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.

Western Transvaal [North-West Province]
Working from Johannesburg, the first sections are through the western Transvaal, now known as the North-West Province.  This is flat country, mostly highveld.  In the summer it consists of mile after mile of mealie (maize) fields, while in winter the fields are dry and barren, with cattle foraging for the last few pieces of last season's mealies, or the weeds which come up in the winter.  These are few and far between, as this is very much summer rainfall country.  In September, many of the fields have been plowed and are waiting for the first rains to fall so that seed can be sown for the new season. In every town and village one can see the tall concrete towers of the grain silos belonging to WTK.

Roadside flowers
As you work your way to the west the country slowly changes.  It is still dry, but the natural vegetation is low shrubs and thorn bushes.  Look closely at the grass at the sides of the road and you will find many plants bringing out their spring flowers.  These Othnithogalum species  [Chincherinchee] were making a great show in an otherwise boring roadside just east of Kuruman.




South Africa's national flower should be the AloeThere 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.

Kuruman - The Oasis of the Kalahari
Kuruman is just over the border between North-West Province and Northern Cape.  This is dry country, and the mealie fields of the Transvaal highveld give way to sheep and ostriches.  Kuruman is the main town in the Kalahari region, and is known as the 'Oasis of the Kalahari'.  The town is blessed with a permanent source of water. Gasegonyane ("little water calabash"), commonly known as "Die Oog" (The Eye) delivers 20 million litres of crystal clear water daily.  It may be clear, but the water is extremely 'hard' - (Like the water in Los Angeles, piped through the desert from the Colorado river, one has to chew one's way through every glass.)  Die Oog was the reason why Kuruman was settled in the first place, and finds itself in the middle of town, a few feet off the main road.  A small dam has been created, and contains some very large carp which swim lazily around in the crystal clear water.

Moffat Church
Robert Moffat, the famous missionary, lived here for 50 years (1820-1870), and it was here that he translated the Bible into Setswana.  Kuruman formed one link in what was known as the 'missionary route', stretching from Port Elizabeth right up into Bechuanaland (now Botswana), Angola and Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe).  Dr David Livingstone arrived as an LMS missionary in 1841, and took a shine to Moffat's eldest daughter, Mary Jr.  They were married on 2 January 1845, and Mary accompanied him on many of his journeys.  Her health and the family's needs for security and education forced him to send her and their four children back to Britain in 1852.  Mary insisted on joining Livingstone on his Zambezi expedition and sadly died at Shupanga on the Zambezi in 1862.

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.

The country to the West of Kuruman gets hotter and drier.  Leave the main route and travel up the R31, and you get to the small town of Hotazel!  This is not really a town - It is the site of the Samancor manganese mine.  Large open cast workings, and black dumps of overburden and ore, fenced off with large warning notices.  Don't know who would try to steal the stuff, and surely they would notice if you brought in a 100 ton loader along the main road!  The picture shows the enormous sintering plant, puffing noisily away in the middle of the veld! Fortunately it was relatively cool in September so we did not get to check if the town was well named!

Sishen Iron Ore Mine
Travelling back towards the N14 brings you to Sishen mine, an enormous open cast iron ore mine owned by Iscor. This picture was taken from a few kilometres away - difficult to show the sheer size of the dumps.  The veld is otherwise mostly flat, so these dumps stand out as small mountain ranges.


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.

Sociable Weavers
All the way along the N14 one comes across these large nests of the Sociable Weaver. In many places, there are no natural trees, and the telephone poles have been 'adopted' by the weavers.  They must cause havoc with telephone communications, but as far as we could see, there were no signs of Telkom removing nests.  In fact, in some areas it appeared that Telkom had constructed circular wire frames which hung a couple of feet below the actual telephone wires, and the weavers had hung their nests from these frames.  Many of these telephone poles support old carrier routes, which are now being replaced by fibre optic communications, leaving the poles to the weavers!
Where the weavers had used real trees, the trees inevitably bent under the weight, resulting in the nests hanging close to the ground.  Presumably the telephone poles give them more of an advantage against ground level predators, such as meerkats.

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!

Dunes of the Kalahari
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.

The Augrabies Falls
The mighty Orange River travels from east to west across the middle of South Africa, combining the flows of many other rivers along the way:  The Vaal, the Harts and the Riet from the centre of the country, and the Molopo and the Nossob contribute what little water falls in the Kalahari and Botswana. 

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! 

I have always wanted to visit Pofadder, halfway between Augrabies and Springbok, and here is the proof we were there!  The town is named after Captain Klaas Pofadder, a Korana leader who specialised in stock theft and had a hideout at the springs in the town.

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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