The N14 - The route to the West
The N14 stretches from Johannesburg / Pretoria almost horizontally across the country, ending in Springbok. The distance from Johannesburg to Springbok is about 1150 km, making it a little far to travel in one day. This is not a highway: Although tarred all the way, much of the road is the minimum width for two lanes, and passes directly through towns and villages, with slower sections. In some parts one has to be careful of sheep and cattle straying across the road!
It can be a tedious and boring drive if all you are interested in is getting to the other end. But if you have the time, the route itself has much to offer, and one should plan some time for detours and site-seeing.
Transvaal [North-West Province]
South Africa's national flower should be the Aloe. There are thousands of species, and they make a great showing along the highways all over the highveld in spring.
These aloes were just starting to flower, and could be seen for tens of miles along the roads near Kuruman.
Driving along at 120 km/h the veld looks rather drab, with bushes here and there ... But wait, they look a little brighter than the surrounding dry grass. Let's stop and have a closer look ... This shrub was widespread throughout North-West Province, and is easy to overlook.
Difficult to photograph in the wind, but this will give you an idea of what it is like, up against a barbed wire fence.
The Oasis of the Kalahari
The church built by Moffat fell into disrepair, but was restored in 1981. It features stone walls, a thatched roof and a real dung floor, which is regularly maintained.
Iron Ore Mine
Notice the colour of the dumps - slightly pink. The buildings are also this colour, but not because of the paint used ... Everything is covered in a thick layer of pink dust from the iron ore. In this photo you can see that the road lane leading away from the mine is pink from all the dust dropped by trucks carrying iron ore, while the left-hand lane leading into the mine shows a more normal tar colour.
We saw numerous meerkats, usually dashing
across the road, but by the time we reached them they had disappeared
into the grass at the side of the road. So no pictures!
The region north of Upington is known as 'Gordonia'. Looking at an AA map of the area, it showed very few roads, and was cryptically marked as 'permanent dunes'. No towns, and only secondary roads. What could these 'permanent dunes' be?
So we left the main road and travelled north to find out. The sand road we travelled on was quite good, but just went on and on ... Very flat country, mostly grassland with a few small shrubs. We saw a few sheep and a few cattle, but very little sign of habitation or farming. After travelling about 80 kms the country showed a series of waves - Not exactly hills, but continuous, long rises, one after another. So these were the dunes - They are 'permanent' in the sense that the sand has formed into dunes, but there is sufficient vegetation to hold them together. In some places the vegetation has lost its hold and the red sands of the Kalahari showed through.
At Augrabies ("Aukoerebis", the place of the Great Noise) the water thunders down a 60 metre waterfall. In the dry season there is not much water to see, but it is still impressive. At the height of summer, enormous floods completely change the scene, bringing trees and dead animals down, as well as large quantities of red sand, from whence the river gets its name. Difficult to photograph, the composite picture shows the main stream of water tumbling down.
Perhaps more impressive than the falls themselves is the Orange River Gorge, an 18 kilometre abyss. Just imagine the amount of water which must have passed down this route over the ages, carving out a meandering river through the 'softer' parts of the granite. It is here that we see the tremendous contrast between the dry, hot countryside - semi-desert - and the wealth of water, all rushing by.
There have been many deaths at this site, from people straying too close to the edge of the rock. Although there are protective fences at the main view sites near the rest camp run by SA National Parks, there are many dangerous places. Have a look at the graphic warning!
The countryside between Augrabies and Springbok is sheep country, with signs of habitation few and far between. Vegetation consists of varying amounts of grass and small Karoo-type bushes. From a distance it looks very dry. On our trip west it seemed uninteresting; Only a week later on the trip back east we realised the enormous number of spring flowering plants amongst the grass and bushes. These go on and on for hundreds of kilometres. Imagine the enormous stores of seed in the veld, just waiting for the right conditions and some rain to bloom.
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