Once you have been to the Kalahari, that magical and mystical place with a legendary name to match, you have to return. There will always remain a strange longing that you cannot explain. A gentle tug that pulls your mind to far away sand dunes, sunsets and open vistas.
The Northern Cape is not just about the Kalahari (although it was our main destination and first on the list). Here is what is we found:
1. The Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park
We spent five nights in the park with four of those in the Mabuasehube section, Botswana. Do tell your wife the drive in is a long and bumpy one (closed borders necessitated the drive from Nossob Rest Camp on the South African side).
Our days were mostly lazy and slow. We did not come for the prolific wildlife sightings, but for the experience of camping unfenced as a family in one of Africa's finest wildernesses. The days were filled with reading, brewing coffee, kicking a rugby ball around, staring at the camp fire and having fun with the local bird club. Karlien decided it was a good idea for Richter to learn how to catch a bird. They devised a trap from an ammo box and ratchet strap and against all odds managed to trap a young and most inexperienced spur fowl (it helped that they already spent a lot of time around the campsite). On another occasion a yellow-billed hornbill surrendered its temporary freedom before flying away to regather its lost pride in the nearest Camelthorn tree.
We did have two nocturnal visits from an inquisitive hyena but were well prepared and packed everything away at night, unlike some fellow campers who lost their potjie pot to a scavenging hyena. Other highlights included three cheetah sightings, one where a male coalition pair scent marked a play tree, as well as a brown hyena.
The alternative to wild camping on the Botswana side is of course the much easier South African side. Either way, I was content and very happy with digging my feet deep into the Kalahari sand next to a campfire far away from online pollution and cancelled sporting events.
2. The Orange/Gariep River
We approached the Northern Cape from the South. The Orange or Gariep River, although not as intimidating as the Okavango or Zambezi further North, is an impressive river. Crossing it adds to the excitement on any journey and provides that "now we are travelling"-moment. Being Karoo kids we had to test the water and rented a canoe for a late afternoon father-and-son trip on the Orange topped of with a swim in the ice cold pool.
On previous occasions we indulged in a full river rafting trip in the Richtersveld region and can highly recommend it. The isolation and stark beauty of a mountainous desert terrain while rowing down the Gariep is exceptional.
As you can imagine, the Gariep River is the lifeblood of the region as it travels thousands of kilometres to its ultimate meeting with the Atlantic Ocean. Through its winding course the river exposes ancient rocks along the way, but nowhere more prominent and impressive than at the Augrabies Falls.
3. Augrabies Falls
Wow! We were once again really impressed by the magnitude of not only the falls, but also the sheer cliffs of the canyon down stream. Not to mention the friendly staff of the Augrabies Falls National Park and the clean and organised rest camp.
The walk ways are user-friendly and offers brilliant views of the Aukoerebis or "Place of Great Noise". A sunrise walk to Arrow Point turned out to be a magical experience as did a later walk up Moon Rock with Richter. It was the 11th national park that he has visited and we would love to return and spend more time there.
No trip is complete without an unexpected detour. We never intended to travel all the way to the Namaqualand. The road from Augrabies to Springbok leads through a variety of desert landscapes and it was hard to ignore the road signs heading north to hamlets on the Gariep River, bordering Namibia.
The area around Springbok received good rain four days prior to our arrival. The world-famous desert flowers were just starting to make an appearance, but would take another week to carpet the desert with colours. The reason for our visit was to see friends of ours that has made a farm outside Springbok their home. Their appreciation for their new home was humbling to experience.
The bedrock formations and enigmatic quiver trees is what makes this region attractive even without the annual flower show. And of course it is so much better when sharing the beauty with friends and family.
5. Solitude and silence
Nothing beats an off the grid holiday. And no destination is better at it than the Northern Cape. We only really started to relax and enjoy each others' company as a family when we lost mobile phone reception. It is only then that one can truly appreciate the value of spending uninterrupted time together.
Building a camp fire, boiling a cup of coffee on it and later using it to prepare dinner. Enjoying the sunrise from the inside of a tent. Quiet sunsets and nights filled with stargazing. These are the priceless blessings of a camping trip in the Kgalagadi (according to me compulsory on any trip).
Exploration never stops. What about these to add to the list of Northern Cape adventures:
- Richtersveld National Park and Orange River rafting trip;
- Riemvasmaak Hot Springs;
- Kimberley's Big Hole;
- Mokala National Park;
- The West Coast;
- Small-town living in Calvinia, Nieuwoudtville and Kakamas
Of all the wild and wonderful places Toerboer has visited, we decided to settle in Graaff-Reinet, in South Africa’s Great Karoo.
