALVINIA
This is not simply a large postbox, it’s a larger than life postbox. For some reason the people of Calvinia decided that an old water tank on the grounds of the Dutch Reformed Church would look better as a postbox. It was that, or demolish it. Clearly a six-foot high postbox has its charms.
THE PUT SONDER WATER
Putsonderwater (well without water) really does exist, it isn’t just a metaphor for the middle of nowhere. It is a railway station off the R383 from Kenhardt (not a great dirt road; you may need a 4×4). It’s a ghost town, though. The railway houses are overgrown with grass, and the old hotel and trading store stand without windows. The only thing in use is the railway line, on the Upington to De Aar line.
THE RABBIT THAT LIVES IN THE BANKS OF RIVERS
There are only 250 living adult riverine rabbits (long ears, black-brown stripe on lower jaw; dark fluffy tail) in the world. Known also as the bushman rabbit a small population lives in the Anysberg Nature Reserve, and on farms around Beaufort West, in the Western Cape. But otherwise you’ll find them in the ganna bush of seasonal riverbeds on farms around Loxton, Carnarvon, Calvinia, Sutherland, Victoria West and Fraserburg. Which means their very survival depends on the co-operation of conservation organisations and Northern Cape farmers.
WIND FARM WITH A DIFFERENCE
The Northern Cape is home to three large-scale wind energy projects supplying 360 megawatts of electricity to the grid. But visit Loeriesfontein and you’ll see a wind farm with a difference. A collection of 27 windmills at the Fred Turner Museum, one of only a handful of such unique collections around the world, turn eerily in the wind on an average day.