With the general outdoor activity interest of club members it may be informative for a write-up on the above trails undertaken by Warwick and Brenda Keating, and seven other friends using three vehicles.
The trail started at Pofadder where the vehicles were refuelled and jerry cans filled.†† We then travelled to the Pella Mission along a top class gravel road which is to be upgraded to hard top in a drive to encourage tourists to the region.†† A stop off at Pella to inspect a Nama B&B complete with honeymoon suite and visit an impressive church, then on down the canyon to the Orange River where we camped at Pelladrif.†† This was the first of many beautiful wild camps along the Orange, warm balmy weather, swimming in the river and walks along the banks or climbing the mountainous terrain that skirts the river to enjoy spectacular views.
The next day was the start of the 4X4 trail which crosses the countryside with short use of district roads.†† Navigation is interesting.†† The Namakwa Tourist Association supply a description based on kilometers traveled readings and local land marks.†† The first day of 111 km took us to Groot Melkbos boom, a huge tree near the river.†† We decided to camp at the riverís edge, calling for a drive across soft river sand.†† Our only experience of bogging down.†† After making use of a highlift jack and deflating tyres we were on our way and spent another glorious camp on the river bank.
The following day having traversed the sand and re-inflated tyres we continued, and camped that night at a point on the river called Komgap after driving down a most impressive rock strewn canyon, with steep vertical rock walls.
Our next camp was an organized camp near Vioolsdrif named Peace of Paradise.†† Screened off camp sites with reed screened toilets and hot showers over-looking the Orange River with spectacular rock strata formations.†† There is also a site of Petroglyphs nearby.
Scenery on the first section is a mixture of open plains with rugged mountain terrain, and beautiful river views.†† We saw nobody other than a few remote Nama settlements and passed through the town of Goodhouse where there is a cemetery of mainly British soldiers drowned in the Orange River at the turn of the last century.†† We also saw the first Halfmens growing on the mountainside.
From Peace of Paradise we covered the second section of the trail which is reported to be the most demanding particularly the Helskloof pass.†† The country is more rugged but not as challenging as the first section.†† We stopped off at a remote, marginal date farming establishment, replenished our water supply, and purchased dates, then on up a valley where we missed the turn through the Black Mountains.†† Made use of the GPS to find out our location.†† Nevertheless the views up the valley were worth the detour.
We had intended camping in this area but after a soup lunch at the bottom of the bleak and deserted valley decided to move on to Brand Karos camp near Alexander Bay.†† Here we joined up with the Namaqualand district road system which is a real navigational challenge, road forks, T-junctions, etc, not shown on maps and no road signs.†† After a couple of doubtful turns eventually reach Brand Karos.
To restock for the Richtersveld portion of the trip involved a 25 km trip to Alexander Bay.†† Here viewed the water pans at the mouth of the Orange river and spotted several water birds, especially large numbers of Flamingo.
Alexander Bay is a diamond town and entry is by permit only.†† Permits are available at the entrance gate on presentation of identity documentation.
From Brand Karos we entered the Richtersveld, camping at De Hoop and Richtersberg on the Orange River and at Kokerboom in the rugged eastern mountains at the Park.†† Driving conditions are not severe other than 6-8 km up the Brown Pass, which twists up a rock strewn rough mountainside, and the sand section of 12 km from De Hoop to Richtersberg.†† We were advised by previous visitors and the ranger at the entrance gate to the park not to undertake this section but rather take the long loop round the mountains.†† As we spent two days at De Hoop, we walked part of this section and decided to give it a go, without any problems.
The Richtersveld scenery is something one has to experience, rugged mountains, huge rock outcrops, desert valleys and again the beauty of the Orange River.
Leaving the Richtersveld on our way back to Brand Kaross we met with the most demanding driving challenge.†† The road is topped with clay and as it rained the previous night, we faced half metre deep clay slush.†† Locals commented on this saying it only rains once a year so when it does keep off the road.†† If you get stuck expect to be there for three/four days.†† It seems we did alright by getting through, although we did learn several new dance movements en route.
We were fortunate to arrange a tour of the Alexkor diamond mine at Alexander Bay.†† This entailed signing affidavits that we had no criminal records which permitted the police to carry out criminal searches of our names.†† All passed!†† However, we were privileged to enjoy an all morning tour of the open cast mining, viewing the wild Atlantic coast including seal colonies, strandloper midins, and an oyster farm where Alexkor is experimenting with cold water oyster production.†† Also enjoyed sampling the production.
The route home took us through the historical mid-Cape to Mountain Zebra Nature Reserve near Craddock.††† The plan was to return through Rhodes and the southern part of Lesotho.†† However weather changes and heavy snow convinced us to return via Bloemfontein and leave the exploration of the southern part of Lesotho for some other time.
The Namakwa and Richtersveld scenery is rugged and needs to be experienced to be appreciated.†† The best time to visit is April/May.†† The disadvantage one does not experience the full impact of the Flora.†† August/September flowers are spectacular, but minus temperatures are challenging.
It was interesting that the Birders in the party registered over 100 species.††† The route is not over challenging, scenery is the drawcard, day walks along the river are worth the effort.†† All in all a very enjoyable trip