The last time we visited the Kalahari Gemsbok National Park was in 1987, so this year we knew that it was time for a return visit.
It was raining heavily when we left Somerset West in our Fiat Ducato motorhome, but I wasn’t worried… the Kalahari would be dry!
We stopped for something to eat at the Potbelly restaurant near Klapmuts, and then a short way down the road, we turned into the Windmeul Wine Cellar for a box of Chenin Blanc.
From there, we headed to Wellington, and took the R44 to Porterville. We had just passed Saron and Riebeeck Kasteel when the heavens opened and we had to switch the wipers to double-speed to be able to see. We turned in to Gouda to see if we could visit the hotel, but everything was closed. Finally, just after Porterville, the heavens cleared. Driving up the Piekenierskloof Pass, we looked back to see the rain still falling near the coast. The N7 from the bottom of the pass to Clanwilliam has recently been upgraded, so driving all along the Olifants River is now a pleasure.
At Klawer, we stopped at the Wimpy for coffee before heading out again to tackle the 8km-long Van Rhyns Pass up to the plateau, and on to Nieuwoudtville. We arrived in Calvinia around 16h00. It’s a beautiful, clean town, and we saw signs everywhere of the wealth of days gone by. The caravan park at the centre of town was abandoned, so we found a stand at the Klipwerf Guest House. It has three sites for caravans, each with its own ablution.
The guest house is named after the farm Klipwerf, from which the famous Klipwerf Boere Orkes allegedly got its name. The current owners said that the band started on the stoep of the farmhouse, and that the wife’s grandfather had played the accordion.
After setting up our camp, we took a walk to the nearby primary school, where we saw a rugby match in action. Everyone we passed waved and greeted us… country hospitality at its best.
The rugby match was between Calvinia and Lutzville, and the boys all played barefoot. From the cheers of the crowd, you’d have sworn that it was the Springboks taking on the All Blacks. The rugby was a running game, with not a lot of kicking… the SA coach should look for new talent here! In the end, Lutzville won the game by seven to five.
The next morning dawned with a chilly western wind that forced us to put on an extra layer of clothing. Our plan for the day was to visit Calvinia’s museum, something I’d missed out on before.
Part of the museum is the old Jewish Synagogue that was built in 1920. It was donated to the municipality in 1968. This is one of the most beautiful rural museums that you could visit, and gives you an idea of the Calvinia of old. Back in the day, over 170 Jewish families called Calvinia home; today, their businesses are nowhere to be seen.
Brandvlei to Oranje Rust
After our museum visit, we headed about 145km out of town to arrive in Brandvlei. My father’s family came from this area. The big, old NG church stands guard over the little town.
But, what a shame: this town was barely alive! Every yard was swept clean and there was no speck of green anywhere. I wondered about the origins of the town…
We headed straight through, and after just over 150 km up the R27, we came to Kenhardt. This town was a bit more lively. Well, it was a Friday.
Driving past a group of men under a pepper tree in front of the liquor store, we saw Ouma Miemie’s Farmstall and Coffee Shop, decorated with tin plates on the wall. This looked like a good place to find some coffee and milk tart, so we pulled over.
Sitting on the stoep was a big man with tattoos on his arms, earrings in both ears, and African bangles on his wrists. I walked closer to introduce myself and to ask whether we could join him on the stoep for some coffee and milk tart.
He told us that his name was “Groot Flip Huyser”, and he was originally from Coligny in West Transvaal, where he used to be a miner. Between 1968 and 1974, he was a stoker on steam trains, but now he was the owner of Oma Miemie.
Flip is a big man who could probably give any prop in the Springbok team a go, but when I asked him about life on the steam engines, he became so nostalgic that there were tears in his eyes. Flip told about the big Garret 4068 and 4079 that they called “Kombuis” because the cabin was so hot. Then there was the 19D with the nickname of “Nineteen Dollie” (something to do with the number of front wheels), and the other 19D, called “Buck Eye”. The NC25 was called “Gonsdonkie” because of the way it blew out steam. And, lastly, there was the small S-class, known as “Makkedas”. I wished that I could spend the whole day on the stoep with him, but we had to head on.
Our next stop was Keimoes, where I greeted an old friend, Tekkies Geldenhuys. His shop’s name is Tekkies, and the sign beneath reads, “Kom loer bietjie in”.
Our stop for the night was Oranjerus Resort, right on the bank of the Orange River. We spent our day here in complete relaxation, listening to the river and to the birds chirping in the green trees.
While on our over-four-hour’s drive to Kgalagadi Lodge, we had to stop in Upington to swing by Wickens butchery and stock up on some meat and sausage. If there’s one thing that a South Arican cannot resist, it’s the smell of lamb chops on the braai. In fact, there was a young man busy braaiing on the stoep of the butchery.
