Welcome to magnificent Namaqualand
Kimberley - “Luxury, smucksury,” I thought to myself as we arrived at the Namaqua Flowers Beach Camp in the south of the Namaqua National Park.
Yes, the view was magnificent, but it was the icy howling wind that concentrated the mind.
I now had serious qualms about staying in a tent – no matter how fancy – in a gale-force wind.
The two-night stay had been planned as the highlight of a spring break to Namaqualand which had started with a night of basic camping (own tent, blow-up mattresses) at Augrabies National Park and continued with a two-night stay in a self-catering Kliphuis (stone house) on a farm named No Heep near Kamieskroon.
The holiday had taken myself and a friend, Liz, into one of South Africa’s most beautiful areas, which is, during September and October, covered in carpets of daisies in a show of splendour recognised as one of the world’s natural wonders.
Augrabies had been a safe camping option: national parks always have good and clean basic facilities for camping and this was no exception. It did, however, provide us with an unexpected adventure.
We were rather pleased with ourselves because we had set up tent and were snacking on hors d’ouevres and wine within 15 minutes of arriving at the campsite – watched by a resident group of dassies. The trip had been uneventful, if long, and the road mostly good with a few roadworks.
Both of us woke early on Monday morning (thanks to my cellphone alarm clock and the unexpected spring chill) and decided to go for a short walk.
I had overheard the receptionist describe walks to another guest the previous evening and was convinced the Dassie trail was an hour-long stroll.
Instead we discovered it was a 6.5km walk that involved boulder hopping in and out of gorges. The official literature, read after we had completed the walk, warns you need to be fairly fit to tackle it.
We got lost when I decided one section was just too scary because it involved clambering over massive rocks with a drop into a gorge so gigantic you could not see the bottom.
We took an alternate route and instead of finding the marked trail we thought we could bundu bash our way back to camp.
Big mistake... we were met with an impenetrable jungle of reeds and thorn trees so were forced to retrace our steps and return to the trail.
With every corner we believed we would be home.
Hot, sore and hungry (we took neither hats nor water with us) we arrived back at the camp three hours later.
And we still had to pack up.
By 12.30 we were packed, showered and ordering beer and breakfast at the restaurant.
The trip to Kamieskroon was long and arduous because we both felt tired, but arriving at the farm No Heep, run by retired couple Pieter and Verenchia Benade, was beyond delightful.
Apart from having a name to conjure with, it stands in a field of yellow flowers dwarfed by the rugged hills that surround it.
We nearly drove right past it when we arrived because Pieter’s signposting was not prominent.
We had expected to see a neon sign with Verbe Farm Accommodation (that’s what you will find if you search on the internet) on it, but you have to drive off the main farm road to find the inconspicuous hand-painted notice.
Outside the Kliphuis, aloes and succulent gardens are decorated with informal artworks created with a range of discarded and broken detritus – a rusty bike, plough, tin cups attached to a piece of dramatically gnarled wood with barbed wire and a sheep’s skull.
On the mantel outside there is an eclectic collection of junk – a pair of secateurs, a broken cup, tin bowls filled with stones. An old metal toy horse (could it have come from a fairground roundabout?) completes the picture.
They add character to a house surrounded by a riot of yellow and orange spring colours.
There are a couple of things you shouldn’t underestimate if you are travelling to Namaqualand at this time of the year – the distances and the weather. It may have been spring in Joburg, but it was winter there. Bring those Ugg boots, scarves and gloves.
The distances were huge, but apart from a few roadworks the main roads, N14 and N4, were excellent, and the gravel roads passable in my ordinary sedan.
Fortunately the Kliphuis was so well-equipped for the cold that we were able to braai indoors.
“Relax,” Pieter told us, noticing I had locked my car. “This is a crime-free area.”
He invited us to walk and enjoy the facilities.
The following morning I walked all over the beautiful farm, starting in the early morning when the flowers were closed and returning to the Kliphuis later when they were at their most spectacular – their faces open and facing the sun, nodding in the cool breeze.