We have set up an office, three beautiful self-catering units as well as exclusive experiences in the surrounding area. Join me and my team in exploring the Gem of the Karoo and share our complete immersion.
In 2018 we decided that we are ready to open up to the warm hospitality of the Karoo. We were looking for a house with a story to tell, one with history. Graaff-Reinet was definitely the town for that, being the fourth oldest town in South Africa, established in 1786. The house had to be specific: old, fixable, wooden floors, open-plan kitchen with a coal stove. Karlien saw this house in Noord Street on the internet and made an offer. To our surprise the offer was accepted and there was no turning back. The first time we saw the house was after we signed the contract. It was a very hot day – 2 January 2018. The house was not in a good shape and has not received any attention during the past eight years of being rented out. It was dark and dirty. The garden was a semi-desert. A good description was that it had “potential” – normally a universal term used to describe an optimistic owner not sure of the future of the house. We were a bit disheartened to be honest. The house officially became ours on the 13th of April 2018. Then the work started. And still continues. But we are so happy, contend and satisfied.
The house has ten bedrooms, of which we as a family use three. One is used as the communal lounge in the main house. Two rooms in the main house is used as guest rooms (The Dalrymple Room and 1786), two in the Tradesman Shop and two in Voetpad Cottage. The house also has two entrances - at the back is Ryneveld Square and in the front Noord Street.
HISTORY OF THE HOUSE
The house was built in the Victorian style with steep, pitched roofs, turrets and chimney pots to accommodate the fireplaces. The large front porch, or “Stoep” is also very characteristic of this style. We are still in the process of locating the precise history of the house. The first documented transfer of the property took place in 1832 – from a deceased estate of Mrs Pretorius. The local historians believe the house date back to at least 1850 – looking at the Yellow wood floors and ceilings and the overall design (Yellow wood and Oregon pine beams and plank ceilings and floors, which was preserved by coating it with aloe juice). There are still wonderful examples of a “brandsolder” in the garage in Noord Street and the double garage in Ryneveld Square. The house is also one of the last in Graaff-Reinet with an adjoining Tradesman Shop (Noord Street). It is in close proximity to Church Square. We regularly get visitors that had some kind of connection with the house – grandparents that lived here or visiting family members and remembering the house from early childhood.
We are very proud and appreciative of the history of the house and intend to combine this with our personal taste of old and new. We hope you enjoy it too.
The fenced square behind our house used to be called the Fietspark or Bicycle Park, as this is where traffic officials taught young children how to use the road as cyclists or pedestrians. You are more than welcome to use the park when staying over. We try and look after the park along with our neighbours, even though the upkeep is the municipality’s responsibility.
Named after Willem Cornelius van Ryneveld – appointed Civil Commissioner in 1828 in Graaff-Reinet. From 1834 to shortly before his death in 1852 he was the resident Magistrate. The Coldstream Guards camped here during the Anglo Boer War. By 7 January 1901 there were some 2000 troops, mainly mounted, encamped on the slopes of Magazine Hill and on Van Ryneveld’s Square.
Our town is special in so many ways:
Khoi and San – this area of the Karoo was initially inhabited by Khoi and San groups as can be derived from the many rock art etchings found in the area as well as documented accounts of the first Europeans that arrived here.
1652- Dutch East India Company (VOC) establishes a refreshment station where Cape Town is today. The town grew and farmers started moving inland to look for grazing for their livestock. They were the original “Trek Boers”. They came into contact with local tribes and clashed for fresh water, grazing and wild animals for the pot.
1779 – Trek Boers have moved far to the East of Cape Town, along the coast and inland, and clashed with the local Xhosa groups in what was to become the First Frontier War.
1786 – The border between the Trek Boers and Xhosa was settled as the Great Fish River, but of course there were further battles. The district needed protection and administration, as well as infrastructure such as schools and churches, hospitals and trading posts for the farmers – and thus the establishment of Graaff-Reinet.
Mauritz Hermann Otto Woeke was sent to establish a Drostdy (seat of local government) and bought the land from farmer Dirk Coetzee*. The Drostdy was proclaimed by the Governor, Cornelis Jacob van der Graaffe (hence the name: combination with his surname and his wife’s surname: Cornelia Rijnet). The district was the fourth in the Cape Colony (Cape Town, Stellenbosch (1685) and Swellendam (1745) – all between 450km – 600 km from Graaff-Reinet) and covering a huge 130 000km2 .
The Drostdy, a jail, public offices and homesteads were built from clay, mud and reeds. Everything was handmade or locally grown.
