One of the bucket-list items that South African outdoor lovers simply have to tick off, is to see the flowers that blossom in an area of the Northern Cape known as the Namaqualand – just to the northeast of the Western Cape’s border.
But what most of the selfie-seekers who flock to this naturally beautiful corner of the country don’t know is that most of the flowers that they’ll see along the popular routes in the area are the results of seeds that have been sown on old farms. The results of this are massive fields that sport one colour, whereas fields around the corner or down the way will feature another hue.
Naturalists who frequent the area, or have been visiting the region for a few seasons – especially off the beaten track – will know that there are sections where the flowers grow wild. It’s actually very easy to determine the difference. The areas where the flowers are truly wild play host to a variety of colours, because that’s the way nature intended them to grow.
AN UNLIKELY CHOICE OF VEHICLE
Suzuki Auto invited us to explore the region through self-drive business African Expeditions, a partner of the brand that uses its vehicles to reach some of the most beautiful destinations in Sub-Saharan Africa. The little Jimny is of course the most popular option because some of the wild areas are remote and therefore a little rough. This is where the tiny Suzuki’s low mass and pukka off-road credentials come to the fore.
The surprise for this trip, dubbed the Namaqualand Wildflowers Safari, was the choice of vehicle that Suzuki and African Expeditions had lined out for our tour. Our group of motoring scribes and travel writers would be driving the route, comprised of mostly gravel roads, in the lgnis hatchback that Suzuki has styled an “urban compact SUV”.
The itinerary had us start the tour off at Upington International Airport, after a brief flight from Cape Town. There, in the parking area, awaited our group of Ignises – to be led by African Expeditions founder Johann “JJ” du Toit in one of their Jimnys, with his son Justin bringing up the rear in a Vitara support vehicle. We opted for the brightness of the Lucent Orange painted model.
OUT INTO THE NAMAQUALAND
The initial journey led west in the direction of the Atlantic before our convoy would turn left onto gravel right next to Gamsberg, a copper mine that’s so rich in the mineral that the mountain from which they extract it has been hollowed out. Here, JJ established the rules for the next few days, hands out two-way radios for each vehicle, and goes over important details like how to stop for comfort breaks while driving in convoy (each vehicle is also fitted with a nifty folding toilet seat).
A relatively new mine in comparison with the other digging facilities in the area, the Gamsberg has been a source of major economic activity in the area, pulling in workers from the surrounding towns. But the massive mountain in stark contrast to the surrounding areas where the flowers bloom alongside other natural vegetation in the area.
THE LITTLE SUZUKI FARES WELL
The Ignis handles the initial exposure to dirt well. The 180 mm ground clearance is of course nothing special, but the roads have been well maintained. They were recently scraped, and we lowered our tyre pressures to 1,2 bar. Some sections are rougher than others, but that doesn’t mean that the Ignis struggled anywhere. On the contrary, its light weight and low ratio gearbox helps it get along well when the surface is loose. And our average fuel consumption is hovering somewhere around the 6,4 litres/100 km mark.
SOME COLOUR TO BREAK THE BARREN LANDSCAPE
Another element of the tour was passing abandoned farms in the area. A recent eight-year drought in the Northern Cape meant that farmers were unable to feed their sheep, and many were forced to sell. Some buildings still stand of course, where a few have toughed it out, but these are in the minority. Fortunately, recent rains have brought back some greenery.
We leave dust gaps of around 200-300 metres, and on this windy day that is especially helpful because the gusts keep the shoulders of the road clear, which is where we first start seeing bursts of white, purple, yellow, and orange. The stops become more frequent, as JJ points out newer species of flower or a colour that the convoy has just stumbled upon.
RIGHT ON THE DIAMOND COAST
Our base of operations over the next two days was Die Houthoop guest farm and open-air restaurant. The name is derived from a pile of wood close to the farmhouse. It’s packed in a semi-circle and guests will congregate inside to share a meal together. We never got to meet the owner, but ran into manager-chef Jacqueline Moolman, who showed us to our rooms and was also the mastermind behind our sustenance – stuff like gemsbok pie and pumpkin fritters in caramel sauce. All made from produce and meat from the surrounding areas.
Die Houthoop is just 15 km from the old mining town of Kleinsee, which was once owned by British mining giant De Beers. After the mining conglomerate decided that mining here would no longer be profitable, it left in 2012. The result is that the town is a shell of its former self. Having once boasted a population of around 5 000 people, it now only has around 800 inhabitants. Over the radio, JJ reminds us of the influx of illegal miners to the fields around the town, where De Beers has started to rehabilitate the land. In 2018, thousands flocked to the area to try and find precious stones, but were eventually forced to leave after police and De Beers intervened.
MORE BLOOMS IN
Unfortunately there were no diamonds in the sand for us, but our eyes feasted on the explosions of colour as we headed inland again for a brief foray into Nababeep, another mining town known for its copper production. We’re not here for the red mineral mind you, but the distinct colour on the hillside. The town is surrounded by hills covered in bright orange flowers at this time of the year.
YOU CAN DO IT TOO
Our time on this Suzuki Safari was cut short, but I would encourage anyone who owns a Jimny or Ignis to contact African Expeditions for an extended trip into this region, especially if you’re a history buff. But to get to tick the Namaqualand flowers off your bucket-list alone the trip is worth it.
+27 84 874 7388
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Suzuki Ignis 1,2 GLX
Outputs: 61 kW/113 Nm
Transmission: five-speed manual gearbox
Ground clearance: 180 mm
Luggage capacity: 260 litres
Price: R236 900