Wake to a perfect morning dawning over the Orange River and the vineyards which for all the world look like acres of mini telegraph poles from the verandah of my Overlook home. As the sun rises flocks of white birds rise and settle in clouds in a patch of vines that has perhaps been newly ploughed and the street below rustles into life with blokes on bikes and coughing cars that weave to work. Eric knocks on my door at 8.30 with a huge breakfast basket and as this is the last stage of ‘the road trip’ make the most of the time and solitude. The previous evening has again been stormy and wet and everything has that well washed look , as does the Getz, and loaded with karoo lamb and angry pofadder it’s back on the road to Upington, through Oliphantshoek and back to Kathu.
Roads are amazingly busy and am a little daunted having seen what seems like a handful of vehicles over the last few days. The Orange River area is one of the wine growing areas of South Africa and visit a winery with a very elaborate entrance, all casteld turrets and flags and buy some bottles of wine, swish boxed Brandy and little bottles of innocuous looking but at 40% proof plus no doubt highly potent ‘still’ liquors made from prickly pear and assorted citruses. Very flash labels with lots of crests and red and an equally lively Doberman puppy who leaps and hops and offers huge sticks to throw.
Back through Upington and manage not to get lost which is a huge improvement on Springbok and then into Oliphantshoek, a town we have passed through several times on the Namibia trip and on this road trip. At the foot of the LangeBerg (Mountains) on the Namakwari River it’s named after the elephant tusk used as payment for a farm on which the town was built and elephant bones found in the area. There is an elephant statue in a small park on the roadside andI arrive as school is getting out for the day and children are walking the main street clad in shirts and blazers and huge backpacks. At the Dutch Reformed church a gardener is collecting and bagging camelthorn seeds from the trees around the church and has stacks of bags ready for sale. At the post office and shop on a side road a ‘scotch’ is parked, donkeys looking universally morose and the occupants giggling over the contents of letters and mail collected from the post office. A couple of young girls are chatting on the corner and I ask if I can take their photos. They are in their final year of school and looking forward to more education, perhaps in Johannesburg, but for the moment are content to be in Oliphantshoek with an hour walk to and from school and a daily gossip on the street corner before returning home. I take photos of the elephant statue in the park and by now news of the woman with the camera has spread so along with the elephant one of the park gardeners is posing too.
Back in Kathu there are plans for a potje…spelling probably wrong!!…..a sort of camp oven with three legs and I am on the look out for shin lamb or something similar. The Slaghuis is a whirl of biltong strips hung on a circular wire, a bit like a hills hoist!! that spins around with strips of meat flapping skirt like around a fan. He is horrified that I would be lo0oking for any sort of lamb to cook in a potje and sends me off with a huge tray of oxtail. A potje is a one pot dish I guess usually cooked over coals and layered so the meat etc is on the bottom and the vegetables layered on top and the whole things steams and cooks and is delicious………tip seems to be to avoid the temptation the open the lid and STIR!!
Back in Kathu and the realisation that there is less than a week to go before I head home to Australia. We are driving to Kimberley on Friday night to spend the night at the Kimberley Club and then vist the ‘Big Hole’ and the mine museum before catching the little plane to Joburg and then back to Perth. Spend the next few days enjoying hours in a bean bag on a sunny verandah reading easy fiction, working out how to re pack the bag with all the extra goodies and stay, within reason , inside the weight limit and spend time with A and E revisting highlights of the now vanishing almost five weeks of holiday.
Packed and only a couple of kilos over limit, though with a groaning back pack full of all the potentially dodgy stuff that WA customs will want to exmaine it’s time to leave. Say goodbye to Lillian and we head to Hotazel Manganese Mine, a mine and small town in it’s own right, to pick up Andrew and head to Kimberley..
