NAMAQUALAND is another Northern Cape region whose name conjures up images of both desolation and magic. According to an oft-quoted saying about the area, in Namaqualand you weep twice: once when you first arrive and once when you have to leave. This is the land of Khoikhoi herders called the Nama: the Little Nama, who lived south of the Orange River, and the Great Nama, who lived north of the river in what is now Namibia. Sparsely populated, the region stretches south from the Orange to the empty Knersvlakte plains around Vanrhynsdorp, and from the Atlantic coast to the edge of the Great Karoo. Above all, Namaqualand is synonymous with the incredible annual display of brightly coloured wild flowers that carpet the landscape in August and September, one of South Africa’s most compelling spectacles. Even outside flower season, swathes of orange, purple and white daisies emerge, and there is a tenacious beauty about this dry, empty landscape of mountain deserts, mineral-bearing granite hills and drought-defiant succulents.
The N7 highway between Namibia and Cape Town cuts across Namaqualand, offering one of the most scenic drives in the country. At its northern end, at the junction with the dusty N14 from Upington and the Kalahari, lies the region’s capital, Springbok. This is the best base for flowers – the nearby Namaqua National Park provides reliable displays even in years of low rainfall, when displays elsewhere may be muted – and for visiting the Province’s remote northwestern corner: the Diamond Coast, stretching from Port Nolloth to the Namibian border. The harsh but spectacular Richtersveld Transfrontier Park stretches inland, bisected by the Orange River – rafting on which ranks high among the region’s attractions.Read More
The semi-arid expanse of northern Namaqualand is where the Karoo merges into the Kalahari, and both meet the ocean. If it weren’t for the discovery of copper in the 1600s, and more recently of alluvial and offshore diamonds washed down from the Kimberley area by the Orange River, the region might well not have acquired any towns at all. Fresh water is scarce, and its presence here ensured the survival of SPRINGBOK, the region’s capital, after its copper mines were exhausted.
Attractively hemmed in by hills, Springbok is the main commercial and administrative centre of Namaqualand, and an important staging post at the junction of the N7 and N14 highways. Lying 400km southwest of Upington, and just over 100km south of the border with Namibia, it makes a pleasant base for visiting northern Namaqualand’s flower fields in August and September or a springboard for visiting the coast, and it’s a good place to arrange trips to the Richtersveld Transfrontier Park.
Springbok’s main action is centred on the mound of granite boulders next to the taxi rank in the town centre. Called Klipkoppie (“rocky hill”), this was the site of a British fort blown up by General Jan Smuts’ commando during the Anglo-Boer War. A few hundred metres up from Klipkoppie, at the back of town, a gash in the hillside marks the Blue Mine, the first commercial copper mine in South Africa, sunk in 1852. Recent activity here has been in search of gemstones – previously ignored in the frantic hunt for copper ore – and zinc. A short trail winds up to a good viewpoint over town. You’ll find a good selection of gemstones for sale at Springbok Lodge, together with an excellent display of mineralogical specimens from all over the globe.
Viewing the flowers of Namaqualand
Viewing the flowers of Namaqualand
The seeds of the spectacular flowers of Namaqualand – daisies, aloes, gladioli and lilies – lie dormant under the soil through the droughts of summer, waiting for the rain that sometimes takes years to materialize. About four thousand floral species are found in the area, a quarter of which are found nowhere else on Earth. Although it’s difficult to predict where the best displays will occur, for more or less guaranteed flowers you can head for the Skilpad section of Namaqua National Park or to the Richtersveld Transfrontier Park, with its ocean-mist-fed succulents.
One indication of where the displays will occur is winter rainfall; flowers follow the rain, so early in the season they will be out near the coast, moving steadily inland. Temperature is also a factor, meaning that on cool or cloudy days displays are muted.