The first spring rains ignite a natural celebration of life in the dry winter landscape of Namakwa, one of the most diverse regions in the province. A multicoloured wild-flower carpet grows almost overnight, enticing thousands of people to visit the area and share in the bounty of Mother Nature. In the Richtersveld, the halfmens (“half human”) succulent stands guard over the flowers, with its head always turned north. As you follow the setting sun to the west, you can hear the call of the Atlantic Ocean. Just over the next dune, the clear blue waters shimmer in the last light of day and the West Coast stretches for miles. Fishing and diamond mining are the main sources of livelihood for the people who live here.
The Namakwa tourism region covers the western side of the province and includes Namaqualand, the Hantam Karoo, the Richtersveld and the West Coast. The cold Benguela Current of the Atlantic Ocean causes the region’s dry climate. Namakwa falls within South Africa’s winter rainfall area and even in a good year, the rainfall may only be as high as 150 mm.
At night, the stars that shine over this large expanse of land resemble the lights of a city, far off in the galaxy. The Milky Way is laid bare, inviting us to contemplate our place in the universe. Such is the quality of stargazing in this area that the South African Astronomical Observatory has established its premises in the town of Sutherland.
Namaqualand can be a harsh and stony land but, soon after the winter rains, it is blessed by the abundant hand of Mother Nature, who takes advantage of the slightest concession in the harsh climate to create a wonderland of flowers.
The Namaqua National Park was established to conserve the natural wonder that occurs annually from July to September, depending on the winter rains. Soon though, as if careful not to spoil us, the earth returns to its semi-desert status and rests for another year. Then, the only signs of a more lush landscape are to be found close to the Orange River, Namakwa’s lifeline.
The Richtersveld lies in the north-west corner of the Northern Cape, in the bend of the Orange River on the border between South Africa and Namibia. This land calls to the heart of adventurers, inviting them to follow challenging 4×4 routes, hike or bike across the land or brave the rapids of the Orange River. The Richtersveld National Park lies in the remote north-west corner of the Northern Cape on the Namibian border and can only be accessed by 4×4 vehicles.
Some 250 million years ago, the Hantam Karoo was the stamping ground of dinosaurs. At the time, it was an inland sea fringed by cycads. However, nature selected these mighty creatures for extinction and today, the only visible sign of their existence is their footprints in the fossilised lakebed at Gansfontein. The apparent apocalypse that changed the landscape to an arid land of open plains, hills and rugged mountains also destroyed their natural habitat.
The early white farmers who settled in the Hantam Karoo built corbelled houses, the distinctive architectural style of the region. Wood and roof trusses were not always available and they used flat stones for their walls, which they built up in a dome style to form a roof. A mixture of chaff and soil was used as cement. The lime of anthills was used as a binding agent. Floors were painted with a mixture of fat and ox-blood to give it an earthy colour.
Since the waters are too cold for swimming, the West Coast is not a traditionally attractive coastal destination. Nevertheless, many visitors are attracted to life in the small fishing villages and patient anglers are a familiar sight on the rocks. Many fond holiday memories revolve around the adventure of catching and cooking your own seafood buffet. The stretch of coast from south of Hondeklip Bay to the north of Alexander Bay, known as the Diamond Coast, is popular for another reason entirely, namely the alluvial diamonds that are brought here by the rivers flowing to the sea.
The Nama people have lived in Namakwa for a long time. Traditional meals and the opportunity to get to know these fascinating people exist in small towns such as Eksteenfontein, Lekkersing, Kuboes and Sanddrift. Their architecture of choice is the rounded Nama huts that were traditionally made from reed mats. Many Nama people still live in these houses, although they now use other materials to construct the huts.