The Kamiesberg Route is located in the Northern Cape province of South Africa and stretches from the west coast to the Kamiesberg mountain range east of the town Kamieskroon.
This route was instigated by the people of the Namaqua National Park. Lately, national parks in South Africa and many of the communities near them have been working together to ensure that the benefits of the tourism traffic to their areas are distributed more evenly. The Namaqua National Park is very positive about linking the park to the communities that make up the Kamiesberg Route. The park wants to help to create opportunities for the people in the area.
The route is part of the greater Namaqualand region. When hearing the word 'Namaqualand', those in the know tend to immediately think of wild flowers – carpets upon carpets of oranges, pinks, whites and yellows. This is one of South Africa’s most famous natural spectacles, occurring in springtime after a winter of adequate rainfall. The Kamiesberg Route is situated in the centre of the Succulent Karoo Biodiversity Hotspot.
The Kamiesberg Route, however, seeks to unveil more than just flowers. The route was named after the fact that the region is the Kamiesberg municipal area, as well as after the Kamiesberg mountain range which forms the eastern border of the route. The area has so much more to offer – including fauna, landscapes, local customs, history and local cuisine. Few people know, for example, that here is one of the rare places where one can camp in matjieshutte (huts traditionally built by the Nama people) – alone in the silence of wide open spaces and surrounded by spectacular rock formations and quiver trees.
The camp may be reached by donkey cart, or by means of a hike, carrying all essentials. Or perhaps a visitor will choose to stay with some locals from one of the small villages on the route – villages with intriguing names like Leliefontein, Paulshoek, Soebatsfontein and Nourivier. Walking tours of the villages can be arranged, as can a guide for longer hikes. 4x4 routes are also plentiful, and can also be guided by a local so that visitors learn about the area they are driving through.
Those venturing to the coast will encounter the diamond mining operations that provide work for some of the inhabitants of the region. The delightful coastal village of Hondeklipbaai has a few guesthouses for those wishing for a little luxury, while the divers’ cottages near Koiingnaas are an experience not to be missed. These cottages were each individually built by the diamond divers who lived on the coast for almost 20 years, so each has its own unique character and features.
Hiking, bird-watching, game drives, donkey cart rides, campfire stories and much more will captivate and occupy a guest on the Kamiesberg Route. But simply chatting with the locals, seeing local crafts, visiting the village vegetable garden, stopping to admire the variety of landscapes or feeling the sea breeze on one’s face are equally rewarding experiences – as is admiring the fascinating Succulent Karoo flora (whether there are flowers or not).
The Kamiesberg region is home to wonderful rock formations, fascinating plant life, amazing gorges, exciting mountain passes and some truly remarkable people who are close to the earth and will help visitors to discover the wonders of Namaqualand.
Namaqualand geological and vegetation types:
The Kamiesberg Route is located in the middle of the Succulent Karoo – which is considered a focal point in the plant world as it is one of 25 biodiversity “hotspots”. The Kamiesberg is the only region where all the known endemic succulents belong to the same family, namely Mesembryanthemaceae. This region also boasts more than 6 000 plant types, of which 86 species are endemic (that is, occurring nowhere else in the world). The area is home to 35 species of flowering plants, which are remnants of a wet, tropical time a million years ago. The Acacia erioloba – the kameeldoringboom or camelthorn tree – first appeared in the area 4 000 years ago, and is actually a summer rainfall species, though it no longer rains here in summer.
The region covered by the Kamiesberg Route can be divided into two main categories, the Rocky Hills and the Sandveld, each with its own distinctive geological and vegetation types. Beyond the Rocky Hills of the Kamiesberg mountain range is the Bushmanland plateau – which again has different vegetation and geology.
The Rocky hills:
These are what make the landscapes in Namaqualand so spectacular. The Rocky Hills region (which is about 50km wide and includes the Kamiesberg Mountain Range) is characterised by distinctive round granite domes, separated by sandy plains. The rainfall in the hills averages around 100-200mm per annum. The vegetation is 0.5 to 1m high. Stock farming is predominant in the hills, but wheat is also grown. Abandoned wheat-lands and other disturbed lands are where the famous fields of Namaqualand wildflowers occur.
The Sandveld is a strip about 30km wide along the west coast of South Africa from the Orange River to the Olifants River, with loose white sand at the coast and red sand to the interior. The northern portion of the region gets less than 50mm of rainfall per annum, while further south it can reach 150mm per annum. Some moisture is derived from the coastal fogs that often permeate the area in the early mornings. Strong southerly winds prevail and cause up-welling of cold, nutrient-rich seawater to the surface, accounting for the high biological productivity of the marine environment. The area is characterised by sandy soils that support sparse, scrubby Strandveld vegetation, which is adapted to extreme temperatures and limited moisture, but is sensitive to disturbance. Agricultural potential is poor, but the unusual succulent vegetation and annual wildflower display are important assets of the area.
The plants of the Sandveld (the vegetation type is called Strandveld) grow on sand of marine origin and can be divided into five subtypes, determined mainly by the age, depth and origin of the sandy habitat. Each group of vegetation has developed its own survival tactics.
Strandveld Vegetation Types:
- The vegetation of the Strandveld Coastal Zone is stunted due to the summer southerly gales;
- The Short Strandveld is never more than knee high and the volstruisvygie with its large pink flower gives a splendid display after the rains;
- The Tall Strandveld vegetation buries its roots deep in the more stabilised inland white sand, where multi-species clumps grow up to 2m high;
- The Strandveld Dune Field is dynamic, with no vegetation on the mobile dunes closer to the coast; and
- The older inland sandy areas are home to the Grassy Strandveld. These plains are dominated by boesmangras and doringgras, which feed springbok and gemsbok.
