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Thursday, 20 July 2017

A weekend in the Green Kalahari: between Augrabies and Blouputs

A couple of years ago, a friend called me up to find out if I wanted to take a road trip down to Augrabies with her for the weekend. Who me! Of course yes! It turned out that she had an interview for work there on the Saturday morning and had decided to make a weekend of it. I was very happy to serve as traveling companion on this trip. We booked ourselves into an hotel in Augrabies for two nights and set off on the Friday afternoon.

The quiver trees at the hotel

Our route was as follows: Potchefstroom - Klerksdorp - Vryburg - Kuruman - Khatu - Olifantshoek - Upington - Kanoneiland - Kakamas - Augrabies. Somehow, when you say these names out loud in succession, it sounds like poetry, doesn't it?

The fertile land on the banks of the Orange River

The interview was on one of the large farms in the area and they readily agreed to make a guide available to us for the afternoon. This guide took the form of the wife of one of the farm managers. She took her time to take us around the farm, and we spent the afternoon learning lots about farming in the arid land surrounding Augrabies, especially in the Blouputs area. All of the farmland in the areas lay on the banks of the Orange River and had to be watered with water from this river. The result is some of the most spectacular fruit that this country has to offer. Most of the table grapes consumed in South Africa comes from here and there as also citrus orchards in the area. Aside from these, the area is also responsible for a large production of dates and olives. This inevitably means that there are more than one harvesting season during the year and it makes for very intensive farming.

The arid land a short ways off from the river

The larger farm has been subdivided into smaller farms and each of these has a farmer appointed to take care of his or her piece of land. They, in turn, report to a farm manager (such as the one our guide was married to), who in turn reported to the owners. There were also incentives for the farm workers to become co-owners through means of shares and land set aside specifically for this purpose.

The lush vineyards where a lot of South Africa's table grapes are produced

It was obvious that had it not been for the farms, the area would not be economically viable. The farms are the main source of employment and the other businesses owe their existence to the fact that people earn money they spend in town, on the farms.

Blouputs, a place I only know exists because my friend had an interview here

Another aspect of the social arrangements in the area, concerned schools. The farmers had collectively come together to build small schools for the local children. As the area is so vast and the inhabitants spread out over so large an area, it does not make sense to travel the vast distances to the government schools in town. Farm schools were then built and teachers employed by the farmers to ensure that the children from the farming community would have equal opportunities for education. That said, the option of school hostels also exist with the government schools.

The Augrabies waterfall after a dry season 

The Augrabies waterfall after a dry season 

Aside from our guide, who hails from Namibia originally, we also fell into a lengthy conversation with a 'daughter of the town' who was born and bred in Kakamas.  Where our guide had very little positive to say about the services in the area, this woman assured us that basically every human need could be met in the immediate vicinity. Our guide would have us driving all the way to Upington for medical emergencies, and grocery shopping. This lady on the other hand, assured us that the doctors, the vets, the optometrists, the grocers and every other amenity was up to standard and would more than meet our needs. I guess one would have to live there to find out that both versions held truths as well as exaggerations.

The scenes that make road trips worth taking

My friend, who was considering moving to the area, was very concerned about snakes. Having grown up in the city, she had never come across a snake in the field before, a fact that had me amazed. Again, our guide had tales of terror with which to regale us. She's had to come to the rescue of her own dear dogs on more than one occasion and pulled some of them through by their teeth. It was frightening to hear and we parted ways with her with my friend convinced that she would not be able to set foot outside her house without crossing paths with a snake. I grew up on a farm and knew a little better, but was dismissed as I did not know the area. I then opted to ask our waitress back at the restaurant in the hotel. It turned out that she too had been born and bred in the area. She also did not own a vehicle and went on foot most of the time. When asked how often she had come across a snake, she said she had never, but knew of people who had and therefore it would be fair to say that there were snakes in the area. Enough said.

Familiar Karoo beacons

The weekend wasn't all work and no play. We also went to the Augrabies waterfall and stood in awe and amazement at the grandeur and beauty, even though it had been a very dry season with very little rainfall to feed the falls.

Traveling Karoo style

What continues to impress me most in these dry areas, are the quiver trees (kokerbome), and I spent the Saturday morning sketching a very pretty specimen right there in the garden of the hotel. But it is not only the quiver trees that sings the beauty of the land. Every grain of sand, every struggling succulent and every rock testifies to life that persists even in the harshest of climates. And that is before I even get to the silence that threatens to envelop you. A truly majestic and beautiful spot on earth that everyone must make a point of visiting at some stage.

Quiver Tree by Miekie

Marietjie Uys (Miekie) is a published author. You can buy my books here:
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