In the lee of a small hill on a bend of a wide river, the powerfully built earliest ancestors of man lived and hunted 1.2-million years ago, leaving behind a treasure trove of stone implements and human remains.
Fast forward to 1869, where, driven onward by the discovery of diamonds in Hopetown, a party of prospectors camp in the lee of a small hill while panning the bend of a wide river. Their perseverance is rewarded by the discovery of great quantities of high-quality diamonds. Within months the river bend is flooded by 20 000 people, some determined to wrest their fortunes from the river, and others, equally determined to wrest their fortunes from the hands of the diggers.
Ox-drawn wagons and other traffic crossed the river over a rocky natural low-water causeway known as the "klipdrift", which gave its name to the rough and ready village that sprung up on the riverbank.
In 1870, in an attempt to enforce law and order and to protect the rights of the population, the diggers committee unilaterally proclaimed the area as the Diggers Republic of Klipdrift under President Stafford Parker, the then chairman of the diggers committee. The republic was eventually annexed by the British, summoned it is widely assumed by Cecil John Rhodes who was operating in Klipdrift as a diamond buyer.
At the same time, the Korana tribe, direct descendants of the original stone age inhabitants under the chieftainship of Jan Bloem, laid claim to a vast area that stretched 200km along the Vaal river as far as the village of Bloemhof with their capital on the riverbank in present-day Pniel, where the tribal gallows tree still bears testimony to his rule.
Where to visit
Today the village of Klipdrift, renamed Barkly West, is the administrative centre of the area which falls under the consolidated political leadership of the Dikgatlong Local Municipality. A must-visit is the still active Anglican Parish Church of St Mary the Virgin, which when built in 1871 on the orders of the Bishop of Bloemfontein was the only church ministering to the spiritual needs of the thousands of prospectors.
Nefi Meyer has converted the original pump house on the riverbank into a world famous pub and restaurant with a river cruiser that offers visitors an unforgettable three-hour cruise along the river.
The 1.2-million-year-old stone age site at Canteen Kopje is in the process of refurbishment with plans to build an interpretive centre that will showcase this national treasure.
The Barkly West Museum is situated in the original toll house that guards the entrance to the cast iron bridge which was manufactured in London during 1885 and transported in sections to Barkly West, via sailing boat , steam train and ox wagon, where it became the first bridge over the Vaal River.
Prospectors following the river established diggers villages along the banks, including picturesque Gong Gong, the site of the only waterfall on the Vaal river; Longlands, where the original village hall has been lovingly restored by the De Kock dynasty and Sydney on Vaal which is built in the style of an Olde English village around the village green with an exquisitely furnished guest lodge. Delportshoop, where horse-drawn carts and herds of goats share the roads with laid-back locals, is situated near the confluence of the Harts and Vaal rivers. Upriver is the village of Windsorton with it’s quaint architecture. Formerly known as Hebron Mission it was, in it’s heyday, home to 10 000 prospectors, and is still the scene of feverish mining activity.
Where to stay
One Fountain Guest House provides six en-suite suites and tasty home-cooked meals in a homely atmosphere close to the CBD.
Olyfhuis Boutique Guest House is situated on historic Holsdam Farm, 4km outside Barkly West on the way to Windsorton. Spacious super luxury suites lead on to immaculate shady gardens while barbeques and traditional farm fare tempt the most jaded palate.
Rooftop Guest House offers lovely views over the river from a wide verandah, impressive wooden suites, an in-house bakery, and exciting 4x4 tours of the Northern Cape and beyond.
N12 Outspan Motel, where visitors rub shoulders with diamond diggers at the Diggers Bar, offers conference/wedding facilities, swimming pool, horse trails, birding and four-wheel off-road adventures combined with luxurious suites to offer a never to be forgotten experience.
Antjie se Mandtje owned by a well-known contemporary artist, combines an art gallery with a gourmet kitchen and absolutely original luxury suites in a uniquely furnished boutique guest house set in exquisite gardens.
Aarons Guest House is hidden in the village CBD, offers 10 luxury suites in a courtyard setting with a well-appointed pub and grill room.
Borrelskop Country Lodge on the main road to Kuruman has been catering to travellers for the past 150 years. While the original buildings, trading store, post office, bottle store, butchery and rooms are currently under renovation, the hostelry offers lovely rooms with a convivial pub and poolroom.