Experience the Northern Cape, South Africa

Afrikaans is a colourful and descriptive language, and is the most-spoken tongue in the Northern Cape. As a result, many places have names ranging from the quirky and amusing to the more literal and historic. Here are some to look out for when you take a road trip in the Northern Cape.

Lekkersing (‘to sing joyfully or beautifully’)

Deep in the rocky desert landscape of the Richtersveld lies Lekkersing, a small settlement established in 1926 by Ryk Jasper Cloete. 

The town was named after a natural fountain that made a melodious sound as it splashed down the rocks.

Klein Mier Nommer Een (‘small ant number one’)

Also known as Klein Mier or simply Mier, this diminutive spot – located in the far north of the Northern Cape – barely warrants a dot on a map. It’s so remote that the nearest city, Windhoek, lies 550km away in another country, Namibia. 

The population numbers less than 450 and their homes border South Africa’s largest salt pan, Hakskeenpan (“heel pan”), where the Bloodhound LSR land speed record is to be undertaken in 2020. 

Putsonderwater (‘well without water’)

Little evidence remains of the Karoo community of Putsonderwater. An abandoned railway station bearing the name and derelict buildings are the only tangible proof that people once lived here.

Legend has it that during the 1880s, David Ockhuis and his sons found a water source in the area and dug a well. Whether his well ever filled with water is unknown, but when passersby asked for water, he always replied: “Ek het ’n put, maar dis ’n put sonder water.” (“I have a well, but it’s a well without water.”)

Hotazel

With summertime heatwaves known to push temperatures over 40°C, there are no prizes for guessing how “Hot-as-hell” got its shortened name, Hotazel.

The town, in the John Taolo Gaetsewe District Municipality, came into being because of the manganese mined there. Today there are fewer than 600 families living in this unforgiving place. The good news is that it does have a swimming pool!

De Aar (‘the artery’)

Puffing steam trains may no longer be a feature of the railway junction in this arid landscape, but De Aar continues to flourish in the south-eastern corner of the province, thanks to plentiful water accessed from deep in the Earth by more than 100 boreholes.

Kakamas

The derivation of this name has given rise to a couple of theories. One is that it comes from the Khoi word gagamas, which refers to the local clay that the women traditionally daubed on their faces. 

A second theory is that Kakamas was named after a nearby drift called Takemas (“place of the raging cow”), where an enraged bull once took on a local Koranna herder who was shepherding his animals over the water.

Riemvasmaak (‘tighten the strap’ or ‘tighten your belt’)

Riemvasmaak is home to the Koranna and Damara communities who were evicted from their land in 1973, only to return more than 20 years later in South Africa’s first post-apartheid land restitution case. 

The town’s name may have come from the need to tighten the straps of the wagons as they slowly negotiated the rocky terrain. Another local legend tells of a Damara man who wanted to reach a certain mineral spring along the Molopo River, in the hope of soothing his rheumatism. To reach the spring he had to lower himself down the rocky walls, so he tied together some strips of leather.

The main attraction is the town’s hot spring, which is believed to have healing powers. To attract more visitors, mostly 4x4 enthusiasts, the community has built campsites and chalets for overnight stays.

Pella

You’d be forgiven for thinking you’d strayed into the Sahara Desert as you approach Pella, with its large oasis of palm trees sitting in the middle of Namaqualand. An abundant spring water source has allowed for the cultivation of sweet potatoes, figs and grapes in what originated as a missionary town.

On a different, historical note, Pella takes its name from an ancient Jordanian town that once provided a safe haven for Christians avoiding persecution by the Romans. It has a cathedral that is more than 150 years old.