Verneuk Pan is an enormous, mirage-lined salt pan with an alluring flat, empty surface. That’s what attracted Sir Malcolm Campbell to this Northern Cape stretch of land when he wanted to break the world land speed record in 1929. Alas, Verneuk Pan (literally ‘Deception Pan’) shredded tyres and dreams alike.

Did you know?

Malcolm Campbell promised to return to Verneuk Pan in a ‘monster car’ – but never came back.

In Afrikaans, the word verneuk (pronounced 'fur-ni-uk') means to cheat, or deceive. So when you arrive at a spot in the Northern Cape called Verneuk Pan, you wonder just who was cheated or deceived here.

It all looks so peaceful and flat, with undisturbed horizons and an incredibly smooth surface.

And although the little towns of Brandvlei and Kenhardt call Verneuk Pan their ‘neighbourhood’ it is, in truth, in the middle of nowhere.

All of the above has made Verneuk Pan an ideal location for (a) feature films needing an arid background and (b) the breaking of a land-speed record. Many men in fast cars have come here to fulfil their dreams – often with disastrous results.

The most famous of them all, however, was Captain Malcolm Campbell. This meticulous man who left nothing up to chance finally ended up settling on Verneuk Pan as the location of his 1929 speed attempt in his Napier-Arrol-Astor race car called Bluebird.

After flying over the area, Capt. Campbell acclaimed: ‘Verneuk Pan is the most wonderful stretch of flat country I have ever seen.’ No-one had told him about the ‘tyre biters’ – those dreadfully sharp rubber-cutting stones that lie strewn about. But he was to find out.

The Campbell party – a full racing team and family – arrived at the Cape Town docks in the Carnarvon Castle with 56 crates of spares, more than 1500 litres of aviation fuel, a light airplane and the massive aero-engined Bluebird.

Once their camp was established at Verneuk Pan, they were the object of much local and national scrutiny and speculation, from locals and media alike.

The 25-km track was carefully prepared and much water was trucked in to smooth the surface even further. Campbell was aiming to break the land-speed record of the time: 333km/h.

Meanwhile, over in Daytona, USA, another legendary speedster, Henry Segrave, had clocked an incredible 371 km/h, leaving Malcolm Campbell and his team dispirited.

Nevertheless, he went out in the Bluebird and rode the Verneuk Pan track, shredding eight expensive tyres on those little rocks in the process. But he did succeed in breaking the pre-Segrave record, clocking a respectable 349km/h.

The good news about Campbell is that two years later, he set a new world land-speed record at Daytona – and was knighted for his trouble...

Travel tips & Planning info

Who to contact

Kenhardt Tourist Information
Tel: +27 (0) 54 651 6500

Bushmanland Tours
Tel: +27 (0) 54 651 0022

Kenhardt Hotel
Tel: +27 (0) 54 651 0052

Verneukpan Cottage, Kenhardt
Tel: 27 (0) 54 651 0052

How to get here

One of the easiest ways to get here would be to fly there in a light aircraft from Cape Town. A delight of this pan is that you can see forever and land in any direction. Driving from Cape Town is a journey of around 550km and will take about six hours. Take the N7 north from Cape Town. After about 250km you’ll reach Vanrhynsdorp, where you’ll turn eastwards onto the R27, through Nieuwoudtville and Calvinia. Then veer left on the R27 to Brandvlei, where you should ask directions to Verneuk Pan.

You can also approach it from the Kimberley direction, but this is also a long, lonely trip of about 570km, or at least six hours.

Best time to visit

Come between late August and early October, when there’s a good chance of seeing hills and valleys covered in colourful Namaqualand flowers.

Around the area

Near Kenhardt is a quiver tree forest that is well worth the trouble to visit, especially in the early morning or late afternoon, when the trunks of these giant succulents glow copper and gold.

Get around

Unless you have access to a light aircraft, you will need to drive yourself here.

What to pack

Sunglasses, a GPS and spare wheels.

Where to stay

There’s a fairly comfortable hotel at Kenhardt, some rustic accommodation in Brandvlei, or you can camp.

What to eat

This is sheep country, so don’t miss out on a lamb or mutton dish. Also, don’t miss Ouma Miemie’s establishment in Kenhardt.