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Mention Namaqualand to a visitor to South Africa and wild flowers comes to mind. Yet this spectacular transformation of barren fields to carpets of stunningly beautiful and diverse flowers every spring is not the only attraction in this arid region of the Northern Cape Province. Namaqualand has a fascinating history and the small towns and settlements are filled with colourful characters and their strange dialects and unusual customs. It’s a place where diamonds lie scattered on restricted beaches and once-productive mines have fallen to ruin, many overlooked by fortresses erected on hills during the South African war of 1899 to 1902.
The Cederberg Mountain range falls within the Namaqualand area, as does the Clanwilliam Dam, both regularly visited by holiday makers, boaters, mountain climbers and hikers. Further north, the teal-tinged hills give hints of copper rich rocks.
For a truly enriching experience, take the time to engage with the inhabitants, to enjoy their hospitality and allow them to enthusiastically show you the region’s many attractions.
Top 8 reasons to visit Namaqualand
1. The attractive Clanwilliam Dam is grassed to enjoy a picnic along the banks or on the dam in a leisure craft. While in the area, visit Clanwilliam to sample the snack foods typical to the region: rooibos tea, roosterkoek (bread baked over an open fire) and koeksisters (syrup coated dough).
2. Lovers of the outdoors will appreciate the Cederberg Wilderness Area, criss-crossed with paths leading through strange rock formations, and passing waterfalls, ancient rock art and refreshing rock pools. Be on the lookout for the rare Cape leopard.
3. The VOC Governor Simon Van der Stel travelled to the Okiep area in 1685 to assess a copper find and the shafts dug by his party are still visible on the Koperberg. Okiep has several examples of striking stonework buildings constructed by Cornish miners during the 1870s copper boom.
4. Take a tour of a diamond mine in Alexander Bay on the west coast. Also to be visited is an oyster farm and an area known as Lichen Hill, filled with bright orange and yellow lichen covering rocks and dead plants.
5. The Nieuwoudtville Waterfall Nature Reserve is an excellent stopover to cool off in the stream or just to watch the water cascade down 100m into the dark pool below.
6. Calvinia in the east has a fascinating museum housed in an old synagogue, the exhibits include a four legged ostrich! The town’s 6m post box, created to hide an unsightly water tower, is a common photo stop. Keep an eye out for the unique black Springbok on outlying farms.
7. Travel to the rugged and desolate Richtersveld Transfrontier Park, a world heritage site, to meet the Nama people, direct descendants of South Africa’s first nation, the San. Look out for the legendary halfmens (half-man), a thick cactus-like plant that could easily be mistaken for a human from afar. A 4x4 vehicle is required to visit the park.
8. A trip to Namaqualand is incomplete without buying a pair of Veldskoene (field shoes), handmade and built to last. Grab a pair at either the remote Wuppertal mission station or at the Strassberger Skoene factory in Clanwilliam.
Cape Town International Airport is the nearest international airport to Namaqualand. Both Springbok and Kleinzee have small airstrips for private charters. Car rentals are available at the airport and in Springbok, otherwise order a vehicle online. Taxi services operate in Springbok. Shuttle and tour operators in Cape Town offer transport services, however, a hired car is the best option and a 4x4 vehicle the most practical.
Did you know?
San (Bushmen) hunters would hollow out the branches of the kokerboom (quiver tree) to construct quivers for their poisoned arrows, thus the tree name.
The stem of the common daisy gives an indication of the amount of rain that fell prior to the daisy flowering. The higher the stem, the better the rains were.