Northen Cape nostalgia

Four days, 1 323 kilometres, six Jimnys and a thousand memories… Anton and Mary Willemse join Suzuki South Africa for an epic trek through the Northern Cape to some of the remote gems in our country’s largest province.

The Anglo-Irish writer and poet Oliver Goldsmith once said that the forgotten and remote roads are your passport to incredible possibilities. He probably meant this in a more philosophical way about life choices, but we took it a little more literally for this story. A recent trip through the Northern Cape on those particularly remote roads opened our eyes to a myriad of adventure possibilities.

When the invitation from Suzuki landed in our inbox, there was a long debate about who would get to go on this fun #SuzukiSafari. We were the lucky winners, and what an adventure this was! After an early morning start at the airport for our Covid-19 tests, we hopped on a quick flight to a sweltering Upington. Thank goodness for air conditioning in the Jimny!

Speaking of this bantamweight with its massive 4×4 heart, we were delighted to hear that the waiting lists will soon be much shorter thanks to a production boost: from now on, Suzuki South Africa will import their Jimnys from the Gurgaon plant in India. Head of Marketing and Media Liaison at Suzuki, Megan MacDonald, also told us a GL model is being added to the existing GA and GLX range. This model will boast a few extras such as electric windows, alloy wheels and audio controls on the steering wheel.

But back to our adventure. At the airport were met by Justin du Toit from African Expeditions, who showed us to a line of shiny new Jimnys ready for action. A silver Jimny with bright red mud flaps and a spare wheel cover emblazoned with a rhino logo immediately caught my eye. This is part of the brand-new Rhino Edition kit that will be available for all Jimny models from early next year, and I have to say it makes the already cute Jimny even more windgat! Luckily, this was also the auto version, which made the more serious 4×4 challenges we faced during the weekend so much easier!

Luggage and camera gear loaded, the convoy hit the road to Pofadder with Justin leading the way in his lime-green Jimny. I’m not a small guy, and at 1.94m, it was a snug fit – but not uncomfortably so. The luggage space at the back pleasantly surprised us. Just as our tummies started to growl with hunger, we drove into Pofadder, where we met Johan, Justin’s father and business partner. This jovial oompie would be our tour guide for the weekend and kept us entertained with a stream of interesting anecdotes about the area. Although not born there, his passion for the Northern Cape and its people is contagious.

Pella Pioneers

After a quick lunch, we left for Pella. This small community is 9km from the Orange River and boasts one of only two Afrikaans Catholic churches in South Africa. It is a beautiful church that, according to Johan, was built without any plans, based entirely on a picture found in an encyclopedia.

Sister Johanna was there to welcome us and told how the missionary Christian Albrecht founded the mission station, named after the ancient village in Macedonia which provided a refuge for Christians during the Roman persecution in 1814. In 1882 Father KM Simon settled in Pella, and three years later, Brother Leo Wolf joined him. Together, these two men served the community in Pella for 50 years and built the remarkable church. Bricks were made on the banks of the Orange River and hauled back to Pella. In 1895, Bishop Rooney of Cape Town officially opened the church.

Our onward route took us north on the trail these two pioneers followed to get their bricks from the river. This part of the Northern Cape has experienced a ten-year drought, and the environment is arid, yet strikingly beautiful, with rocky red mountains contrasting against the bright blue sky. After selecting 4×4 high, we deflated the Jimny’s tyres to 0.8kPa and were soon enjoying the car’s rock climbing ability while we took in the landcape. Johan tells us over the radio that this is communal land, thousands of hectares in size. Every few kilometres, we notice small shack-like buildings called “staningkies” by the local community. This is where they keep their animals when they are heading out to new grazing areas.

Then, as we descend a dune, a lush green belt opens up in front of us. It is the Orange River, South Africa’s longest river which flows for over 2 200km. Because it had rained a week or so earlier, we could not tackle the Bobbejaanspieël Pass as planned, so instead stopped to stretch our legs on the banks of the mighty Orange and take in the views of Namibia on the opposite bank. The fast-flowing channels here provide incredible opportunities for fishermen to catch yellowfish, and the area is known for excellent fly fishing. We pop in at Oom Dadda’s modest place and discover probably the biggest Blue Bulls supporter in the Northern Cape. He lives in his “staningkie” and is delighted when Megan gives him a pair of Jimny socks as a gift. As we drive away, I cannot help but think that this man has the right idea – he may live simply, but nothing chases him, and I think he is privileged to call this incredible landscape his home.

