On Friday morning, the 19th of June, we headed out to the Northern Cape to visit the site, where the KAT-7 (and thereafter the MeerKAT) radio telescope is being constructed. We arrived in Carnarvon on Friday night, and then spent Saturday driving out to Losberg (where the dishes and pedestals are being constructed and assembled), the actual site where the antennas will be set up, and then back to the base at Klerefontein, from where the site is being managed. On Sunday, we left Carnarvon and drove back along the same route via Calvinia and Van Rhynsdorp to Cape Town.
A large group duly assembled at the KAT Office in Pinelands on Friday morning, not quite at 7h30 as Tom B had instructed, but nonetheless everyone was aboard by 08h30. Tom did his first rollcall of the trip, counting heads to make sure that no one was left behind. We were 29 (incl. Chris, our driver and tour guide): Tony & Nina, Venkat & Nada, Simon, Ludwig, Tom B, Jasper, Reggie & Richard, Simon C & Adrianna, Anja & Ian, Philip, Adriaan, Andrew & Sharmila, Willem, Luyanda, James, Japie, Alastir & his wife, Alec, Niesa, Roufurd & Melanie.
Our first pitstop came shortly after we had wound our way up the Piekenierskloof Pass beyond Piketberg and cruised down the curves on the other side. We pulled in at a petrol station just outside Citrusdal, where we filled up with diesel, tea, coffee, chocolates and assorted other munchies.
We remained on the N7 northwards past the beautiful valleys of Clanwilliam and Klawer until we reached Vanrhynsdorp, where we turned onto the R27 towards Niewoudtville. I can’t remember how often I have driven past Vanrhynsdorp on my way up to Namibia or back to Cape Town, but I’d never gone inland and up the escarpment before, so this was new territory for me. Here, we are approaching the escarpment, up which leads the +/- 820 m high Vanrhynspass.
Chris stopped at a viewing site so that we could take some photos of the literally breathtaking view across the Knersvlakte. Chris explained that the name comes from the sound made when the old ox wagons used to travel across these plains: the hard pebbles and crystals in the volcanic granite makes a grinding and crunching sound. (Personally, I’d always imagined that it was so named because, when you’ve travelled on foot or by ox wagon across these vast dry plains, the dust and sand would make a crunching sound in your teeth!) He also explained that the pockmarks on the plains are termite hills, which look like little conical hats surrounded by a ring of reddish-brown soil.
As we crested the pass, we arrived on a vast plateau. We had crossed into the Karoo. It’s an absolutely magnificent landscape.
The Namaqualand and this part of the Karoo comes alive with colourful flowers in spring every year (if the rains have been good). We drove through the settlement of Nieuwoudtville, which is the bulb capital of the region, and eventually reached the pretty town of Calvinia, where we stopped for a quick lunch at Myl 250 Restaraunt. (I’m not sure from where to where the miles are measured). It has an inner courtyard with a curved canvas roof arching above a spacious dance floor. We found ourselves a couple of tables and filled our rumbling bellies with tea and toasted sandwiches.
About three hours later, shortly after 18h00, we reached the welcome oasis of Carnarvon, where Chris found his way to the Voortrekker Camping Site on the edge of town near the hospital. About half of the group immediately started to set up their tents, as it was getting dark very quickly. Richard got on the cellphone to Louisa, our host of Tip Top Guest Houses, who kindly sent her husband over to fetch us with his bakkie, as we had no idea how to find our accommodation. We settled into ‘Flatlet B’, unpacked some of our stuff, and then headed back up to the camping site for the braai that had been planned for the evening by Wilna and her team.
It was icy-cold, colder than I had expected, so I was astounded to see some of the guys walking around in shorts and flipflops. The sky was completely clear, with not a cloud in sight, and we could see thousands of stars glittering high above us. Magic!
We clustered around the braai, deeply inhaling the tantalising smell of grilling lamb chops and boerewors (sausage), while trying to avoid standing in the path of the smoke. While the men were grilling the meat, the women were preparing huge bowls of scrumptious potato salad and carrot salad, and slicing up toast bread, which we had with butter, grated cheese and various jams. Richard very thoughtfully toasted a couple of slices of bread on the grill above the still glowing coals for me – ahhh! Heaven!
Man! – it’s hard to beat a good old South African braai for ‘pure geselligheid’!
Click on the links below for the other days: