Waterwheels of Kakamas
Did you know?
In the late 18th century, great herds of buffalo regularly passed through the Kakamas area.
Kakamas is a thriving little village 90km west of Upington, on the banks of the Orange River in the Northern Cape.
As you look about at the enormous spreads of fruit – mainly peaches and grapes – you’ll see a series of furrows being milled by old-technology waterwheels. Although they are popularly known as Persian Wheels, their original design comes from ancient Egypt.
One of Kakamas’ most innovative residents, Piet Burger, adapted the waterwheel for local conditions and it is still used as a pumping device to get water to higher ground.
Thus was laid the foundations for a thriving fruit farming industry. Out of this emerged the famed Kakamas Peach (also known as the Collins Peach), which became the standard canning peach of South Africa. The ‘Kakamas’ is rich-yellow in colour, deliciously fleshed and perfectly shaped for canning. A single Kakamas peach tree is said to be the common ancestor of all trees supplying the South African peach-canning industry.
Then came the establishment of sultana crops (for raisins), followed by table grapes – now a major export from the area.
Kakamas is bustling and prosperous these days, but it has emerged from very humble origins. The 1895-97 drought was followed by the rinderpest, an agricultural scourge which ruined most of the farmers in the area. The government of the day decided to prepare this part of the Orange River Valley as a settlement for the poor.
The fertile river islands of Marchand, Zoetap and Neus were put under irrigation and most farming ventures turned out very well. Kakamas Township was established in 1931. Some say it’s a Khoi word derived from ‘gagamas’, which means ‘brown’. Others say it means ‘vicious, charging ox’ in an indigenous language. Either way, Kakamas and its old waterwheels now seem to face a happy future together.
Travel tips & Planning info
Who to contact
Kakamas Tourist Information
Tel: +27 (0)54 431 6300
Kalahari Gateway Hotel
Tel: +27 (0)54 431 0838
Orange River Wine Cellars (Wine-tasting & tours)
Tel: +27 (0)54 431 0830
How to get here
Kakamas lies approximately 90km west of Upington on the N14 on the way to Namaqualand.
Best time to visit
Spring (September-October) is best, and autumn (April-May) is lovely. Summers (October to March) in this area can be extremely hot, and winters (May to August), especially at night, can be very cold.
Around the area
German war graves, private game reserves, an adventure centre and the Riemvasmaak Hot Springs to the north.
Tours to do
Wine tasting at the Orange River Wine Cellars.
Most visitors to this area drive themselves. You can hire a vehicle from Cape Town or Johannesburg, or in Upington.
What will it cost
Food and accommodation along this route are inexpensive. It is still a relatively undiscovered and uncommercialised area of South Africa.
Length of stay
Depending on your next destination, Kakamas is an interesting overnight visit.
What to pack
Informal, rugged and weather-compliant clothing.
Where to stay
There are a number of accommodation options in and around Kakamas. The Kalahari Gateway Hotel is the most central.
What to eat
Fruits of the area and biltong make good picnics.
Check the websites for event details.
Sweet wines and fruit.