Dates for Africa

As the sun slowly starts to set, turning the mountains a rich red, we move further west and notice some desolate tourist destinations along the way. Johan says that many of these guest houses are still listed as suitable accommodation in various tour guides, but the owners have long given up and moved on. Our final destination for the first day is Karsten Farms, the largest date farm in the Southern Hemisphere – an 18 000ha property where there are more than 28 000 date palms. The palms are massive, and some of them stand up to 10m tall. We wind through the plantations to a remote corner on the farm where Johan has been given permission to camp wild for the night.

Upon arrival, we find our tents have already been pitched in a dry riverbed between two towering cliffs, and a cosy fire is crackling thanks to African Expeditions’ third team member, Piet. What a privilege to be able to camp here, surrounded by cliffs and a rich bird life. Truly a billion-star hotel! We chat until late into the night and indulge in delicious steak and salads prepared by Justin and Piet. Early the following day, cheerful bird calls wake us, and a fresh cup of boeretroos (brewed on the open fire) and rusks awaits. More thanks due to Piet, of course. Johan gives an overview of the day’s itinerary before we head to the guest house on the farm for a hearty breakfast and a shower for those who did not want to do the bush shower thing at camp.

Back on tarmac, we shoot through to Springbok to fill up the Jimnys. These vehicles are really frugal, and we recorded a reasonable 8.5 litres/100km, but their tanks only hold 40 litres. Here we enjoy a delicious “Mesklip Melkery” milkshake, and for padkos we stock up on plattelandse biltong (with ample fat) at Die Plaas Slaghuis in the main street.

With quite a way to go to our overnight stop at the Houthoop Guest Farm in Kleinsee, we take the R355 over Spektakel Pass. Simon van der Stel named the pass in 1685 after experiencing “Een ongelooflijke spektakel” during the flowering season. At the bottom of the pass lies the tiny settlement of Komaggas, right against the Buffalo River. Arriving at Houthoop, we are welcomed by two energetic collies, Rover and Sokkies, and cannot help but smile at their attempts to herd the guinea fowls and chickens as one would naturally expect of a sheepdog. The typical rural homestead is on a working sheep and goat farm, and our hostess Jackie spoils us with delicious Namakwa stews and a seafood buffet during the two nights we spend here.

Shipwrecks and diamonds

The next morning, the Jimny convoy headed for Noup, which is inside the former De Beers restricted area and the starting point of the Shipwreck Route that awaits us. The area is known as South Africa’s diamond coast, and, apart from the diamonds still mined there, feels like a slice of almost untouched nature. This is why De Beers prefers that the route is guided by registered tour operators. The road along the coast is sandy, but the Jimnys trot along the tweespoor track with ease once we have selected 4×4 low range and again deflated the tyres. The area received late rains and there are still patches of flowers here and there – we can only imagine what a paradise it must be during the height of the Namakwa flower season!

The first shipwreck is the Paritiny, a 22-year-old steamship stranded on the rocks about 32km from Hondeklip Bay during its final voyage in 1943 (after, as speculated, being torpedoed by a Nazi submarine). Johan says that the community rushed to the wreck to loot a load of fabric, and the following Sunday at communion, everyone looked like a brand-new sixpence, dressed in clothes made from the fabric. Diamond prospecting is still quite active, and as we drive along the rocky coast, we notice many tractors and pumps used to suck the seabed in search of those shiny stones.

Not too far from the Paritiny there is a small fishing boat that was stranded in the 1970s. Apart from fishing, this boat was known for trading with the diamond divers and, apparently, was the local supplier of pappegaaitwak (better known as marijuana). The story goes that one night the crew may have gotten a little high and decided to visit the mainland. However, they hit the shore, and in the process, the boat was stranded. Today, the ship is just a nest for seabirds as it slowly disintegrates.

