The Northern Cape has a fascinating new heritage route, covering everything from a famous archaeological site and historic towns to amazing architecture and a vast nature reserve known for its unusual white sand dunes.
The Go Ghaap! Route was developed by the Karoo Development Foundation (KDF) in partnership with the National Lotteries Commission and launched at the Red Sands Country Lodge near Kuruman at the end of October 2018.
The route comprises a series of heritage sites, including some dating back three billion years. Visitors will be drawn to fascinating historical and geological sites in and around towns such as Postmasburg, Griquatown, Campbell, Olifantshoek, Dibeng (Deben), Kathu, Daniëlskuil and Kuruman.
Where and what is the Ghaap Plateau?
The heart-shaped plateau is about 1 130m above sea level, extending about 150km from east to west between the Harts River Valley and the Kuruman Hills in the Northern Cape. Billions of years ago, the plateau was submerged under the sea.
How did history shape this region?
Various cultural groups have in the past called this area home – including San, Tswana and Griqua people – and in the 1800s, missionaries, explorers and travellers were among those roaming its vast, dry and inhospitable territory. At the time, this area north of the Orange River was part of the province known as Transorangia.
The existing Griqua towns on the Ghaap plateau were incorporated into the then Cape Colony in the early 1900s, and new “white” towns started growing, along with better roads and railways.
Boreholes revealed the existence of rich underground water resources, which contributed to development in the region. Around 1920, the West End Diamond mine was established in Postmasburg and numerous fortune-seekers flocked to the area, prompting a little diamond rush similar to that at Kimberley.
Where to go on the Go! Ghaap Route
See the magical Wonderwerk Cave
The Wonderwerk Cave is an archaeological wonder believed to be at least two billion years old. The large cave is located 45km south of Kuruman and 43km north of Daniëlskuil.
Research conducted by archaeologists at the cave, which extends 140m horizontally into the base of the Kuruman Hills, suggests human activity for hundreds of thousands of years.
Visitors to this preserved heritage site will get the chance to learn about its many mysteries, including fossils dating back hundreds of thousands of years. Other interesting artefacts and objects to be seen here include Stone Age axes and cleavers, painted ostrich-egg shells, and San rock paintings.
Visit the town of Kuruman
Known as the “oasis of the Kalahari”, Kuruman is an interesting destination for curious travellers.
The town is home to a famous natural geological feature known as the Eye of Kuruman, said to be one of the biggest natural springs in the southern hemisphere. The Tswana name for the fountain is Ga-segonyana (“calabash”). The first European to discover the spring, in 1801, was English artist Samuel Daniell, who was part of the Truter-Somerville expedition to meet the southern Tswana people.
This natural spring delivers about 20-million litres of clean, clear water daily to Kuruman. It also supplies water to the Kuruman River and two 7km canals – even during the dry season.
Another historically significant destination in the town is the Moffat Mission museum, telling the story of how Robert Moffat, a member of the London Missionary Society, founded a mission in Kuruman in 1816.
Visitors can see Moffat and his wife’s old homestead, the foundations of an old school room and other historic buildings, as well as an ox-wagon that was used to transport timber from hundreds of kilometres away to build the church.
The missionary church was restored in 1938 to mark its centenary, and visitors can view a cast-iron printing press that was used to print the first Bibles translated from English to Tswana by Robert Moffat, as well as the cemetery where missionaries and their children were buried.
The Kuruman Hills are also worth visiting when touring this route. They are known for their large quantities of blue asbestos or crocidolite, which prompted mining in the Ghaap region from the 1930s until 1980. This was halted after the serious and often deadly health risks of asbestos mining were discovered.
Griquatown (more commonly known by its Afrikaans name, Griekwastad) is located 50km north of the Orange River and about 170km west of Kimberley and has an interesting cultural heritage. The Griqua people were of mixed-race origin and spoke a local dialect of Dutch (an early form of Afrikaans), and wore European-style clothing.
The settlement was originally called Klaarwater, but renamed in 1813 at the behest of Scottish missionary and traveller John Campbell.
Visit the grave of early-1800s Griqua leader Andries Waterboer, with two cannons that were gifts from Queen Victoria guarding his final resting place.
Also head to the Mary Moffat Museum, originally a mission church dating back to 1826 and named after Robert Moffat’s daughter, Mary, who was married to the famous explorer and missionary David Livingstone. A pulpit used by Moffat, Waterboer and Livingstone is still on display in the church, which is the oldest building in the town.
The Griquatown area is known for its semi-precious stones, such as tiger’s eye. The town is also a centre for sheep farming.
Postmasburg, named after the Reverend Dirk Postma, a founder of the Gereformeerde Kerk, is home to one of the oldest churches on the Ghaap route. An initial church building was erected in 1890, but a new church was constructed of blue dolomite stone in 1908 after the South African War (also known as the Anglo-Boer War).
At the heart of Postmasburg’s own 1930s mining rush are two former diamond mines – the Postmas Diamond Mine and West End Diamond Mine, which attracted fortune seekers to the town in search of the precious stones.
The old Postmas Diamond Mine was permanently flooded in 1935 and as a result is now a 45m-deep waterhole filled with crystal clear water from the dolomite rocks below and filled with fish. It is the town’s own “Big Hole”.
The Howitzer Gun outside the town’s municipal offices honours men from the area who lost their lives in World War II. Situated north of the town is the Lohatla military base, a training area of the South African National Defence Force.
Other interesting attractions in the area include the Witsand Nature Reserve, with white sand dunes standing in stark contrast against the surrounding red Kalahari sand dunes.
If you’re planning to visit this part of the country anytime soon, make sure the new Go Ghaap! Route is on your bucket list!