The Kalahari region of the Northern Cape is situated in the far north-west of the province. It borders Botswana, where the McCarthy’s Rest border post leads adventurers to the popular Mabuasehube section of the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. Kuruman is the main town of the region, situated on the N14 highway between Gauteng and Upington. Kuruman is often referred to as the ‘Oasis of the Kalahari’ because of its abundant fountain called ‘The Eye’. The town is also known for the nearby Moffat Mission, which retains an air of old Africa amidst a tranquil setting.
West of Kuruman along the N14, Kathu, built in a Camelthorn forest, has a distinctly sleepy air. The giant excavator and truck standing sentinel at the entrance to the town make it hard to miss. These disused relics are from the Sishen Iron Ore Mine, which gapes up at the sky next to the town. It is one of the largest single-pit open cast mines in the world at approximately 12km long, 1.5km wide, and on average 140m deep – it would swallow any town in the Northern Cape. Mining is done in two 12-hour shifts per day, seven days a week, with an average pit production capacity of 310 000 tons of ore and waste rock per day. Other towns have evocative names like Black Rock and Hotazel, populated by hard men who make a living harvesting the earth’s subterranean riches. Beneath its sun-kissed surface the region has a mineral wealth as prolific as the water pouring from The Eye.
Leaving the towns and heading into the Kalahari thornveld is to enter an environment like no other in South Africa. Ancient trees shade golden grasslands and red dunes, the colours rich and deep against the untainted blue of a far-reaching sky. Gravel roads lead through dry riverbeds, deserted plains, and curvaceous mountains, to small settlements that ooze with the essence of Africa lost in time. Here life is lived in a manner far removed from that in the city. A meal and liquid refreshment at places like the Van Zylsrus Hotel in the backwater town of the same name are obligatory for anybody visiting the area.
A Kalahari farm stay is an unforgettable experience with welcomes as warm as the weather from folk who have an unwavering zest for life and who love nothing more than to laugh and share country stories. Facilities range from stylishly rural to surprisingly sophisticated and all have an atmosphere of platteland peace and genuine hospitality.
When to go
As with other areas of the Northern Cape, between April and October is the best time to visit the Kalahari. With cold nights and warm days, exploring the region during this period is a pleasant experience.
Moffat Mission - just outside Kuruman the shady surrounds of the mission provide a peaceful interlude in which to contemplate the past history of the area. The mission is often described as the Northern Cape’s fount of Christianity, as it was a base for many ventures into the interior by missionaries. It is named after Robert Moffat, a Scottish missionary who lived and worked here from 1820 to 1870. It was also renowned explorer David Livingstone’s first home in Africa.
Wonderwerk Cave - 43kms south of Kuruman on the R31 to Daniëlskuil, this cave has a history covering almost a million years and is virtually a textbook account of the evolvement of humankind in South Africa. The deep cavern (140 metres) has been home to many peoples throughout the ages including, in more recent times, a farmer by the name of N.J.Bosman. Together with his wife, eleven sons, and three daughters, he lived in the cave from 1909 to 1911 while he built the present homestead, and thereafter it was used as a shelter for his stock. There is a small museum at the site. To check opening times, call +27 82 832 7226.
The Eye at Kuruman - this fountain produces 20-million litres of crystal clear water daily. The calm waters are speckled with lilies and reflections from surrounding trees and a visit is pleasant at any time of day. The shady grass verges are a place for quiet contemplation while watching fat carp and other fish species basking on the sandy bed.
Sishen iron ore mine - even for those only vaguely interested in great dusty holes in the earth and noisy, smoke-belching diesel machinery, a tour of the open cast mine at Kathu, which is one of the biggest manmade holes in the world, is mind-boggling. The sheer size of the equipment includes the biggest trucks in the world carrying 340 tons of earth. When the pit is in full production, it uses 5-million litres of diesel every month - that’s seven fuel tankers every single day. To pre-arrange a tour call Louise Lubbe on +27 53 739 2619.
Sishen Golf Course - for golfers this beautiful 18-hole championship course at Kathu, with its grassed fairways meandering through a forest of centuries-old Camelthorn trees, is rated amongst the top 20 courses in South Africa. Tel. +27 53 723 1501.
Tswalu - at 100 000ha this is the largest privately-owned game reserve in South Africa. Its custodians focus on protecting the natural environment, and their aim is to ensure guests have a first-class Kalahari experience. As a member of Relais & Chateaux, Tswalu offers superb accommodation in desert-sand-walled and thatched suites set below the curves of the Korannaberg Mountains. There are seventy mammal species including the desert black rhino and Kalahari lion. There are also 200+ bird species. It’s pricey and only for those with very big wallets. Tel. reservations on +27 86 187 9258.
Towns of the Kalahari - Kuruman, Kathu, Van Zylsrus.