Having just travelled nearly 500 km — over 200 km of which was on exacting dirt tracks — I was very relieved when I finally arrived at Daberas Guest Farm.
My travelling partner, David Lowe and I had spent the previous two evenings camping at Kwass se Baai in the Namaqua National Park. The contrast between the seaside venue we’d left earlier in the day, to this gemstone and mineral rich region on the western border of the Augrabies National Park, couldn’t have been starker.
A bonus for David was he didn’t have to put up his tent and inflate his mattress for our stay, because a permanently erected dome tent, complete with a stretcher bed, sits on a raised concrete plinth and is available for tired and lazy guests like ourselves to use at no extra charge.
There are seven stands within the ‘Outpost’ campsite, but the campsite is only hired out to one group at a time to ensure peace and privacy. Taps are shared and while the water is brackish, drinking water can be provided by your hosts.
Number of stands: 7
Electricity: No (solar-powered lighting in ablution block)
Pets allowed: No.
Tariffs: From R130 p.p.p.n at the Outpost campsite and between R350 to R600 p.p.p.n for accommodation in the various styles of cottage accommodation.
With my rooftop tent popped and the essential kitchen stuff and grocery crates unloaded into the food prep and braai area, there was little for me to do but crack a cold beer and watch my co-pilot making a large braai fire. It was a cool evening as is common in these climes during the late winter months and it was a welcome respite from the almost 30° C temperatures we’d experienced earlier on in the day.
The Augrabies region, particularly moving westwards from the falls through the rows of weathered granitic mountains and massive gneisses towards Pella, is one of my favourites. Authors of Geological Journeys (Struik, 2006) Nick Norman and Gavin Whitfield describe what to look out for on a trip downstream in the region they label as a “Geological Paradise”, and it’s fairly typical of the area:
“A trip or hike downstream will reveal pink-orange, amazingly shaped, weathered granite-gneiss outcrops, including spectacular dome-shaped masses of exfoliating granite, bands of black-weathering amphibolite and patches of quartz-rich pegmatite debris.”
And if you, like me, love rocks and the way their various forms come together in nature, but are blinded by all the idiosyncratic geological speak; I would highly recommend you take the guided “Geo-Tour” with host Kobus; as we did the morning after our arrival.
Apart from showing us fascinating things like dolerite intrusions, garnet-studded rocks and other geological wonders, Kobus told us of the time that the Germans and British mined the plentiful tungsten found on either side of the Gariep River. The Germans apparently discovered its presence first in what is now Namibia, and much to the British military’s chagrin put its terrific metal-penetrating and strengthening properties to use in munitions and armaments made for their Second World War effort.
20 km Grade 2-4 self-drive 4×4 trail is free for guests
Guided 4×4 dune driving at nearby Vaalsand
Guided “Geo-Tour” conducted by host, Kobus van Coppenhagen
Day-visit to the nearby Augrabies National Park
Walking the labyrinth
Game-spotting, walking, bird-watching and stargazing
Reading, chilling and unwinding
Of course, when the Brits discovered how effective the German tungsten-carbide armour piercing shells were they soon started building up their own stockpile of this strategic substance by mining it wherever they could — like in the northern hills of the Cape Colony.
But our “Geo-tour” with Kobus was certainly not all about geology. David and I learned a lot about the interesting local flora and fauna as well. The ‘Soutboom’ (Tamarix usneoides) was probably the most fascinating as when you break off a small section and hit it into your open palm; it’s as if you’ve just emptied a salt pot into your hand. A resource I’m sure the nature-conscious San would have used to salt their food or even preserve their meat.
Guided 4×4 driving trips to the Vaalsand dunes are also on offer. And apart from the exhilarating dune-riding experience itself (watch out for “Ambush Hill”) the added bonus of doing this is that you get to ride through sections of the game-rich Augrabies National Park on your journey to and from the dunes. On our return journey to Kobus’s house to pick up his wife, Hannecke, for our dramatic sun-downer experience atop the Swartberg later, we garnered good sightings of giraffe, kudu, zebra and hartebeest.
And the fact that Kobus and Hannecke had captured numerous sightings of leopard on the motion-sensitive cameras they’ve installed around their 10,000 hectare guest farm, made taking a leak in the bush later that night quite a thrilling experience. There are ablutions with 3 porcelain flush toilets (1 is separate from the 2 others with showers); 2 gas-geyser-warmed showers and two hand basins.
I decided to walk the rose quartz-lined labyrinth adjacent to the campsite before we left the next morning. For those of you who have never tried the labyrinth experience, there’s nothing scary or esoteric about it. It’s simply a way to focus your mind in the moment as you walk one direction in and another on the way out.
And, should you hear any murmurings from your inner voice, your ancestors, God or the universe, so much the better.
By Nick Yell