| This vast
and desolate wilderness stretches from the west
coast north to the Botswana and Namibian borders and east to the
Free State and North West provinces. The South west features magnificent
carpets of wild flowers in early spring, while the south is part
of the Great Karoo and the north encroaches into the Kalahari Desert.
In 1866, a boy found a shiny ‘pebble’ at Hopetown, 128
kilometres (80 miles) south of Kimberley, allowing an ancient and
lightly populated settlement to become the diamond capital of the
world. Kimberley is not 1 of the world’s
most thrilling places, however it does have enough attractions to
justify a stop. The main attractions amongst them all include the
Big Hole, which is the largest manmade excavation in the world,
and the Kimberley Mine Museum, with its replicas of 19th century
Kimberley at the height of the gold rush.
The De Beers Hall Museum houses a display of cut
and uncut diamonds, here can be seen the famous ‘616’,
at 616 carats, the largest uncut diamond in the world, and the ‘Eureka’
diamond, the 1st to be discovered in South Africa. Other fascinating
museums include Duggan - Cronin Gallery (photography), the William
Humphreys Art Gallery (fine art), and McGregor Museum (a fine old
mansion, with Kimberley’s history displayed).
Near Kimberley is the Vaalbos National Park, a
small reserve including the extremely rare Black Rhino, and the
Bultfontein Mine, presenting guided tours of a working diamond mine.
For those with a military intrerest, Magersfontein lies to the south
of Kimberley, site of a disastrous defeat inflicted on the British
by the Boers early in the Boer War.
North West of Kimberley, Kuruman was a missionary
centre used by Robert Moffat and David Livingstone. It has a flowing
spring known as the ‘Eye of God’ and is near the Wonderwerk
Cave, an archaeological site of great significance where some of
the earliest evidence of the use of fire has been found.
Uppington is an enjoyable town on the banks of the Orange River,
on the way to the Augrabies National Park, centred on a series of
dramatic waterfalls plummeting 56 metres (184 feet) into a narrow
ravine carved through the desert. The park is home to several fascinating
species of desert plants while local animals include vervet monkeys,
baboons, rhino and antelope.
Further to the north is the vast Kgalagadi Transfrontier
Park, which is 1 of Africa’s 1st ‘peace parks’,
administered jointly by South Africa and Botswana. It is the biggest
nature conservation area in southern Africa and 1 of the largest
unspoilt ecosystems in the world, supporting fauna and flora in
mystifying variety. To the west, Namaqualand is a vast area of what
appears to be barren semi desert, harbouring a treasure house of
floral beauty, appearing after sufficient winter rains, lilies,
daisies, aloes, perennial herbs and several other flower species.
The flowers are best seen from July to September, varying on when
the rains fall. Calvinia and Niewoudtville are beautiful locations
In the far north, on the Namibian border, is the isolated and rocky
Richtersveld National Park, accessible only by
4 wheel drive, with an wonderful lunar landscape and wide variety
of rare desert plants.