The Kalahari is not just scorched sand. The Green Kalahari Highway offers desert vistas, flowers in season, and history. It takes in the West Coast’s N7 and the N14 (which leads ultimately to Joburg) via Upington.
We pick up this highway in Garies, in the Northern Cape.
The town comes into its own during flower season. So does Kamieskroon, (www.northerncape.org.za) set among huge granite rocks - a picturesque place, and a hub of information on where to go to see the best floral displays.
The original town was located 7kms north of its present setting, but being in a narrow kloof did not allow room for expansion, so in 1924 the church council took a decision to rebuild the town.
Kamieskroon is very popular with artists and photographers, and often chosen by experts to tutor those wanting to improve their own skills in this field. The area inspires even an amateur to take up paint and brush - in the hopes of creating a masterpiece.
This Namakwa biodiversity hotspot contains more than 6 000 plant species, 250 bird and 78 mammal species; 132 species of reptiles and amphibians add their slithers and croaks. The nearby Leliefontein Mission Station takes the visitor back in time.
A circular-route drive down to Hondeklip Bay can be spectacular. Check out, though, whether the road requires a 4x4. We managed in a sedan but better safe than sorry. This misty desert town has plenty of atmosphere, while the shipwreck of the Aristea - which ran aground in 1945 - proves this is a formidable coastline.
This village was originally used as a harbour to export copper ore from the mines around Springbok but was later overtaken by Port Nolloth, which had a safer harbour as well as a railway line.
Today, Hondeklip Bay is peopled mostly by fishermen and the diamond community, but is a popular holiday destination. Fill up with fuel and draw cash in Garies or Springbok. At the last count there were neither filling stations or ATMs. (Check out www.honnehokke.co.za for self-catering accommodation).
The principal town of Namaqualand, Springbok, (www.springbokinfo.co.za) is surrounded by copper-yielding mountains. Not only does the Skilpad Wildflower Nature Reserve offer a floral spectacle, when given the right conditions, but the town is also the gateway to the fabulous Richtersveld National Park (www.sanparks.co.za).
Komaggas lies 50km west of Springbok, one of a number of mission stations still operating in Namaqualand.
The oldest mining town in South Africa, Okiep, dates back to 1855 when copper was first discovered and mined.
Port Nolloth (www.portnollothinfo.co.za) is the centre for the crayfishing industry; and fish and crayfish can be bought from the factory in season.
We stayed at Bedrock Lodge on the beachfront (027 851 8865; www.bedrocklodge.co.za). Parts of this guest house date back to 1855.
For me, the most evocative experience was to watch the fog rolling in, and to lie snug in bed at night and listen to the spooky sound of the foghorn drifting across the water.
At Lekkersing, 60km inland and nestling beneath the Richtersveld hills, you can take in the Nama culture.
Turning east, 130km away, lies Pella, an oasis (complete with date palms) in the dry and barren Bushmanland. The Old Cathedral, at the heart of the village, is also surrounded by palms, and the community is warm and friendly.
For 4x4 enthusiasts, the Pella Trail (www.nightjartravel.com/ 4x4/namaqua-4x4-eco-trail) offers a wonderful desert adventure. Keep an eye open for a huge milkwood tree between Pella and Goodhouse, which can be a good campsite with easy access to the Orange River for a dip.
The entire 612km 4x4 trail stretches along the Gariep River from Pella to the river’s mouth in Alexander Bay. However, if you have time, add another 120km to your journey to test your skills further at Amam’s dunes.
The name Pofadder conjures up typical scenes of remote country desert towns. You can sometimes buy beautiful semi-precious stones here. Visit the Dutch Reformed and Catholic churches to view a mixture of old and new architecture. The town also offers 4x4 and hiking trails, but the heat makes the latter activity best tackled in winter.
Augrabies, on the banks of the Orange River, is home to the spectacular Augrabies Falls (“the smoke that roars” in the indigenous San language). When it rains heavily upstream, these 200m falls plunge into the gorge amid a roaring torrent.
Here, in the national park, (www.krugerpark.com/Augrabies-Park) visitors can take in places with such romantic names as Moon Rock, Ararat, Arrow Point, Echo Corner, go river rafting, game viewing, or join a night drive. The walking trail is also atmospheric.
For a combination of the mighty Orange River and the desolate barrenness of the Kalahari, visit Kakamas (www.places.co.za/html/kakamas) - a town full of vineyards, cotton and lucerne fields.
Grapes find their way to international markets; waterwheels still operate; take in the irrigation tunnels and visit the German War graves.
Riemvasmaak hot springs (experiencenortherncape.com), 55km north-west of the town, are run by the community. You can expect to see patient donkeys next to the hot waters, but the road can be really bad. Check it out first.
The paddle wheel of the old watermill in Keimoes (www.keimoes.co.za) is peacefully scenic. The town gets its water from a tunnel leading from the Orange River, allowing it to produce grapes, lucerne, wheat and fruit. Attractions include the Dutch Reformed Mission Church; the Tierberg Nature Reserve; and a memorial commemorating the First World War battle of Kakamas.
History tells it was a skirmish for control of two river fords over the Orange River between a German invasion force and South African armed forces - who prevented them from gaining control of the fords and crossing the river. Roadside stalls sell fruit and crafts.
Upington (www.upington.co.za) straddles the Orange River and Kanoneiland sometimes floods when the river bursts its banks. The town is home to the Orange River Wine Cellars (054 337 8800; orangeriverwines.com), where you can take a tour of the six cellars and sample their wines. Charmingly the town pays tribute to the humble donkey, in a statue. Visit the Spitskop Nature Reserve and many delightful accommodation outlets along the river (www.safarinow.com/Upington). This is the jumping-off point for the wonderful Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park.
Finally, Kuruman is redolent with history. Here David Livingstone met Mary Moffat. At the nearby Moffat Museum, where Mary’s father was a missionary, (visitkuruman.co.za/moffat-mission) the traveller can walk in the grounds. I am not sure if it still stands, but the fig tree under which the famous explorer is said to have proposed is a tribute to romance in unexpected places.
In the town, The Eye, a perennial source of water, is a popular resort, giving Kuruman its name of “Oasis of the Kalahari”.
Myrtle Ryan, Sunday Tribune