If the farm we stayed on seemed oddball by Joburg standards, our afternoon drive brought us to a similarly eccentric tea garden and restaurant called Tambodkloof – to get there you just have to follow the hand-painted signs.
The owner welcomed us into the converted garage where she ran her restaurant and we ordered the speciality: skaap stertjie (sheep’s tail) with our coffee. At the little Tuisnywerheid in the restaurant Liz was able to buy a tin mug with a crocheted corset!
Outside, old jeans and boots had been converted into flower pots, the sign leading to the restaurant was an old car decorated with brightly coloured flowers as was a 1950s washing machine-signpost.
The drive on the back roads (which can be accessed in a normal sedan) took us over a beautiful mountain pass which led back to Kamieskroon.
Serious flower hunters can spend many hours chasing yellow- and-orange carpeted veld – or they can go to Namaqua National Park.
If you enter at the Skilpad entrance the display is spectacular.
Our tented camp was in the south of the park, and only accessible by 4x4 through the park, so we had to exit and go around to the Groen River entrance.
The camp is on the coastal section and has a different fauna from the north – vygies dominate so you don’t get the carpeted effect, but the difference is more than made up for by the unspoilt wild west coast.
On arrival at the camp, hosted by Chief’s Camp who specialise in pop-up luxury tenting mainly for the corporate market, our hostess reassured us that neither the sea nor the howling wind would sweep our tent away.
Each bed, she added, had an electric blanket so we needn’t fear the icy night.
Our hostess encouraged us to unpack, and return to the main tents – for high tea.
The tents had every luxury, electric lamps, comfortable beds with duvets and warm blankets, carpeted floors.
There was a bathroom, with a port-a-loo, a shower (for which you ordered hot water) and a dressing room.
The tent came with a sea view with waves breaking on jagged West Coast rocks. Noisy… mesmerising… amazing.
High tea included a really good cup of filter coffee, cake and savouries.
Reassured that we would not be swept into the sea, we had another scary thing to contemplate: communal dinner.
This was worse than we anticipated because the conversation was dominated by two men so full of self-absorbed hubris that nobody could get a word in.
One had once had a farm in Zimbabwe which they didn’t use for farming but felt aggrieved that it was taken from them.
The other spent an hour telling us “when I was MD of…”
Liz and I left the table to strategise and we managed, for a while, to move the topic of conversation on to whether we would sight dolphins in the water – but only for a while.
Other guests looked just as desperate so we vanished as soon as it was polite to do so.
We dreaded breakfast, but happily they were not there.
The other guests were delightful so the next few meals were filled with lots of laughter and shared anecdotes.
We did not have a 4x4 so could only explore the coast on foot – and there really cannot be a better way to do it.
The place is so remote that your footsteps are often the first on a beach newly swept by the tide.
Each cove had different treasures, rocks rounded by a million tumbles in the unrelenting surf, shells and a kelp forest.
Inland you could examine the garish vygie’s delicate flowers and wonder at an area so rich in biodiversity that it is considered to have the richest bulb flora of any arid region in the world and, according to the National Parks website, has an estimated 3 500 plant species of which 1 000 are unique to the area.
Sadly SANParks has a hard time keeping the area pristine and has had to put up barriers against the 4x4 drivers who clearly believe this delicate natural wonder can survive anything – including them.
Late in the afternoon we drove to the lighthouse for sundowners past the Groen Rivier with its population of flamingos.
With the last of the daylight we mused that it was a pity to only stay two nights – because that way you only get one full day in paradise.
If You Go...
l We stayed at Augrabies National Park. Book on the website: http:// www.sanparks. co.za/ parks/
Campsites and chalets available. Restaurant on site.
l Verbe Farm Accommodation on the farm No Heep.
Call +27 27 672 1772
Mobile: +27 83 234 1725.
l Namaqua National Park.
Book on the website: http://www.sanparks.co.za/parks/
l The pop-up camp is only available during September and October.