Ah, road tripping. There’s nothing quite like it. Pacing through the barren South African landscape, iPod cranking the soundtrack to the unwritten adventure you’re embarking on and padkos making its way round the car. This was the scene of the beginning of a recent fieldtrip with two colleagues to the beautifully sparse Northern Cape to visit partcipants along two of Open Africa’s self-drive travel routes.
Our first stop was Garies, a one-horse town in the middle of Namaqualand, which consists of one main road peppered with a cluster of houses and shops that are built on the banks of the Garies stream.
As we pulled into the town, it was difficult to get a real sense of it. The colourful houses seemed to mask a certain sadness – as if the town had been forgotten. We pulled into the warm and charming Sophia’s Guesthouse to stretch our legs, crack a beer and enjoy some Northern Cape hospitality over a good, old-fashioned braai where hostess Elizna de Bruyn made this agricultural town feel more homely to me with one flash of her infectious smile.
Meeting with participating businesses along the Kamiesberg Route, located in Namaqualand, practising our Afrikaans and brainstorming ideas for the route the following day added an element of authenticity to our trip. After all, how often do people travel through towns, soaking up its culture and heritage but barely speaking a word to the locals?
Known best for its magnificent wild flowers from July to September, the Namaqualand district doesn’t see nearly enough visitors in its off-season when the mountains are often covered in snow. Why people wouldn’t want to venture into the Northern Cape and meet its colourful inhabitants is beyond me. Seeing their passion for the area and their excitement at the prospect of travellers visiting their small yet humble establishments was intoxicating and opened my eyes to the work Open Africa is doing on the ground.
We hit the N7 again and headed north to Port Nolloth, located just below Namibia on the west coast. As a humble (ahem) Capetonian, any western coastal town feels like a home to me despite its lack of mountains and I was immediately pleased as we slowly rolled into town.
There’s something eerily comforting about Port Nolloth. Perhaps it’s that characteristic west coast mist that rolls in every afternoon in a ghostly shroud, conjuring up images of long-forgotten ship wrecks submerged below the cold Atlantic. Or perhaps it’s the famous copper and diamond mining history that gives this sleepy fishing town its feeling of melancholy. Either way, I liked it.
As the temperature plummeted, we cozied up for the night with Johan de Waal, who runs 4×4 tours into the nearby Richtersveld and entertained us with anecdotes of travellers, history and life in Port Nolloth over a delicious home-cooked meal and
plenty of a few beers. His passion for his work taking travellers into the Richtersveld left me enthralled, so much so that I plan on taking a tour into the famed Northern Cape reserve with Johan in the not-too-distant future. Watch this space!
I may have only visited a couple of towns but despite its vastness, the Northern Cape has some serious hidden treasures just waiting to be found… you just need to know where to look.
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