On our way to Kimberley we took a short detour into Barkley West. A small mining town with a bridge across the Orange river, but not just a bridge! Late 1900’s this bridge was built in the UK and then transported to the West Coast of SA and brought to Barkley West by Ox wagon.
Next stop was Wildekuil rock art museum, a site with more than 400 San rock art drawings! We had a private tour around the grounds. Some of the rock art is very clear to distinguish the different animals that were drawn. Next to the rock art we also learned a lot on the Xun! and Khwe San people and their journey to this part of the Africa. Dating back to the war between South Africa, Angola and South West Africa before the independence of Namibia. These San tribes originate for south of Angola and north of Namibia, but during the war the fought on the side of South Africa. Fearing for their lives they relocated in 1990 to this site. Even though they are both San tribes they speak a different language and no one of either tribe speaks both languages... Poverty is also a major problem with more than 90% of the people are unemployed. Next to that school is taught in Afrikaans, which is a very difficult language to learn and drop out percentage is extremely high (not helping to solve the unemployment rates).
In Kimberley we visited the ‘Big Hole’ the largest hand dug hole in the world (1,6 km round, 215 meters deep and now holds 40 meters of turquoise water). It was dug in search of diamonds between 1870 and 1914. Next to that there were also mechanical dug mines, with the deepest mine being 1097 meters deep. The tour gave insight in the history of Kimberley and how in the early days of Kimberly there was rivalry between two diamond companies. The two major players were Barney Barnesto and John Rhodes. In the end Barnesto sold all his claims (small plots in the mining area) to John Rhodes, who got his funding from the Rothchild family, and hence ‘The Beers’ mining company came about. The museum also holds a lot of the original buildings that were relocated to the museumgrounds near the Big Hole and walking the streets gave us a glimpse into the 1880’s mining settlement, constructed using original buildings, including a corrugated-iron church, funeral parlour, sweet shop and bank, as well as a functioning pub/restaurant and guesthouse. Even though there a still many diamonds in that hole (and its surrounding area), nowadays the Beers Diamond company makes more profit running the open air museum than they would by mining them.
During the Anglo-Boer war (1899-1902) around 1500 women and children took refuge in the mines. Before the war the Boers, escaping British rule in the Cape Colony, had been there since the mid-19th century, founding the independent Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek (ZAR; South African Republic) in the North part of SA and establishing its capital in the then frontier village of Pretoria. But as the British turned their attention to the colossal profits being made in the diamond and gold mines, it was only a matter of time before the events that led to the Anglo-Boer War were set in motion. After suffering severe losses, particularly in British concentration camps, the Boers conceded defeat, leading to the ‘Peace of Vereeniging’ treaty and ultimately to the Union of South Africa in 1910.
Mokala National Park
Mokala NP is just 70 kilometers from Kimberly and the latest NP in SA and opened in 2007. The park is named after the Tswana word for ‘camel thorn tree’, the dominant tree found in Mokala and it encompasses grassy plains studded with rocky hills and the trademark trees. Indigenous to Southern Africa, camel thorns can range from small, spiny shrubs standing barely 2m to 16m-tall trees with wide, spreading crowns. Interestingly ‘Camel’ does not refer to the camel, but to the Giraffe, which used to be called ‘Camelpeerd’ and is very fond of its leaves and especially able to extract them without harming itself to the strong and long thorns.
The trees are an important resource for both the people and wildlife living in this harsh region – the local tribes use the gum and bark to treat coughs, colds and nosebleeds and some people even roast the seeds as a coffee substitute. The mammals in the 200-sq-km park include the black and white rhino, roan antelope, Cape buffaloes, giraffes and zebras.
