Verneuk Pan

Verneuk Pan is approximatel 100 km from Brandvlei, a small town in the middle of the Namaqualand semi-desert. Brandvlei is approximately 600 km from Cape Town and it looks like this:

Gardening is not a favourite pastime in Brandvlei. Well with soil like this, who wants to dig in the garden? Not much water either for that matter.

The local pub called is called Die Windpomp – directly translated the Wind Pump, more correctly The Windmill. It has a friendly atmosphere and a suitably cheerful and chatty owner.

You notice the fire in the fireplace? It gets achingly cold in Namaqualand. This is not the coldest I have seen the temperature on the Subaru.

But it does come close and, when you consider that I was baking in 40 degrees the day before, it has got to be the most extreme. It looked like this when the temperature was 6. And yes, you can see camera shake. At 6 degrees in a light jersey, you shake.

Anyway when a friend heard I was going to Verneuk Pan he insisted that I visit a small settlement called Granaatsboskolk. He gave me a GPS and the co-ordinates and sent me on my way rejoicing. Why, I hear you ask do you need co-ordinates? Well simple, look at the pictures and you decide how you know if you have found Granaatsboskolk.

And no, there isn’t a place called Lus 10. I couldn’t find it so I had to ask. It is the special cell phone station for the Sishen Saldhana Railway line. More of the line later. By the way, the locals didn’t ask why I needed a GPS, they just wanted to know why this mad englishman actually wanted to go to Granaatsboskolk.

Half way there I found a hill. Mind you in this type of country, a hill can be just a gentle rise in the road. This picture was taken from a rise that the road prudently went around. The hill was huge. At least 10 metres high and about 500 metres long.

That is the way back to Brandvlei.

And then I was there. Uhm, correction, I drove straight through the place and when the road curved which it hadn’t done much that day, I knew I had missed Granaatsboskolk. So I drove back. Checked the GPS and the road signage and decided where to stop. And this, ladies and gentlemen, is Granaatsboskolk. It is a cross roads, one clue that you have arrived.

Back to Brandvlei.

Off to Kakamas.

A Telkom installation.

The only dwelling in Granaatsboskolk.

And if you don’t have a GPS, how do you know you have made it?

Simple. The sign boards stop talking about it.

Actually there is some interesting geology on the way which I didn’t mention.

And now, the Sishen Saldhana Train. The train is well over a kilometre long.

And now, off to Verneuk Pan, but first a short history lesson. Malcolm Campbell was a man who specialised in breaking speed records. Verneuk Pan is flat and long. Two attributes that you need for a high speed race track. The race track takes a smallish portion of the Pan. The original racetrack, marked out by halfsunken car tyres is 19 km long and over its entire length drops 15 cm. Verneuk Pan is 53 kilometres long, so the race track fits easily. It is also covered in the finest dust I have ever experienced. About the only time I ever got dust into the car when it was sealed was at Verneuk Pan.

The Sooby at the starting point.

That glimmer on the horizon is not water. It is what gives the place its name. Verneuk Pan translates as the The Cheating Pan. Early travellers got out onto the flats of the pan.

The heat shimmer appears to be a kilometer away. It surrounds you and you end up in a circle of heat haze.

Everywhere you look is shimmer, as you advance toward it, the shimmer retreats, luring you on to your death from dehydration.

It is easy to go into the centre of the pan and then get lost. In places you cannot see the sides of the pan, just that heat shimmer.

I left the track and headed out into the unmarked pan to experience the unmarked pan.

When I turned around to find the track I must admit that I was glad that the GPS was still on and functioning.

The end of the race track and the end of the pan.

Did Malcolm Campbell succeed? No, he didn’t. You see that black line running across the pan?

There are thousands of those lines, mostly smaller than that one, made up of the local shale. It raises a lump about 2 or 3 cm high on the track. There is a cross line of shale every 200 metres or so. As the vehicle speed increases, so does the instability of the car. Each time you hit a lump, the car bounces slightly. The faster you are going, the higher you bounce and the sooner you hit the next one. At 185 km/h the Subaru was airborne longer than the wheels were on the ground. Very disconcerting, believe me. At the 400 km/h that Campbell was aiming at it would have been impossible to control the car.
Interestingly, the Sooby did not like accelerating on the dusty surface and the take off from the start was slow and sedate.

Swartberg Pass

If you haven’t travelled the Swartberg Pass you have missed an amazing South African experience. The Lonely Planet books rate this pass as the best in South Africa and I am inclined to agree with them – and believe me I have seen some amazing passes in my life. The pass is 25 km long and we took 2 hours 30 minutes to get to Prince Alfred from the foot of the pass. Why, well come with us, and do see why and what you have missed in not following it.

The Swartberg pass is a Bains pass and, as with all Bains passes has an almost artistic flow to it. It also has a a prison on it, reminding us that the passes in early South Africa were constructed with convict labour.

The pass starts off slowly and the local (Oudtshoorn) backpacker lodges provide bikes and transport to the top and you can ride down the pass on a bike. Not something I would recommend to the faint heartd or those who do not like being shaken.

