Okiep, in Namaqualand in the Northern Cape, was once at the heart of the biggest copper mining operation in the world. It also achieved some measure of fame after General Jan Smuts laid siege to the little village in the dying months of the South African War.

Did you know?

Okiep got its name from the Nama word U-gieb, meaning 'the great, brackish spring'.

Modern-day overlanders could be forgiven for passing the tiny village of Okiep in the Northern Cape (also known locally as O’Okiep) and missing it completely.

However, just over 100 years ago, Okiep was the centre of the richest copper mining area in the world. Over a period of about 60 years, the Cape Copper Company extracted copper worth more than £6-million from mines around Okiep and its sister villages, Springbok, Concordia and Nababeep.

Copper miners from Cornwall in the United Kingdom streamed into this part of Namaqualand at the time and suddenly local social life took on a decidedly British flavour. The Cornishmen and their families arrived at Port Nolloth, were offloaded via a giant swinging basket and transported on a narrow-gauge railway to Okiep. The same little rail link carried the mined copper to ships waiting at the rather treacherous Port Nolloth harbour.

Okiep also hit world headlines during the last months of the South African War (also known as the Anglo-Boer War) back in April 1902. General Jan Smuts and his flying commando of about 400 mounted Boers laid siege to the copper towns of Namaqualand, and Okiep became the focal point of British resistance.

Colonel WS Shelton, commanding the British garrison, had fortified the settlement with 13 blockhouses.

In anticipation of a protracted campaign, the British issued local siege notes, to be used as legal tender until relief came. Even though the garrison only had enough provisions for 3 weeks, Shelton refused to surrender to Smuts.

The Boer plan, historians claim, was to divert British forces from Cape Town and leave the Mother City vulnerable to attack from Boer commandos. However, before this came about, Smuts was called from Okiep to Pretoria to co-sign the Treaty of Vereeniging in June 1902, which brought the South African War to an end.

Okiep went back to its copper mining for nearly two decades until all operations ceased in 1919.

Travel tips & Planning info

Who to contact

Okiep Country Hotel (Tourism Info):
Tel: +27 (0)27 744 1000/+27 (0)82 569 7158
Email: okiep@intekom.co.za

How to get here

Okiep lies on the N7 going north from Cape Town, 6km past the town of Springbok. The distance from Cape Town to Okiep is 600km.

Best time to visit

Prime time in this region is spring (September), when the Namaqua daisies are in full bloom. Repeat visitors also come in autumn (May) to see the succulent fields of the area.

Around the area

While you’re there, visit the Goegap Wild Flower Reserve outside Springbok and the Namaqua National Park in the south near Kamieskroon; or cross the Anenous Pass to Port Nolloth, which has a wild magic of its own.

Tours to do

Tours of Namaqualand, the Richtersveld and the diamond fields.

Get around

Driving yourself is the best option – hire a vehicle (the roads are good, it needn’t be anything tougher than a sedan) from Cape Town International Airport. You can also drive right across the Northern Cape from Kimberley, but this is a longer trip of about 800km.

Length of stay

Four days is the minimum for this glorious region, because you’re bound to follow the adventure trails northwards and to the coastal town of Port Nolloth.

What to pack

Pack light for the day, and always have something warm for the evening when the temperature often plummets.

Where to stay

Okiep Country Hotel is recommended; nearby Springbok offers a wide range of guest houses and self-catering options as well.

What to eat

Hearty Namaqua dishes involve lots of meat. Ask for skuinskoek, a deep-fried pastry with aniseed.

Best buys

Semi-precious stones sold at the Springbok Lodge & Restaurant.