The Succulent Karoo and Skep:
The 116 000km² Succulent Karoo is exceptional among the world’s arid regions for its spectacularly diverse array of plants – 6 356 species, 40% of which are endemic (occurring nowhere else in the world). This is about four times the concentration of species found in comparable winter-rainfall deserts elsewhere in the world. The Succulent Karoo is also the only entirely arid region to be recognised as a biodiversity hotspot.
Besides the plants, the Succulent Karoo is home to 250 bird species, 78 mammal species, 132 species of reptiles and amphibians and an unknown number of insect species (there are at least 70 scorpion species alone, 18 of which are endemic). It is the world’s most diverse arid environment.
Because of low population densities, there are many challenges for conservation in the region. Prospecting and the exploitation of the regional mineral wealth, irrigated agriculture, the harvesting and collection of naturally occurring species, and overgrazing have transformed much of the landscape. This alarming fact, combined with the looming potential impact of climate change on the biodiversity in this ecosystem, prompted a desire to develop a regional strategy for conservation.
The Succulent Karoo Ecosystem Programme (Skep) evolved as a binational initiative that seeks to develop conservation as a land use rather than instead of land use. Through Skep, the people of the Succulent Karoo take ownership of and enjoy their unique living landscape in a way that maintains biodiversity and improves livelihoods now and into perpetuity. Skep – which although an acronym in English, means to 'create' or 'serve' in Afrikaans – involves more than 60 scientific experts and 400 local stakeholders representing government, academia, non-governmental organisations, private-sector interests and local communities in a unique approach to conservation planning.
Skep’s targets and focal areas:
Skep’s programme targets are as follows:
- Create a co-ordinated conservation and sustainable land-use programme throughout the Succulent Karoo that involves all main land-use sectors and additional role players in working towards conservation targets;
- Secure 100% of conservation targets for Succulent Karoo vegetation types under conservation management regimes controlled by state, communal, private or corporate entities. This will effectively conserve 75% of the species in the hotspot;
- Maintain populations of key indicator and flagship species within priority geographic areas at their current levels; and
- Conserve important ecological processes (namely, sand corridor movements, river corridors and climatic gradients) by protective legislation and improvement of local management practices.
To achieve these targets, Skep will be focusing on:
- Expanding protected areas and improving conservation management, particularly through the expansion of public-private-communal-corporate partnerships;
- Increasing local, national and international awareness of the unique biodiversity of the Succulent Karoo;
- Supporting the creation of a matrix of harmonious land uses; and
- Improving institutional co-ordination to generate momentum and focus on priorities, maximise opportunities for partnerships and ensure sustainability.
Skep recognises that the Skep strategy is a living document and that these priority actions and emphasis will evolve over time.
The Kamiesberg Mountains:
The Kamiesberg mountain range stretches from Garies to the Richtersveld area in the north. It forms the escarpment between the Sandveld on the west coast and the Bushmanland in the east, and stretches like a backbone in the middle of Namaqualand. It is called die hardeveld, which means the hard ground. In general, it is accepted that the name Kamiesberg is derived from the Nama words tkimmie, which means bunch or bundle, and tkammie – which means “the mountain of water that is bundled together”.
The best-known landmarks in the mountain range are the Kardoukop or Kroonkop (literally meaning 'crown head') south-east of Kamieskroon, and the 1 591m high Boesmanskop (meaning 'Bushman’s head') south-west of Kamieskroon. In winter, the mountains are often covered in snow, which ensures some spectacular scenery.
Notes for travellers:
- The rain determines the peak of the flower season – it may be any time between July and mid-September – but remember there is more to see than just flowers;
- Normally flowers are at their best between 11:00 and 16:00;
- Don’t pick or trample flowers, or remove any plants or bulbs;
- Take your time – there is so much to see;
- Do not enter private property without permission;
- Fuel is not available everywhere, so make sure you have enough or plan your trip accordingly;
- Make sure of the condition of the roads before you set out;
- Leave gates as you found them; and
- A variety of businesses in the small villages can supply most of the daily requirements of visitors. However, there are few banks and often no doctors in the villages. Garies or Springbok can provide for these requirements.
Glossary of terms:
Boerekos: Directly translated from Afrikaans, boerekos means “farmer’s food”. Boerekos is the traditional cuisine, consisting primarily of meat (either lamb or game) and vegetables, potato dishes or home-baked breads.
Boerewors: South African sausage that is usually cooked on a “braai”.
Bossiedoktor: A Namaqualand herbalist – directly translated, it means “bush doctor” – a person who knows the uses of all the local plants.
Braai: The South African barbecue. An abbreviation of the Afrikaans word braaivleis or “grilled meat”. Meat products and accompaniments such as vegetables and garlic bread are cooked over an open fire in a relaxed, sociable environment.
Bredie: A traditional South African stew, usually with a tomato base.
Koeksisters (also spelt koeksusters): Twisted plaits of dough, deep-fried in hot oil and soaked in thick syrup until translucent. Koeksisters are originally from the Orient.
Matjieshutte: Huts traditionally built by the Nama people. A dome-shaped structure of thin branches is usually covered in reed mats (matjie = mat).
Melktert: Milk tart.
Potbrood: Bread made in a pot on the stove – a solid, delicious bread.
Roosterkoek or Roosterbrood: Bread kneaded and then cooked over open coals.
Vygies: Mesem – small succulents