Home > Trail tales > 2004 > Namaqualand

Technicolour dream coat ...
Namaqualand is hot, stony and wind cursed an area of tremendous contrasts. Soil in places appears so impoverished and sterile and seemingly devoid of any life whatsoever. Yet a little rain can persuade a wealth of flowers to bloom with such extravagance and seize as much of life as the short climate permits. It turns the whole area into a unique miraculous garden that flourishes on the doorstep of a desert region. This is indeed an extraordinary phenomenon
I was invited by friends to tour and participate in several trails in areas of the Richtersveld to the north and beyond the Kamiesberg Mountains to Garies in the south, a one-of-a-kind dream. A feeling that deep down in every person there is always a spirit of adventure, a desire to see strange and beautiful things around us. The trip was organized for four on a private charter aircraft plying between Lanseria and Springbok via Swakopmund. From the air, clearly visible features of the Namib stood out, a vast stretch of nothingness and timelessness, a pitiless desert seemingly devoid of all life. Its wind-sculpted dunes and ever-changing geography was so bleak, yet beautiful in its harshness, a space that nature has forgotten to colour-in.       
Touching down in Springbok after a longish flight we were picked up by friends in a Land Rover. The first portion of our itinerary was a 180-kilometre tour through the Richtersveld, We found a land of frightful desolation, uncouth rugged surfaces and infernal regions. Though rich in mineral wealth the place seems to have received scant tenderness from nature. This was characterised by its bare peaked mountain ranges and extremely rough and sun-baked terrain. However, prolific species of succulent flora were common in places. Lined up on barren sun-seared slopes were Kokerbooms or Quiver trees that were particularly interesting. Their ability to store water for years seemed incredible. Its gnarled prehistoric looking branches pointing in an upward direction were like magnificent candelabrum. The Orange River resembled a lush cool oasis in a desert. Chirping birds seemed to be lining the scrubs of the riverbanks, coming and going as if in rented accommodation. Various antelope species and Zebras who were slaking their thirst at the waters edge scattered upon seeing us. We watched with aroused curiosity how a young man on the opposite river bank, with a rope tied to his waist, jump into a fast flowing river to save a helpless antelope baby calf.
Tired after a bumpy ride and a long day we returned to our accommodation in Springbok. It seemed that nature had decorated this pretty town for our benefit with a kaleidoscopic spread of flowering Daisies in all directions. Caressed by a gentle breeze whilst relaxing around a braai area, we watched as the sun melted into the darkness of the evening sky. This was a prelude to the splendour of a star-studded night followed by wines, sumptuous seafood and mingling with other interesting visitors. 
From mid July to early October, depending upon rain, one species of daisies after another comes into bloom, displaying an entire landscape awash with colour. This included pink mauve, white and magenta. In addition, some cliffs were showing off sculpted erosion features like an open-air gallery of rock art. Rock outcrops were dressed in delicate green and blue coloured flowers evoking different moods and emotions. I imagined myself in my own garden with all the cultivation, fertilizers and irrigation, yet would never be able to produce such an equal display of flowers on a miniature scale.
My close encounter came whilst photographing Babiana blooms in a split boulder at the Rooiberg trails near Garies. A sudden movement stopped me in my track when I spotted a huge Puff Adder with its eyes trained on me. Trembling and with an instinct to preserve my well-being I slowly retreated, desperately trying not to startle the snake any further. My friends in the background froze momentarily. No doubt this brought our trailing escapade in this part to a close. Other brief trails and walks among the flowers included the Kamiesberg Pass, Kamieskroon, and Namaqua National Park where you can absorb yourself in the soulful beauty of flowers and lose yourself in the wonders of nature. We also visited two farms near the Orange River run by indigenous communities who were growing Paprika for export to South America.
Some roads appeared to be lined with gawping tourists in luxury buses. Hotels, guesthouses and stalls in small towns and dorps were doing a roaring trade. Also food and bottled water seemed to have doubled in price for the next few days. Local people who are custodians of this wonderful legacy were warm and hospitable and ready to share the abundance of this part of the province with all who visit here.
Our sojourn came to an end after three and a half days. Winging our way back in the afternoon my hosts arranged for the pilot to fly low over the Kamiesberg plateau to view the magical sea of flowers from the air before turning eastwards for home.
Captivated by Namaqualand’s magic, the entire experience was as though every bit of my body and psyche had been unscrewed, polished for hours, bathed in expensive perfume and gift-wrapped.
Nature lovers who wish to experience Namaqualand’s short annual miracle, diarise this event for your next big getaway. It is guaranteed to endure amongst your fondest memories.
By Selwyn Lager