The Club was founded by 28 year old Cecil Rhodes in 1881 and the top men in the diamond industry that started in 1866 when a young Koranna boy picked up a shiny pebble on the banks of the Orange River near Hopetown, showed it to a neighbouring farmer who in turn showed it to a local doctor and amateur mineralogist. He identified it as a diamond weighing 21.25 carats and was named Eureka. Three years later a Griqua shepherd unearthed an 82.5 carat diamond that was sold for 10 oxen, a horse and 500 sheep, became the Star of Africa and was sold to the Earl of Dudley for 25,000 pounds!! After that it was on for one and all and 10,000 plots were pegged around Hopetown. In 1871 kimberlite pipes were found on property owned by the Be Beers brothers and a hill, Colesberg Kopje was soon levelled and became the beginnings of Kimberley’s Big Hole. Cecil Rhodes appeared on the scene and as syndicates and companies evolved he decided to consolidate the diamond fields, bought up the De Beers claims and after battles with a Jewish Londoner Barney Barnato bought the Kimberley Mine for 5,338,650.00 punds in 1889.that is serious dosh!! A copy of the cheque is framed in the Kimberley Club and a visitor to the club is quoted as saying ‘the place was stuffed with more millionaires to the square foot than any other place in the world.’ The building has been burned and rebuilt twice and recently rennovated to ‘restore it’s former glory’ and we register and become temporary members for the length of our stay. My room is a high ceilinged, wood floored room , one of several around a small courtyard that leads into the main building. From the outside it reminds me of a convent or monastery, a simple double storied bulilding with a second floor balcony. Inside it’s lined with pictures, paintings and prints along a downstairs corridor that opens into the dining room and members bar and smells of age and money and history. Assorted British Royals have stayed here and insted of signing the visitors book in a single line Philip has inked his moniker over half the page now framed below his photograph. We have a gentle dinner in a tall ceilinged spacious room walled with bells and light switches and photos and then a drink in the members bar where barman Moses tells us about the silver ram’s head on the bar which would have been full of snuff ( and in fact still has snuff in it, now very dessicated and powdery), the very complicated voting process for new members (total membership is still only 540) which involves black and white balls and neccessary numbers and pieces of furniture from a variety of people and places in the world. Outside the front door embedded in the paving is a metal arrow that points north and was placed there by Rhodes..’go north young man’ as opposed to west I guess.. and the entrance opens onto an amazing wooden staircase highlighted by a huge stained glass window panneled for the seasons and changing with the light as the sun moves behind it.
The following morning we have breakfast and head off to the Big Hole, the largest hand dug hole on earth. Before the diggings were consolidated 50,000 men dug here, morning, noon and night and the viewing platform…another one of those ‘Shall I try to fly’ spots measures 30x30m and is the size of a 19 century mining claim. As we stand on it looking down onto the turquoise water in the hole a bunch of rugby players arrive. It’s pretty crowded with all of us standing on the square and one can imagine how crowded and tense things must have been a hundred or so years ago as miners struggled with the soft and then very hard blue ground in search of a glowing pebble.
We walk through the old mining town along the cobbled streets and through and past the old buildings representing life in the early days of Kimberley.A boxing academy, undertakers, dental surgery, haberdashers, diamond merchants and a clutch of pubs including The Australian Arms and the De Beers Directors Private Pullman railway coach decked out with silverware, cut glass and leatherchairs. In the exhibition centre there is a diamond display, the real mccoy and they are really beautiful stones and the colours are incredible. The pinks, yellows and cognacs but also quite lovely emerald greens and a whopper of 616 carats , the largest octahedron uncut diamond.
And so the hours have ticked by and it’s off to Kimberley airport, which is unlocked today, and heaving with people catching the only Saturday flight to Jo’burg. Seems like only a day or so ago that I arrived there at the start of this wonderful adventure and now 5 weeks later it’s goodbyes and the journey home. Several hours to wait in Joburg, a trawl through the shops and a conversation with a guy wearing shorts, socks and sandals at the departure gate who is convinced that his flight to Amsterdam is leaving from this gate though the screen tells him otherwise. An hour before we leave two burly lads carry a fold up trestle table and open it up whereby three equally burly lasses stroll up and start stretching and snapping rubber gloves and eyeing the waiting boardees. We eye them back with interest and some trepidation as we are herded away from the gate and told to queue for a liquid and security check. All pretty confusing as we’ve done the xray, off with the steel capped boots and body frisk…….’it’s like a gentle massage madam!’.and the first class passengers are particularly miffed as they have to join the rabble too.
Massaged and de liquided it’s onto the plane, a big sleep and two continents and a lot of in between ocean it’s g’day Australia.