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NC is travel ready for summer – Gems waiting to be discovered on Karoo Oasis Route

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The Karoo Oasis Route, offers the tourist a balance of history, adventure, nature, culture and traditional Karoo hospitality and stretches along the N12, passing through Britstown, Hopetown, Kimberley and Warrenton. Here are some of the gems waiting to be discovered on the route.

A large selection of water sports is on offer at the Vanderkloof Dam. Picture: Soraya Crowie

THE OUTBREAK of the Covid-19 pandemic and the subsequent lockdown, which resulted in the disruption of the tourism industry within South Africa, prompted the conceptualisation of a specific marketing campaign for the Northern Cape this year, dubbed, “Summer Differently”, aimed at unlocking and reigniting domestic tourism.

Summer Differently encourages tourists to take the road less travelled and explore the myriad of small dorpies, towns and villages of the Northern Cape. The Karoo Oasis Route, offers the tourist a balance of history, adventure, nature, culture and traditional Karoo hospitality and stretches along the N12, passing through Britstown, Hopetown, Kimberley and Warrenton. Here are some of the gems waiting to be discovered on the route.

HARTSWATER

Kgosi (Chief) Galeshewe’s grave:

Kgosi Galeshewe’s grave. Picture: Soraya Crowie

The marble tombstone, bearing the words, “The People of South Africa shall not forget”, commemorates the burial place of Kgosi Galeshewe, chief of the Batlhaping, who died in 1927. The grave site is situated near Magogong outside Hartswater, on the border between the Northern Cape and North West. It was unveiled in 2008, shortly after the eightieth anniversary of Kgosi Galeshewe’s death.

Born in 1840, Galeshewe is regarded as one of the first freedom fighters in South Africa, leading an armed force in rebellion against the British colonialists. The unrest was sparked when white settlers, moving into the area in search of diamonds, came into conflict with the indigenous people. Galeshewe took up the battle for his people’s land and was imprisoned twice, first for 10 years and then, after the Langeberg Rebellion, for 12 years.

After spending time in Kimberley, where the city’s biggest township is named after him, he returned to his family homestead Magagaaphiri.

The grave site tells the tale of Kgosi Galeshewe who “resisted the seizure of our land in rebellions against British colonialists and the Boers” and “serves as a reminder of our many fearless kings, who were tortured, imprisoned and killed in defence of our national heritage”. The site also features the graves of his cousins, Kgosis Gasebake and Tlou.

WARRENTON

Ditshoswane Cultural Centre:

Vuyo Mayesa, director of Ditshowane Community Art Center hosted the official launch of the Northern Cape Summer Differently in Warrenton by the Northern Cape Tourism Authority. Picture: Soraya Crowie

Situated in a white-washed zinc shanty in the furthest end of Ikhutseng Village outside Warrenton, the Ditshoswane Cultural Centre was founded by the director, Quincy Vuyo Mayesa, and is the first co-working creative space in the dusty streets of Warrenton’s township. Pencil sketches adorn the corrugated walls, alongside a display of old guitars, while Khadi, a “hand-crafted beverage”, is prominently displayed.

The centre’s location is symbolic, addressing the disruptive social injustices often prevalent in townships and this former residential unit has evolved into a creative space, where economic development and growth through the arts can be developed.

Named after the ant, a symbol of resilience, an oversized wire sculpture of the insect greets visitors at the front entrance, while another huge drawing dominates the outside side wall.

MODDER RIVER

The Magersfontein Battle Museum and the Crown and Royal Hotel:

The Crown and Royal Hotel. Picture: Soraya Crowie

The Crown and Royal Hotel in Modder River is not only the ideal venue for sundowners but also marks the spot where the British Lieutenant-General Lord Methuen planned his attack on the Boer forces, aimed at relieving the Siege of Kimberley. The nearby Magersfontein Museum is a poignant tribute to this battle, with its audio-visual presentation that places the visitor in the middle of the Boer trenches, the fear and desperation of the forces tangible.

As one looks over the vast dry plains into the distance, it is easy to visualise the tight formation of the forces marching towards a certain death. At the end of the night, almost 1,000 soldiers died on the battlefield and Methuen had to retreat once again back to his headquarters at the Crown and Royal Hotel.

Still featuring its original wooden ceilings and doors, the hotel was built in 1897 and was a popular resort in the day for Kimberley’s socialites. Besides serving as the headquarters for the Kimberley Relief Column, many of the soldiers injured at the Battle of Magersfontein were treated here.

HOPETOWN

Doornbult Concentration Camp:

The 210 registered graves (although the number is believed to be far greater) stretch out into the distance over the rocky ground of the Karoo veld. Picture: Soraya Crowie

When former schoolteacher Rina Wiid and her late husband bought a farm near Hopetown in 1996 they were unaware that it was the site of a British concentration camp for Boer women and children. Rina and Lemmer meticulously researched the history they had stumbled upon, as well as restored the archaeological sites. Unearthing a total of 34 sites over an area of around 10 km, including the British concentration camp hospital, food and supplies store, water supply, and cemetery, Wiid has kept alive the tales of the people forced to endure the sufferings of the war.