For breakfast we had sosaties, boerewors and lamb ribs… and it was only that evening that I discovered I’d left my cholesterol pills at home.
The Kalahari was green after the rains, and veld flowers were everywhere to be seen. Driving in the direction of Mata Mata, we were overwhelmed by the scenic beauty – green grasslands between sand dunes and trees.
I suspect visitors see fewer animals at waterholes because water and food is so abundant. You do see many gemsbok, rooihartebees, and (of course) springbok. The birdlife is also amazing.
We were lucky enough to see a pride of lions take down a giraffe, and we also saw a family of cheetahs that had caught a springbok. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw gemsbok standing less than 30 metres from where the cheetahs were feeding.
The campsites at Kgalagadi Lodge are luxurious and beautiful, situated between the red sand-dunes, and each with its own ablution facility, roof for shade, and braai. The resort was built by a farmer from the area, and is very well laid out. Kgalagadi Lodge is a good alternative if Twee Rivieren is full. There is a quaint restaurant with a small shop that sells fresh bread every day.
The manager’s Jack Russel, called Juco, came visiting us one night, and even came inside to overnight in our bed!
We met some very interesting people here: three youngsters from New Zealand. They were driving from Cape Town to Tanzania in a rented Land Rover. Their trip would take them from the Cape to Namibia up the west coast, then to Etosha, Chobie in Botswana, and on through Zambia and Malawi.
After four days at Kgalagadi Lodge, we cruised out to a picnic spot just past Melkvlei. It was more than 50km, but we’d decided that that was as far as we’d go for the day. We parked our motorhome beneath a big tree and unpacked the camping chairs – this was one of the spots in which people are allowed out of their vehicle.
It was a beautiful day, a mild 35 degrees, and we had Jim and Evelyn Smith, from Noordhoek in the Cape, as company.
Jim told us to go and take a look at the lion sleeping under a bush just 100 metres from where we were sitting… and there he was! The big animal lay sleeping there for the entire three hours that we spent beneath the tree, only moving a paw and swinging its tail every now and then.
Homewards down the West Coast
It’s tough to say goodbye to the Kgalagadi. On our way back, we again stayed on the banks of the Orange River. Looking out over the water, with a Cape Pienang curry with lamb shanks in the pot, I thought about what a good impression the friendly people of the Northern Cape make.
We saw even more of this the next day, when we stopped at Oma Miemie’s again for coffee and a sandwich. This time, Flip told us that he had also been a motorbike rider, and showed us his biker jacket with all its medals.
We retraced our route all the way down to Brandvlei, where we again stopped at Voorsorg butchery to stock up on biltong. Then it was onwards to Calvinia, where we dropped in at the historic Hantam House for coffee and freshly-baked scones with butter, jam and cream. We refuelled in Vanrhynsdorp and noticed that the vineyards next to the Olifants River looked promising.
By that time it was almost 16h00, and we were still heading through Vredendal towards Doring Bay on the west coast… maybe there’d still be time to get a snoek for the braai!
And, luckily, we were just in time to catch the last boat coming in. At first they didn’t want to sell their catch, but I negotiated a fat snoek for just R50. How does one determine the price of snoek? Even if it had cost R150, it wouldn’t have been too expensive for me!
Our camp for the night was in Strandfontein, right up against the ocean. The camp was filled with caravans and tents, there were people sitting out on the grass, and there were fires here and there. It was an idyllic afternoon – that place isn’t called “The Jewel of the West Coast” for nothing. A thick bank of mist on the horizon warned of an approaching cold front, and the weather report predicted rain, so I lit my fire early; I couldn’t wait for that fat snoek.
That night, I heard the rain on the roof of the motorhome, and pulled the blanket a bit more tightly around me.
We woke the next morning, having now been more than a week on the road, to a misty and rainy day. The ocean was rough and the waves big. It was definitely not the day to try to catch snoek. We also decided to stay a little longer, not wanting to drive in the rain. We read our books, listened to music, and drank a glass of wine.
Saturday came, and it was a day of sunshine. This was the West Coast at its best! It was time to go home, but first we had to swing past Doringbaai to buy a couple of frozen snoek.
‘With or without the head, meneer?’ they asked.
With the head, of course; it’s the most delicious part!
We drove through Vredendal because the dirt road would be a bit wet after the rain, and we stopped for breakfast in Klawer before tackling the N7. This was a long weekend, and we saw nothing but 4x4s and caravans and trailers and bakkies, all fully loaded. And the tough guys’ BMW 1200s were red with mud!
We finally arrived back home in Somerset West.
Once again, this had been one of the best trips, and the people of the Northern Cape are incredible. Go and visit them!