Our campsite (one of six in total) is incredible, it has its own ablutions and overlooks a waterhole, which is visited frequently by kudu and springbok. During our game drives in the park we spotted 4 white rhinos, 2 black rhinos, plenty blue wildebeest, buffelo’s and a lot of different antelopes. In the brochure Wilfred reads an article about the rhinos and learns the funny fact about the origin of their names (believe us, they are both as grey as can be); the Dutch people would call the White rhino ‘wijd’ because of it wide mouth. To the British people it sounded like the word ‘white’ and hence the second sort of rhino was named ‘black’. As mentioned, the white and black rhinos have exactly the same colour, only the head, especially the mouth, looks different and is tuned to their main food source. White rhino’s eat mainly grass and have their nose close to the ground and the black eat mostly leaves from bushes and have their head a bit more lifted in the air. We were very pleased to see the Roan and Sable antelope as these antelopes are endangered species.
Augrabies National Park
From Mokala NP we drove to Augrabies National Park, renowned as the world’s sixth-tallest waterfall, created by the Orange (Gariep) River thundering into a ravine below. On the way we stopped at Die Mas brandy and wine estate. In this region 10% of all South African wines are produced and this a one of the few small independent estates. Most farms grow grapes and sell the grapes to the Orange river Winery which produces 90% of the region’s wine. Wilfred did a brandy tasting and purchased a bottle of the ten years old brandy. On arrival at the Augrabies NP we noticed a familiar car in the parking lot…Ben and Debby (the Swiss couple we shared the container with) are staying there as well. We spent the night braaing and talking until late.
It is also the first campsite were the vervet monkeys are very cheeky…Wilfred is preparing coffee in the morning and only within the few seconds he is getting water from the car…our coffee pack is nicked. Other than the monkeys the campsite is a lovely place and we decided to stay longer before heading to Richterveld Transfrontier park. We spent the next two days doing laundry, cleaning…all the same chores as at home and Wilfred made two water taps at the back of the car, so now we have filtered and unfiltered water taps and not only a tap inside the car.
It is not the best time to visit the falls, which would be shortly after the rainy season. Unfortunately last year the rainfall was minimal and we saw little water in the falls (and plenty of pictures at the reception of how it could be; water would come out of every direction with immense power). The San name of the park is ‘Aukoerbis’, meaning place of great noise, and after rainy-season run-off, its thunderous roar is nothing short of spectacular. We spent an hour or so hopping from one lookout to another, accompanied by fluffy dassies (rodent like mammals, that are actually evolved from elephant like ancestors… according to the museum at Addo Elephant Park) scrambling across giant boulders. The falls crashes into an 18km-long ravine with 200m-high cliffs. The main falls drop 56m, while the adjoining Bridal Veil Falls plunge 75m.
Richtersveld/Ai-Ais Transfrontier Park
In South Africa first attempts to turn the Richtersveld area into a National park started in 1974 and the negotiations with private landowners lasted almost 18 years. Only in 1991 the Richtersveld National park was a fact. In the south of Namibia there was the Ai-Ais National park bordering on the Richtersveld NP across the Orange River. In 2003 a treaty was signed between SA and Namibia to establish the Richtersveld/Ai-Ais Transfrontier Park. The climate of the park is dominated by a subtropical high-pressure belt, which causes aridity of the region. The average rainfall per year is only 82mm in the last 25 years (and we actually felt some drops on the last night, weren’t we lucky ;-)). The area is regarded as a remote inhospitable and only true dessert of South Africa. As we are visiting during the winter the temperatures during the day are around 25 degrees and at night 12 degrees. It was the first time that we didn’t change into our jeans and long sleeves in the evening. We camped two nights on the banks of the Orange River and one night in the Kokerboomkloof (Quiver tree canyon). The landscape is mostly mountainous with loose rocks. While walking at the look out point Wilfred hear a (frightening) hollow sounds while walking on, what he thought was a sold rock… On closer inspection we noticed the rock existed of many layers, sometimes with air in between explaining the hollow sound (like wrongly laid tiles in a bathroom). We were also surprised when entering the park that there is active mining going on in the conservation area and also farming by the local communities. After four days of camping without a hot shower we were very happy to have nice warm water at our campsite in Vioolsdrif, the last night of our stay in South Africa.