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TThe little town of Eksteenfontein in the Richtersveld World Heritage Site has a fascinating history. Those who ended up in this corner of Northern Cape province were victims of racism and apartheid rules. In the 1990s, fortunes changed as the people of the Richtersveld realised how valuable and sensitive the local plant life was.
Eksteenfontein, perched on the very edge of the Richtersveld World Heritage Site, has one of the most interesting histories of any South African town.
Most of the people there come from Baster ancestry. These people of mixed blood (in Afrikaans, ‘baster’ means ‘hybrid’ or ‘mixed’) were forcibly removed from the ‘white’ farming area near Pofadder, in the north of what was then the Cape province, in 1945.
Their new home in a ‘coloured’ area was negotiated for them by a Reverend Eksteen and had the unpromising name of Stinkfontein (‘stinking spring’). The oldest people of Eksteenfontein still remember the month-long trek to their new home – made on foot and with carts pulled by donkeys and oxen.
There were no roads, and the brackish water en route made many sick. When they arrived, they had to cope with a sometimes-hostile Nama people who had lived here for centuries.
The settlement, named in honour of the pastor who had helped them find a new place to live, became something of a town of last resort for marginalised and disaffected people.
No one had any idea then that their new home – the Richtersveld – would one day be recognised as one of the foremost floral destinations in the world.
This botanical wonderland became a World Heritage Site, declared for its natural and cultural importance, in 2007.
It’s an intriguing town to visit – and not only because of the floral bounty or the stock farmers who migrate with their livestock according to the seasons.
You can stay in the middle of town at a comfortable (but basic) guest house owned by the community, or take a slow donkey ride to the Rooiberg Guest House 15km away. Enquire about sampling traditional food like delicious bread cooked on an open fire or dumplings cooked in goat’s milk, or seeing a demonstration of the ‘Nama Stap’ (the ‘Nama Step’) – a traditional dance.
The longer you stay in Eksteenfontein, the more you’ll be drawn into the everyday lives of these interesting people. Go to a church service and listen to the Eksteenfontein String Band (known as the ‘Snar Orkes’). Or just head for the local games shop, where you can meet the youth, listen to their music and shoot some pool.
You may also want to visit a nomadic livestock farming family nearby. You’ll feel a whole new appreciation for the sustainable relationship the Richtersvelders have with their arid yet beautiful land.
TTravel tips & Planning info
Who to contact
Eksteenfontein Tourism Info Centre
Tel: +27 (0)74 500 4593
How to get here
From Cape Town, take the N7 north to Springbok, a journey that will take about 6 hours. About 50km north of Springbok is the little town of Steinkopf, where you turn onto the Port Nolloth road, the R382. After another 50km, you’ll take a gravel road to your right, signposted for Kuboes and Eksteenfontein. From here it’s about 60km to your destination.
You can also reach Springbok via Kimberley and Upington (rather than Cape Town), but it’s more than 800km from Kimberley.
Best time to visit
In spring (August to October), the weather is mild and there are often flowers wherever you look.
The Richtersveld area is not kind to sedans, so come in a 4x4 (SUV) or high-clearance vehicle. Once here, you could hire a donkey cart for a foray into the World Heritage Site. This is also a beautiful place to hike.
Things to do in the area
You might also want to visit some of the other Richtersveld towns, like Khuboes and Lekkersing, and the Richtersveld National Park, which is close by.
Tours to do
If you’d like a guide, ask at the Tourism Information Centre in Eksteenfontein. There are people who can take you on a walk around the town and area, either on foot or by car. Don't miss the museum.
What will it cost?
Accommodation is less than R200 per person per day. The investment is in getting here. This is South Africa’s remotest corner.
Length of stay
It would be a pity to stay for less than two nights. In fact, it would be ideal to stay for about four nights in the Richtersveld, since it is very far from major centres.
What to pack
It can be scorching hot in the Richtersveld, particularly from September to April, but cold at night, so pack accordingly.
Where to stay
There is a guest house in Eksteenfontein, or you could try the Rooiberg Guest House, set within the World Heritage Site, about 15km away. You could also camp.
What to eat
Aunt Sanna’s roosterbrood (griddle-baked bread) is famous in these parts.
The best time of year to go for the plant life is in spring, in September. The Richtersveld is relatively close to Namaqualand, which is well known for its spectacular spring flowers.
A needlework group makes and sells tablecloths and other items with Richtersveld emblems. Ask about them at the Tourism Information Centre.