Did you know?
In the 1870s Okiep was said to have the richest copper mine in the world.
If you had to rush between the Northern Cape towns of Springbok and Port Nolloth, you would probably do the journey in just more than an hour. After all, the distance is a mere 130km.
But there’s a three-day slow-travel alternative, a much more enjoyable meander near the foot of the Richtersveld – or the head of Namaqualand, depending on your point of view. You’re in legendary copper country here, where the spring daisies run riot and diamond fields are not far away. There is deep history and legend in this area.
We start our trip with a square meal at the Springbok Lodge & Restaurant. The guy in the hot seat overseeing operations is one Jopie Kotze, who’s a legend in these parts. An hour in Jopie’s company is like the History Channel and National Geographic in stereo. He knows the lie of the land, the geology and, in the spring, exactly where to find the best blossoms.
We’re staying over in one of Jopie’s self-catering cottages, so the afternoon is spent walking through the town on a self-guided tour. After a visit to the Namaqualand Museum in the old synagogue and a briefing from Jopie on the role of the Jewish community in the district, we take a late afternoon drive out to the Goegap Nature Reserve, and round off the evening with supper back at ‘The Springbok’.
The next morning we relocate just up the road to the copper town of Okiep, checking in at the local Okiep Country Hotel. Once we’ve dropped our bags, we hop back in the car and drive out to the Cornish beam pump and old smoke stack, evocative remnants of a once-flourishing copper industry.
Okiep was once the site of a siege during the South African (Anglo-Boer) War. The besieging Boers were led by the war general, Jan Smuts, and one of the rules of engagement was that women and children were not to be fired upon. So some of the British soldiers, in order to get a much-needed drink, apparently donned dresses and sun-bonnets and minced their way across the road to the bar.
Our last day of this journey leads us briefly to the town of Steinkopf and then on through the Anenous Pass to the plains leading up to Port Nolloth, that little distant, mist-shrouded speck on the horizon.
Port Nolloth, once a copper port then a crayfish town and now home to offshore diamond divers, is an exciting little settlement also known as a gateway to the Richtersveld – the desolate, mountainous desert in the extreme north-west corner of South Africa. We drive down to the docks and take photographs of the little diamond boats moored out at sea. That 'tong-tong' we hear is the buoy bell marking out the perilous entry route for arriving vessels.
Our trip ends with a visit to the nearby holiday town of McDougall’s Bay and a meeting with George Moyses, well-known diamond diver and raconteur. We come away from these three days with our heads spinning, full of historical yarns and good times spent with colourful characters.