1789 – There was a long drought during this time, as well as another Xhosa invasion which made the Landdrost Woeke’s work challenging. Families moved into town for protection and put strain on the towns infrastructure.
1793 – Christiaan Maynier became landdrost. After the Second Frontier War, many farmers were unhappy and wanted revenge.
1795 – 6 July – Willem Prinsloo and six other men proclaimed Graaff-Reinet an independent colony. The new leader, Head of the National Assembly, David Gerotz.
In the same year, Britain took control of the Cape Colony.
1803-1804 – British gave control to the Batavian Republic and Andries Stockenström became landdrost. Stockenström and later his son made huge strides in improving living conditions in the town. Reinet House and the Drostdy was built.
1835 – Dutch farmers and Burghers (Afrikaners) were unhappy with the British government’s handling of the frontier problems, the abolition of slavery and increasing taxes. Several thousand people packed up their belongings in ox wagons and moved north – the start of the Great Trek.
1879 – 25 Aug and the first train arrived in Graaff-Reinet.
Graaff-Reinet contributed 50% to the Colonial revenue in 1860, mainly due to wool export. This made Graaff-Reinet the most important inland centre in the Cape Colony. But there was an economic depression in the Cape Colony during the 1860’s that went with a drop in wool prices. The discovery of diamonds in 1867 again uplifted the economy in Graaff-Reinet as immigrants and adventurers in their thousands entered the Cape Colony via Port Elizabeth. Another depression followed in the Cape Colony during 1884 – 1886. In the 1881 Railway Bill it was decided that Graaff-Reinet should be bypassed and this meant that it relinquished any hope of staying an important interior town. Even more so when gold was discovered on the Witwatersrand in 1886.
1900 – In March of that year during the Anglo Boer War, 350 soldiers from the British Sherwood Foresters arrived in town. Martial Law was declared in the town on 20 December 1900. Six hundred British Coldstream Guards also arrived by armoured train in town on New Year’s Eve. Two thousand Imperial Troops camped on the slopes of Magazine Hill and Van Ryneveld’s Square. Graaff-Reinet was the centre for British Military Operations for the Eastern Cape during the war.
During the war, 201 Boers (Cape Rebels and others) were sentenced to death in Graaff-Reinet, but only eight were carried out in Graaff-Reinet, including the well-known Gideon Scheepers. He was tried by a military court on more than 30 charges (including murder, arson, robbery and high treason) and executed by means of a firing squad next to an open grave in the Sundays River bed (18 January 1902) on the Murraysburg Road. His body was disinterred by the British during the night and secretly reburied.
Interesting bits and pieces on the history of Graaff-Reinet
The establishment of the Drostdy in 1786 meant more protection for the farmers. This also resulted in the renewal of the Commando system (civil defence), responsible for 2504 Bushmen killed during 1786 and 1795, with 276 Colonist lives lost during the same period, along with 19 161 head of cattle and 84 094 sheep.
Rev Andrew Murray described the people of Graaff-Reinet as “die oproerigste en ongehoorsaamste in die ganse kolonie” (the most rebellious and most disobedient in the entire colony).
The conflict of the late 1700’s up to the mid 1800’s had a huge influence on the South African history (Xhosa and Khoisan being dominated by the Dutch and English settlers). The border (more in the mind than a physical border) that was created during this time between the Xhosa and whites (1778) had a lingering effect that lasted long into the Twentieth century.
The !Xam chief, Koerikei lies buried in the Camdeboo Conservancy.
Rhino horn from a black rhinoceros that was shot in the parsonage garden by James Murray in 1880’s can be seen in the Reinet House (due to drought the rhino came through the dry river bed to raid the vegetable garden).
History continued – more about our perceived family footprint in Graaff-Reinet from the very beginning
*Dirk Coetzee was the second generation of Coetzee’s born in South Africa from the original Dirk and Sara Coetzee from Kampen in The Netherlands. Coincidently, Coetzenburg, the famous sport grounds in Stellenbosch was also named after Dirk Coetzee (the land was given to the family by Simon van der Stel).
The seventh child of Dirk and Sara, Cornelius Coetzee, was born on 13 Feb 1692. His son, Dirk (30 Sep 1742) married Anna Elizabeth and they were the pioneer farmers that moved inland and settled on the Zondags River. This is the farm that was exchanged for two loan farms in the Pearston district as well as 8000 Gulden to become Graaff-Reinet. His farmhouse formed the first Drostdy. Another Coetzee, JA, was amongst those that were to be executed in Graaff-Reinet as a rebel during the Anglo Boer War or South African War, but his sentence was changed to life imprisonment by Kitchener. He was released after at the end of the war on 31 May 1902. One of these two farms in the Pearston district had the name of “Hoop van Afrika” – Hope of Africa. And this is also the name of our backyard ;-)
It's all in the name
Our name, Toerboer (Afrikaans) translates to ‘’Traveling Farmer’’ but resonates more toward our heritage of the Voortrekkers (also called ‘’Boere’’) who travelled from the frontiers of the Cape Colony, across the Drakensberg to various Northern and Eastern parts of South Africa. To travel and to explore the unknown is part of who we are. We are therefore African travel specialists since 1836, although we officially only launched the company in 2013.
