The Dr Kenneth Kaunda region of the North West province lies to the south, bordering on the Free State and Gauteng. The starring geographical role in this 16 483-square-kilometre area is played by the Vaal River, which ambles along this border and hosts a clutch of towns that benefit from its scenic and tourism appeal.
Farming, industry and education all play a role in the economy of the region, which, through its name, honours the Zambian politician, Dr Kenneth Kaunda. Kaunda championed the principles of non-violent change and is seen by some as the Ghandi of Africa.
Potchefstroom is one of the main towns in the region, highly regarded as an educational centre, playing home to a number of good high schools and one of three campuses of the North West University. It is jam-packed with heritage sites, among them the four-part Potchefstroom Museum and the seven-kilometre-long Oak Ave, lined with oak trees planted more than a century ago.
The town is close to one of South Africa’s Unesco-proclaimed world heritage sites, the Vredefort Dome, which crosses two provinces, the North West and the Free State. This dome was created by a meteorite the size of Table Mountain, which struck the earth about 2 000-million years ago near the present-day village of Vredefort. The violent collision created a crater about 90 kilometres wide and 16 to 18 kilometres deep, shifting the earth's crust across a radius of more than 300 kilometres. If you fly over the area, the partial ring of hills that can be seen is the result of the meteorite’s plunge into the ground, forcing layers of earth upwards.
The geographical features caused by the impact, coupled with the entry of the Vaal River into the area many years later, have made the dome area a paradise for adventure activities, with hiking, rock-climbing, canoeing, white-water rafting and tons of other physical challenges.
Klerksdorp, another interesting centre in the Dr Kenneth Kaunda region, is one of the oldest Voortrekker-established towns, having come into existence in 1837. It is also the birthplace of Anglican Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu. Klerksdorp services a mining industry and farming community and has a fair share of heritage and natural attractions.
Bloemhof has a number of good nature reserves in its environs, notably the Bloemhof Dam Nature Reserve on the shores of an impressive dam. Christiana came to be in the aftermath of the discovery of diamonds on the Vaal River, but today those frenetic times have been replaced with tranquillity and calm.
Other towns include Fochville, with its borehole, from which 2 000 litres of sulphurous water spurts every hour; Leeudoringstad adjacent to the Wolwespruit Dam Nature Reserve; Orkney with its large Vaal Reef Gold Mine and Stilfontein with its Hartebeestfontein Gold Mine; Ventersdorp with the Eye of the Schoonspruit River, where the water remains at a constant level even in dry seasons; and Wolmaransstad with its diamond-digging past.
When to go
Summer brings high temperatures and rain. Temperatures dip a little in March and April, which may prove more comfortable for those who like cooler days. Winters are mild, but evening temperatures can be cold. The district, however, can be visited at any time of the year.
Bloemhof Dam Nature Reserve – fed by the Vaal River, this 25 000-hectare dam is one of the country’s largest. It is a popular angling site and plays host to championship competitions. Water sports can also be enjoyed. The adjacent reserve has large herds of antelope and attracts a wide species of birds, including waterfowl. A number of types of self-catering accommodation is offered.
Boskop Dam Nature Reserve – Located 20 kilometres north of Potchefstroom in the Mooi River Valley, this angling spot is the site of a number of fishing competitions. About 250 species of birds have been spotted here, while mammal life includes black wildebeest, red hartebeest, zebra, blesbok and springbok. A camping site with basic amenities and a picnic site cater for visitors.
Vredefort Dome – To learn about the formation of the dome, the most clearly visible impact crater on earth, drop by the visitor centre at Venterskroon, where you can watch a DVD and view rock samples. It is open seven days a week from 8am to 4pm but it is a good idea to call ahead (tel +27 18 291 1055). There are all sorts of tours on offer in the dome – geological, historical, cultural and birding. There are also numerous adventure activities, such as abseiling, hiking, hot-air ballooning, rafting and canoeing. Local tourist boards can point you in the right direction.
Wolwespruit Dam Nature Reserve – situated on the Vaal River, the reserve is small and offers good hiking and angling, with species such as yellowfish to be caught. Birding is good and smaller mammals can be spotted. Rustic camping sites and a self-catering cottage will accommodate those who want to stay over.
Klerksdorp Mine Tours – Tours can be arranged on request at the Stilfontein and Klerksdorp Mines, as well at Hartebeestfontien Gold Mine, where you can view a gold-pouring session. Vaal Reef Gold Mine in Klerksdorp is the largest gold mine in the country.
Numerous historic attractions are located in the area, including the birthplace of Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, Goudkoppie Heritage Hill, The Klerksdorp Museum, the Stock Exchange and Station buildings (also in Klerksdorp) and the numerous national monuments and museums in Potchefstroom, including the Old Gunpowder House, the Kruger Kraal Opstal and the City Hall. The oldest Dutch Reformed Church is located in Potchefstroom and St Mary’s Anglican Church is worth a visit just to see the magnificent stained-glass windows.
Birdwatching at Faan Meintjies Nature Reserve and the Abe Bailey Nature Reserves.