Looking back on our three years in South Africa, we didn’t take nearly enough road trips. The one gigantic road trip we did take was our Tour de Namibia (otherwise known in our family as “Double Buckled in the Middle of Nowhere” – watch this space for a book of that name coming out some day), taking us through big portions of South Africa and Botswana to get there.
Road trips are such a great way to get to know the country you live in. Which is why I’m pleased to bring you this blog post, via my dear friend Ina de Klerk, a veteran South African road-tripper and photographer. And you know what, in her account there won’t be any squabbling kids or spilled Cokes on the backseat, or a fight over electronic devices, as there are bound to be when I’m the one reporting about road trips with our family.
So sit back and enjoy the peaceful ride!
Dr. Livingstone, I presume…
by Ina de Klerk
If you should ask me about my favourite part of South Africa, my answer would likely be the last place I have been to. But there are some very special places that I always dream of going back to. One such place is the Northwest corner of South Africa, the outermost edge of the Northern Cape Province bordering Namibia. I have a special love of the Northwest. I love the simplicity of miles and miles of – nothing. Only an expanse of flat, dry country, dotted with some red Kalahari sand dunes.
Driving from Johannesburg all the way to Port Nolloth on the Atlantic seaboard can be very tiring. The way there takes you on the N14 via Upington and Springbok, over fourteen hours of straight driving. By the way, if I say Port Nolloth is in the Northwest corner of South Africa, this can be a bit misleading, because to get there from Johannesburg you actually head towards the Southwest.
In any case, I never drive straight through, because then you miss all the lovely unexpected places on the way. One such place is the town Kuruman, at about 6 hours from Johannesburg a good midway point for your trip. Kuruman is in the Kalahari, and it is a sort of oasis in that vast arid land region. It is a busy town, surrounded by manganese, lime and iron mines. It is known for two attractions: “The Eye,” a spring from which about 20 million litres of water flows every day, and Moffat Mission Station.The latter is the place where I like to stop over. The tranquility of it revitalizes the soul, and the peace of sitting down in the garden rests the body.
The Mission Station also has an interesting history. From what I remember, the first missionary was killed. Scottish missionary Robert Moffat then arrived in 1820 with his wife, both sent by the London Missionary Society, and built the famous Moffat Church. This building was completed in 1838 and is still in use today. Another legacy of Robert Moffat is the Setswana Bible, translated and then printed by him on a printing press that is still on display in the mission schoolroom. It was the first bible that was ever printed in Africa.
As missionaries do, the Moffats developed a lovely garden, and it is told that their daughter Mary loved to sit under an almond tree in that garden. Although the almond tree is now just but a stump still standing, the garden is still lovely, still my favourite place to rest. The heat in the Kalahari can be severe, but even in August, during the South African winter when the trees are still bare, I always find time in my journey to go and find peace, rest and quiet, right there in Mary Moffat’s garden.
In those days Kuruman served as the “Gateway to to the Interior of darkest Africa,” according toThe Rough Guide to South Africa. Everybody wanting to explore Africa’s interior sooner or later made his way through Kuruman. So did David Livingstone. He would take time off his journeys of exploration and stay right there at the mission, where he lived in a small room behind the main administrative building. Here he met Mary Moffat and fell in love with her. It is told that he proposed to her right under her favourite almond tree, before they set off to explore more of Africa.
The elder Moffats eventually returned to England in 1870, but the mission carried on until 1950, when it fell victim to the Group Areas Act of the newly elected Afrikaner government and their newly instituted policy of apartheid. The mission school was closed and decades of multiracial worship at the mission church came to an end.
Not everybody has the same love for the Moffat Mission Station as I have. It is not just a place of rest, but also a place of beauty. Maybe it is the presence of God at the mission station that does it, but it really brings your soul back to your body. I normally travel ‘West’ in the winter, to go and see the flowers of Namaqualand, but I have also been there in summertime, when it is lush and green – and very hot! Not to everyone’s liking, but even then the garden at the Mission Station is a good place to cool down under the trees.
From Kuruman, I continue my trip to Namakwaland [the English spelling is Namaqualand, but in Afrikaans it is spelled Namakwaland]. Namakwaland is famous for its flowers, and it is these flowers that are usually the reason for my trip. If they have good rains in May, which in South Africa is late autumn, then by early August – when spring is hinting from around the corner – the land is covered for miles and miles with a carpet of colour. A vast expanse of the most beautiful flowers you can imagine!
Nothing to me is quite as beautiful as the flowers around Springbok in August, waiting for me every year at the end of the long road.