Since this area was inaccessible to the public for decades, it is still pristine. We stop at the old house that was inhabited by the Aggenbach family 40 years ago. Legend has it that it is possessed by the ghost of one of the Aggenbach daughters who died after accidentally drinking DDT. Apparently, one hears the ringing of milk bottles early in the morning and crying at night. If that is the case, I’d rather visit during the day. While walking around, I noticed a dwarf adder, the smallest in the adder family – quite a special sighting since I have never found one in the wild before.

The last shipwreck on the route is that of the Border, a 285-tonne British ship which ran aground in dense fog in high tide while on its way to Port Nolloth from Cape Town. It was carrying 200 tons of cargo for the Namakwaland Copper Mines. The crew all survived, and the cargo was transported by donkey to the road, some 2km away. The crew did try to get her back to sea, but after another storm, she was pushed further onto the rocks where she is now marooned.

After a quick lunch back at Houthoop, it was playtime, and we headed out to the Red Dune on the farm. What a pleasure it was to put the Jimny through its paces in this sandpit. We ended the day with a golden sunset while enjoying a cold beer – bliss!

All too soon, the last day of this memorable Suzuki safari arrived, and on Sunday we embarked on the trek back to Upington Airport. The group chose to explore another gravel road that had us driving over the Wildeperdhoek and Messelpad passes. This was after we had driven through the Namaqualand National Park, which is known for its so-called fairy circles and its incredible colours during the flower season. We decided to add it to our bucket list for 2022. If the area holds so much charm during the dry part of the year, it must be truly amazing when adorned with many species of wild flowers!

Back in Springbok, we again filled up the Jimny and tackled the ruler-straight tar road to Upington. The road is long, hot and you are buffeted by strong winds. We made frequent stops to change drivers, buy ice cream and stretch our legs, and were grateful the great sound system gave us the opportunity for a serious session of car karaoke!

After driving more than 1 000km over a packed four-day safari, we were sad to hand the Jimny’s keys back to Justin. This little giant of a 4×4 had undoubtedly shown its mettle over rocky and sandy trails, and conquered some gnarly passes. Extremely competitively priced between R318 900 to R377 900, it’s just what we’d like Santa to leave under our tree!

More about African Expedition

In collaboration with Suzuki South Africa, various tours are planned:

HISTORICAL OXWAGON TRAILS (Southern Cape): R9 250

7 – 13 February 2022 | Accommodation: guesthouse |

Jimnys only (maximum of 5 vehicles)

LESOTHO SUMMER TOUR (18 Passes, including Sani and

Maletsuyane Falls): R8 950

21 – 27 March 2022 | Accommodation: lodge | Jimnys only

(maximum of 5 vehicles)

BERG & SPERRGEBIET (as per the #SuzukiSafari, but

slightly longer): R8 950

9 – 16 April / 9 – 15 October 2022 | Accommodation:

camping & guest farm | Jimnys only (maximum of 5

vehicles)

KALAHARI ODYSSEY (including Hakskeenpan & the Red

Dune route): R8 950

15 – 20 May 2022 | Accommodation: camping & lodge |

Jimnys only (maximum of 5 vehicles)

BOTSWANA (Okavango Delta, Caprivi, Chobe, Vic Falls &

Makgadikgadi): R16 250

4 – 14 June 2022 | Accommodation: camping & lodge |

Jimnys only (maximum of 5 vehicles)

NAMAKWALAND WILDFLOWER SAFARI: R8 450

3 – 8 / 10 – 15 September 2022 | Accommodation: guest

farm | Jimnys & other SUVs (maximum of 6 vehicles)

NAMAKWA ADVENTURE: R8 950

21 – 27 December 2021 / 29 December – 4 January 2023 |

ccommodation: guest farm | Jimnys only (maximum of 6

vehicles)

eSWATINI (SWAZILAND) ADVENTURE: R5 950

1 – 4 April 2023 | Accommodation: hotel & lodge | Jimnys

& other SUVs (maximum of 5 vehicles)

*All tours include breakfast and lunch, all camping gear is

provide and Jimny rentals are available upon request.

CONTACT: +27 84 874 7388 |info@africanex.co.za |https://africanexpeditions.co.za/ www.africanexpeditions.co.za | Social media: @africanexpeditions

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