Hidden Gems – Edition 22

Our regular feature in which we explore some of South Africa’s many fascinating, unique, and off-the-beaten-track destinations and experiences you may not have known even existed…

The magical Cape of Hope deep in the Mpumalanga hinterland

Many people are familiar with the lookout spot named God’s Window on the edge of the Drakensberg escarpment in Mpumalanga with its famed views across the Lowveld. What is perhaps less known, is that another such a magnificent lookout spot exists at a mesmerising little village about 100km further south along the escarpment, with stunning views across a valley and the Lowveld some 800m below.

The area and the views are truly breathtakingly beautiful, while the village is very unique and certainly less crowded with tourists than towns along the Panorama Route to the north.

The village is called Kaapschehoop (also spelt Kaapsehoop), translating as Cape of Hope. And from its misty perch on the edge of the Drakensberg Highveld escarpment it overlooks the De Kaap Valley (Cape Valley) far below, with stunning views across the Noordkaap River (Northern Cape River) towards the historic gold rush town of Barberton, Mbombela (Nelspruit) and the Kruger National Park.

And no, you are not lost or confused – the Cape of Good Hope and the province called Northern Cape are indeed 1,500km southwest from here! As if all these Capes aren’t enough, there’s also a Kaapmuiden on the other side of Mbombela, never mind that there isn’t a hint of sea anywhere nearby to warrant such cape names. But such eccentricity is part of the attraction.

The town had the questionable distinction of previously being named Duiwelskantoor, or Devil’s Office, until gold was discovered in 1882 in a small creek running through it. That’s when the people already inhabiting the town and the nearby De Kaap Valley optimistically renamed it Kaapschehoop. But their hopes of imminent wealth were soon dashed by the bigger gold discoveries at Pilgrim’s Rest, Barberton and eventually Johannesburg.

As a result, Kaapschehoop slipped into a slumber and remained mostly forgotten until a century later when it re-emerged as a kind of best-kept-secret but popular weekend retreat for city folk. However, it has retained its sleepy, peaceful character. The mountain mist that often shrouds the village adds to this tranquility with a whimsical touch of mystery, as do the surrounding forest-covered hills and valleys and the quaint period homes of a bygone era.

You’ll find the turnoff to Kaapschehoop at Ngodwana on the N4 about 50km from Mbombela. Entering the village, you’ll see a sign warning you to “Drive Sslowly” – yes, two S’s. That’s because the right of way here belongs to a herd of wild horses that you’ll find roaming in the village and surrounding areas – one of the things that makes this place so unique. Nobody really seems to know where the horses came from, but one theory is that they were originally left behind by British troops during the Anglo Boer War. Another theory is that the horses were brought here during the gold rush and were left behind when the diggers hastily set off to other more golden pastures.

Perhaps your first stop should be Nagkantoor – a cosy “kuierkroeg” which translates loosely as a pub where you can hang out, chill and chat. A kind of glühwein and fireside chatter joint where you will immediately feel at home and can indulge in a wealth of interesting newspaper memorabilia, apart from, of course, a choice of alcoholic beverages. Nagkantoor is Afrikaans for “night office” – that part of daily newspapers’ offices where each edition goes through the final stages of being put together before being printed.  It’s run by veteran journalist De Wet Potgieter and his faithful aid – a hound that answers to the name Potlood (Pencil). You’ll also most likely get to meet some truly wonderful and entertaining visiting characters of South Africa’s media world, past and present, or perhaps their ghosts, along with a variety of other interesting visiting patrons and locals.

Outside you will most likely spot some of the wild horses grazing on the lawns with not a worry in the world. As it should be in this worry-burdened world. Also situated on Kantoor Street (Office Street) right next door, is the charming old-worldly Silver Mist Country Inn – once the village post office. It has a chapel where weddings are regularly held, the presence of which elevates Kaapsehoop from hamlet to village status according to British tradition.

A little distance away you can visit the erstwhile mining commissioner’s house dating back to 1884. Other village attractions include various excellent eateries, an art gallery, a collectables trading store, and a jewellery store among others. Accommodation is plentiful with many guest houses, B&Bs and lodges.

 

One way of experiencing the best of the surrounding natural beauty, is with Kaapsehoop Scootours. Mounted on your “monster mountain scooter” designed for the Swiss Alps, they will take you on an adventurous and fascinating downhill trip of 6km along a route that follows the Battery Creek gorge. You’ll pass through grasslands, through plantations and indigenous forest, and past beautiful rock formations and streams, and end at Battery Creek, where there is a beautiful rock pool where you can cool off.

 

Near the village is the lookout point on the edge of the escarpment where your breath will be taken away by the amazing views. There are hiking and horse-riding trails, while Mbombela (Nelspruit), capital of Mpumalanga, is a mere 25km away, with the southern Malelane entrance to the Kruger National Park another 50-odd kilometres further on. Eswatini (Swaziland) and Mozambique are also a stone’s throw away. To spoil yourself to a magical getaway, this is the place to go.

