The last hooray: Noup’s Final visitors

Henry Jonker and his two sons, Jean and Lian , were the last people to camp at Noup before the area fell under mining control earlier this year. It was an unforgettable experience that this adventurous trio will probably never forget.

Our West Coast adventure began in the small coastal town of Elands Bay, and since Noup is approximately 520km from our home in Wellington, it was just too far for the two dogs – Pepsi and Mila – who accompanied us on this adventure. The bakkie had barely stopped at Elands Bay before the dogs were out the door. After we had set up camp and headed for the beach to frolic with our four-legged friends, a big Rummikub tournament kicked off that evening while the fire crackled nicely.

Early the following morning, we packed up, and after breakfast at the hotel, we hit the road again. Next stop – Noup! Since the petrol station at Koingnaas would likely be closed on a Sunday, we refueled at Garies and both the boys and dogs visited the loo for the last time. We turned left on the gravel road at the Hondeklipbaai/Koingnaas sign a few kilometres further. The country music blared over the radio while the wind blew through the open windows… things ran smoothly, and the Hilux devoured the kilometres.

Suddenly Lian’s distressed voice rose through the noise: “Daddy, we have a problem – you must stop! Mila peed on me!” I hit the brakes, and everyone flew out the doors. Lian stood soaking wet next to the bakkie in the field and was not impressed with the six-month old Golden Retriever. Of course, the fact that Jean and I couldn’t hold back our laughter didn’t help the situation. A few litres of water and a clean t-shirt later, Lian was washed from head to toe and dressed in dry clothes. I learned a valuable lesson: stop more often for the dogs to walk around.

At Koingnaas, we got on a neat tar road – which one of the locals would later explain is the longest private road in South Africa. The turn-off to Noup was about 15km further on this road. The place looked dull and quiet, and I hoped there would be someone who could explain to us how to drive to the beach camp. Fortunately, they were expecting us and quickly indicated on the map how to find our destination.

Back on the tarmac, it is another 12km to Gate 5, where we entered. The gravel road stretches until just before the sea, where you turn right onto a two-lane sandy road. Later the sand got thicker, and we decided to deflate the tyres. We were a bit nervous because there was no mobile phone signal and the nearest people were in Koingnaas, about 27km away. If we got stuck here and couldn’t get out, we would have to walk very far to get help.

The excitement was contagious, and even the dogs looked out the window for our beach camp. Jean spotted the big green nets first, and before I could stop properly, Lian and Mila got out of the bakkie. When I finally got out, the boys and dogs were already on the beach, and I knew that I would probably have to set up camp alone… again.

The sunset was spectacular, and as I sat on the dune sipping a cold beer, I realised that we would be the last guests on this stretch of coastline. At the beginning of July the mine took over the area. Mila was like a mad rabbit and just couldn’t calm down. She and Lian headed towards the sea again, but I quickly warned that a wet and sandy dog would not be welcome in the tent that night. So, we sat by the fire for the rest of the evening, talking and reliving the day’s events.

Everyone was up early the following morning because Lian wanted to go exploring. I let them go and sat on the rocks with the old lady, Pepsi. She struggles with her hips, and I wondered if she would have the strength and will for another trip together or if this would be her last one.

If you are camping on the West Coast, the wind is inevitable and supposedly part of the charm. Back at the camp, we had to hold on for dear life because it felt like the wind was attacking us from all sides. We had to choose: it was either in the tent or the bakkie, and we unanimously decided to explore the coastal strip further.

We heard that there was a shipwreck north of our camp, but we were advised by reception not to try to drive to it. The dunes were thick sand and almost impassable. We did not deter easily, however, and Jean took the wheel.

Lian was the first to spot the wreck, and I told Jean to drive on so we could see where the road ended. We could always stop here on the way back and then walk across the few dune streets to the wreck. The path ran parallel to the sea and suddenly turned 90 degrees to the left. Before long, we had crossed a few dune streets through some thick sand sections and stopped right next to the wreck.