The Doornbult site is one of the most intact from the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902) and the area is still littered with rusty cans, medicine bottles, children’s toys, buttons and other articles, presumably surviving the ravages of time as a result of the dry Karoo climate. Voted as one of the best Anglo Boer War sites in South Africa, visitors can view the effects of the British government’s Scorched Earth Policy through the warped metal and broken bricks of a demolished farm house, the piles of skeletons of slaughtered livestock and home-made information boards, featuring extracts from visitors to the camp, which paint a picture of the horror and suffering endured by the both black and white inmates.

A small visitors centre, constructed in 2013 with recycled material from an old vandalised hotel next to the Orange River Station, features some of the initial acquisitions found on the farm as well as memorabilia donated by families whose ancestors were imprisoned in the camp.

In the cemetery, the 210 registered graves (although the number is believed to be far greater) stretch out into the distance over the rocky ground of the Karoo veld. This area too, has been cleared by the 78-year-old Wiid and markers made from empty flattened cans document the bodies that lie below.

Due to the sensitivity and uniqueness of the site, entry is only allowed by prior arrangement and under accompaniment.

STRYDENBERG

Karreekloof:

Karreekloof is a 105,000-acre game reserve with more than 6,000 wild animals. It also has the biggest free-roaming herds of sable and roan antelope on any private game reserve in Africa and it is ultimately hoped to create the first Big Five game reserve in the Northern Cape.

A photograph of the last “trekbok” hunt, which hangs on the wall of the PO Wright Museum on the luxury Karoo game farm Karreekloof, near Strydenburg, illustrates how townsfolk in the area sat on their stoeps and shot at the thousands of gazelle that ran past their houses on their annual migration up north. The springbok migrations, the last one believed to have taken place in 1896 shortly before the outbreak of the Anglo Boer War, were described as one of southern Africa’s greatest natural spectacles. The farm Kareekloof, once a livestock farm, was on one of the main routes of the migrating springboks and the photograph has been included in the memorabilia housed in the museum of this upmarket hunters’ paradise.

Karreekloof dates back to 1881 when the first trading post, known as Lilienfield & Wright, was opened. Today it forms part of Wintershoek Safaris after it was purchased by Wiaan van der Linde, whose dream it is to contribute to the conservation of natural habitats by securing vast areas of privately-owned farms. The fourth generation of Wrights, Peter still lives on the farm, despite it having changed hands, and is passionate about the museum named after him, which houses relics not only from the trading post but also the post office, where mail was delivered by horse and cart once a week.

Peter’s dream that wild animals, especially rhinos, will be able to roam free on the property as they did in the days of old, is on its way to becoming a reality and Karreekloof is now a 105,000-acre game reserve with more than 6,000 wild animals. It also has the biggest free-roaming herds of sable and roan antelope on any private game reserve in Africa and the ultimate vision is to create the first Big Five game reserve in the Northern Cape.

The original buildings have been restored to create a five-star luxury resort, where both local and international tourists can enjoy a true African safari experience.

VANDERKLOOF

Vanderkloof Dam:

A large selection of water sports is on offer, including sailing, skiing and windsurfing at Vanderkloof Dam. Picture: Soraya Crowie

Named after the farm on which the Vanderkloof Dam is situated, the town was built to house the dam builders and is today a flourishing holiday resort. Situated on the Orange River, the man-made dam juxtaposes itself on a backdrop of picturesque semi-desert Karoo landscape. The oasis in the Karoo, the dam is the second largest dam in South Africa, stretching 100km. It also boasts the highest dam wall, rising to 108m.

A large selection of water sports is on offer, including sailing, skiing and windsurfing. Adventure Kayaking offers an adrenaline-rushing kayak trip or a relaxing adventure for groups of between 8 and 18. Day trips or overnight trips for three or more days are offered by qualified tour guides and kayaks and safety gear are included.

Rolfontein Nature Reserve

The 8 000-hectare Rolfontein Nature Reserve offers hiking and spectacular views from a number of lookout points. Picture: Soraya Crowie

Surrounded on three-sides by the Vanderkloof Dam, the Rolfontein Nature reserve is situated in the upper Karoo, the terrain dotted with dolerite buttes (koppies), as well as mountains with wooded kloofs. Animals on the reserve include Burchell’s zebra, brown hyena, springbok, gemsbok and other antelope as well as the more elusive aardvark and aardwolf and 100 different bird species.

The 8 000-hectare reserve offers hiking and spectacular views from a number of lookout points. Picnic spots, camping and luxury chalets are available while the Piet Barbet hiking trail offers a short 4km meander through the park, while longer hikes can be negotiated with the park management.

The Northern Cape is travel ready for Summer 2020 – are you?