 

For more information, call Mpumalanga Tourism at 013 759 5300/01 or email info@mtpa.co.za.

  • All pictures were supplied by De Wet Potgieter.

 

Port Nolloth… rough diamond of the barren northwest coast

If you travel along the N7 from Cape Town to the Namibian border and you turn off westward at a town called Steinkopf, you’ll reach what at first glance may seem to be a rather ugly industrial harbour town set in the most barren of places. That is, until you start looking properly and explore a little, and spread out your scouting inland, and up and down the rugged coast. It’s then you will discover that the town called Port Nolloth is the rough diamond of South Africa’s northwest Namaqua coast, and a truly different kind of beauty will open up to you.

Port Nolloth is quite a historical little town with a pedigree that goes back to when the local indigenous Namaqua people (also called Nama and the largest group of Khoikhoi people) called the bay Aukwatowa, meaning “where the water took away the old man”. That tells its own story. And after the Portuguese explorer Bartolomeu Dias saw the bay on his epic voyage around the Cape of Good Hope in 1487, it began to appear on European maps.

With the discovery of copper at Okiep in Namaqualand in 1852 by James Alexander, a harbour was constructed, and the copper was shipped from here until the shipments declined due to increasing practical and safety problems between the 1920s and 1944. Several large ore carrying ships had run aground on a reef that stretches across the ship’s channel that gives entry into the port.

However, the discovery in 1926 of alluvial diamonds along the coast to the north and south of the town, gave it a new lease of life. Many prospectors, investors, suppliers and craftsmen arrived and turned the town into something of an industrial and commercial hub. But by the 1970s the volume of diamonds being mined and exported also decreased and the port went into further decline, becoming principally a fishing harbour. These days there are few diamonds left here and the local commercial divers are struggling to earn a living. Unlike at Alexander Bay at the mouth of the Orange River a short distance to the north where mining off- and on-shore continues.

But the town still has fishing and other commercial activities going. In addition, local inland farmers and other families have for many generations maintained their holiday homes here, a tradition that continues. More recently however, a number of B&Bs sprung up as more and more visitors to the nearby Richtersveld these days choose to detour through Port Nolloth and Alexander Bay to explore this coast. Today the town is therefore mostly known as a fishing harbour and gateway to the Richtersveld 160km to the north along the Orange River. There’s also a caravan park and camping site on its south side at McDougalls Bay.

Enjoy a crayfish (lobster) braai on the beach with the sun sinking down behind the Atlantic horizon. Wake up to the gentle lapping of waves in the bay and take an early morning stroll into the desert landscape behind the town, or along its lovely coast. Enjoy solitary beaches or snorkel in calm, sheltered waters. Take a tour of the historical harbour and take selfies with diamond divers’ boats and fishing vessels bobbing on the water behind you. Or pay a visit to the Willem Koegelenberg Park. Pop in at Anita’s Tavern for a seafood feast.

Fish for snoek or yellowtail along the coast if you have a permit or go fly-fishing on the Orange River. Or test your skills on the Richtersveld 4X4 trails. The town also forms part of the Namaqua Flower Route with its springtime spectacle of trillions of wildflowers in bloom. Or visit a local pub and hear first-hand the fascinating stories – some of them quite tall – as told by tough, weathered diamond divers and fishermen. There’s plenty more to do. Or you can just laze away the time with a book and a glass of wine in one of the numerous fine accommodation establishments.

One fascinating must-do for any visitor to the town, is a visit to the Port Nolloth Museum. It was created in a building dating back to 1880 by Grazia de Beer, born in Italy and educated in Cape Town before marrying Coen de Beer, a diamond diver from here. Her growing interest in the town, its people and the surrounding areas, led to the museum and her avidly collecting artefacts and photos.

The museum now houses a collection that includes porcelain shards from shipwrecks, slave bracelets that washed up on shore from a ship called HMS Black Joke, antique medicine bottles that contain citronella oil and liquorice powder, an antique Nama bible, shell fragments of ostrich eggs used by the Khoi and San as water containers, Khoi clay pot pieces, and a large collection of photographs and artifacts from the time of copper ore shipments between 1854 and 1920.

The town is situated on the Namaqualand coast, 144 kilometres northwest of Springbok on the N7, 127km north of the popular local holiday village of Hondeklipbaai (dog stone bay) which preceded Port Nolloth as a copper-exporting port, and 80km south of the restricted diamond mining town of Alexander Bay at the mouth of the Orange River. It is about 170km via Alexander Bay and along the Orange River to the Sendelingsdrif entrance to the /Ai /Ais-Richtersveld Transfrontier Park and the border crossing to Namibia.

 

For more information go to www.portnollothinfo.co.za/index.htm; or call the Northern Cape Tourism Authority at Tel 053 832 2657 (International: +27 (0)53 832 2657),

email them at marketing@experiencenortherncape.com, or visit their website at  www.experiencenortherncape.com.