I still remember Jean saying he didn’t understand why the guy at reception said we could not drive up here. A few pics later, we were on the move again. Jean was driving again, and I was amazed at how well he managed. The sandy path ran along the sea and then turned 90 degrees to the right, straight up a steep dune. About 10m before the summit, the bakkie came to a standstill. If I had just listened to Jean at this point, the rest of this episode would have gone much differently…

“Dad, we are so close. Let’s use the Maxtrax to try and get the bakkie out on the last stretch,” he suggested. But no, Father knows best! “Son, we do not need that sissy stuff. Reverse and drive the bakkie out of here.” We drove back in reverse, and after discussing what we had to do, Jean planted his foot on the gas pedal. Again, the bakkie stopped – this time, a little shorter than the first time. “Ok, let me get behind the wheel to get us out of here,” I said. I hang my head in shame when I read these words, but yeah…

I don’t want to go into the details here, but long story short: we (or at least I) tried to tackle that dune from all directions, but I could not even get close to Jean’s first attempt. He asked if he could have another go, and I agreed. The nearest help was probably about 35km away, so we had no choice – the bakkie had to get out.

I don’t know how he managed it, but he got stuck right next to his first attempt. With all three of his attempts he had progressed further than I had – which badly bruised my ego. My sense of humour was waning, and I agreed that we should get the Maxtrax out and bury it in front of the rear wheels. We deflated the tyres further, and we caucused again before Jean resolutely moved behind the wheel. The back of the bakkie climbed out of the sand nicely, and slowly Jean started to gain momentum. He kept his cool and decided to drive diagonally up the dune instead, where the sand was still relatively hard, and before I could blink, the bakkie slipped over the dune.

Jean is only 12 years old, but he handled the whole thing like a total pro! He didn’t sound worried once, and even though I started thinking about what Plan B would be if we couldn’t get out, he remained calm. So, despite my bruised ego, I was beaming with pride.

Back at camp, the wind was a thing of the past. We lit the fire and continued our Rummikub tournament. The following morning the wind was bothering me again, and I suggested that we pack up and head back to Elands Bay for the last night. It would also be easier with the dogs. The boys agreed, and before long, we were on our way. Barely past Koingnaas, my whole team was already fast asleep, and they only started to wake up back on the N7.

A few kilometres before Garies, an unearthly smell filled the bakkie. I thought one of the boys was to blame, but when I looked around, I immediately noticed the origin of the stench. Pepsi was sitting up straight, and there was a huge mess on her mattress. I yelled at Lian to hold Mila because if that dog decided to run around with the steaming pile in the bakkie, we would not survive the incident. Jean threw his arm over his seat and pressed Pepsi against the seat until I could find a place to pull over safely. At the stop, I was at the back door immediately. Mercifully, there was toilet paper on hand, and after a few deep swallows, I went about the cleaning task while four sets of eyes stared at me.

Back in the bakkie, everyone burst out laughing. We chuckled about the surprise that Mila had left us all the way to Garies. The stench hit me again while I was helping Pepsi out of the bakkie (since her hips have problems, I must help her in and out every time). I inspected the cab but could not see anything. “What is going on on your arm and shirt?” Jean asked me. That was when I saw I was completely smeared. I realised it could only have come from Pepsi. Mila, the little rascal, had done her business on Pepsi, and when she got up to sit, the mess slid down to the mattress, where I noticed it. The boys washed Pepsi while I tried to clean myself up. Another t-shirt bites the dust… We finally arrived at Elands Bay without further incident. Out of curiosity, I asked at the reception what accommodation options they offered. When they mentioned that they had backpacker rooms and Lian heard it, I decided then and there that we would leave the tents in the bakkie and that I would let the two boys sleep in a backpackers for the first time. While we strolled along the sea, we relived the anecdotes and laughter of the previous few days. I will not soon forget this getaway with my boys. Being the last people to camp at Noup was a truly unforgettable experience.

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