Pretty flowers, calm slopes lure you into the pass.

Why is Amanda holding the flowers? The wind is already blowing strongly here.

The ruins of a toll gate.

Typical of a Bains Pass, dry walling is the norm, not the exception. Where he got his dry wallers from, I do not know, but the dry walls still stand.

The road as Tolkein wrote, “Goes ever on.”

And then we met the time waster. A golden banded sunbird. We stalked it for nearly half an hour before getting these pictures.

And then the top. Note the effects of the wind. The tripods were being blown over.

Looking down the other side of the pass.

Flowers. The wind is gone again.

A clever depth of field picture.

This what those curves look like properly focused.

And then it just keeps on dropping.

Looking back up the way we had come.

How did we get some of those pictures. Simple we climbed.

Cape Fold Mountains. You can see why they are called that.

The jail.

How does one relax on Swartberg Pass? Tai Chi of course.

Serendipity – A happy discovery

Serendipity (n) – a happy discovery made when searching for something else.

In this case I was looking for space on a portable disk to save a large chunk of data, so I selected a directory to delete, but being cautious, I checked what was in the sub-directories. Lo and behold, I found a bunch of photos taken 18 months ago while traveling, stored on the portable disk and somehow never transferred onto my photo store. If I had thought about it, I would have written the pictures off as being lost. Equally the kloof shown in this email came as a complete and happy surprise as well – so join on a trip up serendipity kloof in the newly opened mega-reserve of Baviaanskloof in the Eastern Cape.

A bit of background first. Amanda and I had been to the Grahamstown Festival and Amanda had to attend a workshop in the mega‑reserve which was on the way back from Grahamstown. While Amanda was busy the farmer on whose farm we were staying suggested I go up one of the blind kloofs on the farm. He told me how to find one and I set out. I was not very enthusiastic as the surrounding country was hard, thorny and, despite it being July, very hot.

The approach did not seem particularly encouraging.

Well at least there is a bit of water.

A bit more interesting! The kloof is getting narrower and narrower. Believe it or not, that is the kloof up ahead. It narrowed down to less than a metre in places.

Looking back.

There are arums all over the place.

Indigenous Mint. I was amazed to find that South Africa has its own variety of mint.

Water thunders down this kloof. You can see debris from the last heavy flood in this picture. This not a place to be during a heavy rainstorm. There is nowhere to go.

Many pools have to be waded through or climbed around. This one was climbable.

This is in the heart of the Eastern Cape Biome. The local vegetation makes the water a greenish colour. It looks strangely beautiful and tastes wonderful.

And an arty arum picture.

Trees grow out of any cranny that has some soil in it.

An otters breakfast.

The last picture requires a little explanation. The water in the kloof is extremely cold. Many of the pools are impassable except by wading and to prove that I had actually waded, I set the camera on 10 seconds delay and waded out into the middle of a small but impassable pool. The strange look on my face is because I was losing all feeling in my legs, was convinced that the brother of the crab above was munching my toes and equally convinced that time had ground to a complete, but painful halt – 10 seconds was beginning to feel like 10 hours. For reference, the water was just touching the soles of my boots. When I got back and looked at the picture I realized that, to get a correctly exposed picture I would have to set the speed and aperture of the camera and then go back and stand hip deep in the icy water again while the camera counted the seconds. As you can tell, I opted for comfort and against perfection!

A trip to De Hoop Nature Reserve

 

Wet, dirt roads, wild weather. Just the best way to travel.

Getting across the Breed River is done at Malgas by pont. The only still operating pont in South Africa

The flood waters from the last floods left debris high in the trees

Still pulling as the sun sets

Blue Cranes

The reserve lying before me.

A protea

Fiscal Shrike Bath  Time

Weird shapes of trees caused by wind

Bulbul

Southern Booboo

Rock eroded by wind and water.

Fly Past

Don’t disturb me. Can’t you see I am basking.

Fossilized Dunes

Whale Tail

Chalet on the Beach.

Pelican

Grey headed gulls

Swallows nesting

Fishing

Hikers Descending Lions Head under a New Moon

The new moon sets behind Lions Head as hikers descend from the top after watching the sunset.
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During that photographic session I saw a green deep sky object. I am still battling to identify it and figure out why it is green. The red circle on the right is a hiker, the red circle on theleft is Venus, but what is the green object?

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The Petroglyphs of Kenhardt

On our way way to Augrabies we stopped off to visit a petroglyph site just outside Kenhardt. Amanda made contact with Elma a very enthusiastic woman who agreed to take us out to view the petraglyphs.

There had been a bit of rain and so the flowers of region had started to blossom. Especially beautiful were the Gouwsblomme.

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The petroglyphs were clustered on one side of a hill or kopie as it is known in Afrikaans. This is part of that kopie.

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What follows is a collection of the pictures I took of the pectroglyphs.
This one is fascinating in that there are seven toes on what looks like an animal footprint.

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