Owner run and managed, we pride ourselves in our heritage and love for the continent. We specialise in small group bespoke safaris. With more than 25 years’ collective experience in the travel industry, our passionate and dynamic team can put together the perfect African experience. Whether you want to authentically immerse yourself in the African Wilderness, or encounter as much of the history, food and culture of this fascinating continent, we’ve got you covered.
Dawid "Toerboer" de Wet
Toerboer was once a young boy, who dreamt of Africa. In fact, he lived in Africa. His first memories were of warthogs chasing him into a Zulu hut in Umfolozi Game Reserve and the rain on his birthday in the Kruger National Park. When he grew up, he travelled extensively with his family, longing for a driver’s license and a bakkie of his own. There was no other option than to become a game ranger. As a teenager, he started journeying on his own - river rafting on the Orange River and climbing Kilimanjaro. His passion for travelling became an obsession, and later a career.
He joined a tour company in Cape Town after completing school and then went on to study Tourism, Journalism and Wildlife Management. During his studies, he was enticed by a job advertisement: “Do you want to travel to Ngorongoro, Serengeti, Zanzibar, Etosha, South Luangwa, and get paid for it?”. For five years he did just that – living his dream with more than seventy multi-day overland tours, a quarter of a million kilometers on African roads and countless stories to tell.
His next journey was with his wonderful and supportive wife, whom he joined for a year of managing lodges in the Pafuri region of Kruger, Mozambique, the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park and Drakensberg. It was inevitable then that his lifelong mission turned into Toerboer – Experts in Extraordinary Experiences. Handcrafted journeys through the African continent and beyond, specializing in small group tours, adventurous honeymoons, buddymoons, family safaris and unique journeys, as well as school and special-interest tours.
The Erongo Mountains was as beautiful as always. Vingerklip was silhouetted between a hot earth and a stormy and dark sky. Twyfelfontein, the Petrified Forest and Swakopmund were also on our itinerary. As far as the south goes, our visit to the green Kalahari was a great start to this journey. The grass was knee-high and green. The wildlife happy and content and the birds chirpy. From here we descended down the escarp to the Namib Rand and we encountered a different picture.
With very little rain compared to the rest of the country, this was still pretty much desert. The Tsauchab River was in flood just a week before, but few remnants remained. The silence and eery beauty of Sossusvlei and Deadvlei in the early morning remains a highlight of any tour to Namibia.
Compared to 6 weeks ago, Namibia is green and lush. The landscape is inviting as always, but different. Except for the harsh Namib desert – status Quo remains.
The young animals that has been dropped in the beginning of the year look more at ease within the bigger herds. Lush vegetation and colourful birds (migrants and otherwise in full plumage), butterflies and the occasional flower is a feast for the eye. After an extended drought, some parts of the country has filled up with water. The area between Etosha National Park’s northern boundary and the border with Angola has filled up like a giant shallow lake. It seems that the history of millions of years past has repeated itself. For man, the water that was so much needed, now makes it difficult for people to live. Water is everywhere. Some houses are flooded as are almost all of the farmlands. Yet, when we visited the Ruacana Falls, it was bone dry. The authorities did not release any water during our visit.
The Epupa Falls on the other hand was breathtaking and loud. We also went on a sunset river cruise from Kunene River Lodge and stopped on the opposite bank for a drink. It was my first brief visit to Angola. I’m sure there will be more. The roads leading north to the Kunene was not in relatively good condition, although driving was slow as there are a multitude of little streams that cut across the roads. Off course we had to visit the local Himba village for our friends on this African Safari from Germany and the USA to better understand and appreciate their way of living.
Our final two days was spent in luxury at Okonjima. On the way there we spotted two brown hyenas in full daylight – it was a first for me and a great farewell present to the group.
Once again Namibia played its magic trick – it is a country that demands attention. Go on and visit this land of earth, sky and light.
Toerboer is registered with the Namibian Tourism Board and caters for every type of traveler. Whether you prefer camping, budget or luxury accommodation we build custom itineraries to your liking.
Dawid de Wet.