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.