Green Kalahari

By Johnie Jonker



Auto-routing on a Garmin can have its drawbacks, as happened here.

Pretoria to Witsand

[Source: Imagery ©2014 TerraMetrics, Map data ©2014 AfriGIS (Pty) Ltd, Google]

Travelling from Gauteng, one would normally stick to the N14 from Pretoria to Olifantshoek, and turn left towards Witsand 7km after passing through the latter. This leaves 70km of gravel to cover to the entrance of the Witsand Nature Reserve.

By the time we realized we were not on the N14 anymore – you have to turn right at a T-junction to stay on it – we had already passed a few tedious stop-and-go sections where widening of the road is under construction. So we stuck to it and were pleasantly surprised by Postmasburg in terms of the development taking place there, new business extensions especially. The older part had a decent Spar where we could obtain our last-minute self-catering supplies.

Following the GPS routing, we learnt that the direct route to Witsand has recently been blocked by a new mine. The green route below is how we actually had to travel, with the red “shortcut” in the middle now fenced off and gated as mining property.


But a good road, with a very interesting Bergenaarspad 1:5 pass in it. As soon as the road leads into the Langberg to cut through it, it becomes somewhat washed out with some exposed stones – but not big – until it gets to the uphill section through the mountain, which is steep but paved with natural stone. Once at the top, the paving stops and the descent is rutted.

It was afterwards learnt that this cutting through the mountain was a community project where the local labourers were paid per day, instead of for the job. Naturally, they worked as slowly as they could to sustain their income over a longer period of time. So by the time they paved to the top from one side, the money for the project was all spent. Hence the unpaved other side.

Witsand Nature Reserve

The official web site is here: Witsand Kalahari Website. What follows below, are our observations during the visit.


Although this was school holidays, the reserve was almost deserted. Phoning on a Wednesday, accommodation was available for 3 nights from the Sunday. Moving this arrangement on by one day the day before our arrival was still fine.

Now that we’ve been there, I can understand this due to the location – nearest town 70km away. However, this is somewhat of a concern, as I cannot see week-end income only being sufficient to maintain the facilities, unless it’s being subsidised by the NC government. After all, there are only 10 each of both chalets and campsites, plus then the bungalows. So any follow-up visit should not be delayed too much.

The chalets however are rated as 4-Star. I have no idea what 5-star would be like, but this was hands down the smartest accommodation we had ever stayed in while on holiday. By pure coincidence, also the most expensive. Very private – you can’t see any of the other chalets from your own living area – and well maitained.

All chalets are centered around a tree – avoid No 5, the tree has died. We were in number 3 – sunrise side, but number 6 would be optimal if you’re after a sunset over the white dunes.

Also very well finished off – sleeper doors, good craftmanship and little things like pictures on the bedroom and lounge walls.

One drawback could be – the missing star – that the 3 bedrooms are serviced by the same bathroom – not ensuite – but this did not bother us. Maybe it would in winter. Seperate bath, shower and toilet with super hot water.

The kitchen is also superbly kitted out. Proper stove, microwave, fridge and a myriad of utensils for 6 people. Even a  Cadac gas cylinder with stove-plate, should the power fail. You are constantly surprised by what they have there.

Both grid and skottel at the fireplace, plus chains to hang your potjie – a No 3 supplied.

A 3-stitch panoramic from the main bedroom door. The entrance from the car is between the two buildings, on the left.


 This image was taken from the lounge end of the chalet back to the sleeping quarters.

Sleeping quarters

Om die vuur


Most people go to Witsand for the novelty of the white sand, but also the roaring dunes. The temperature and moisture content of the sand has to be just right to hear this. March is not that time.

But you can rent a sand board and bicycle to pedal the 5km from the camp to the dunes and try surfing.

The bicycles are in a terrible state of maintenance. Bent pedals, broken gear shift mechanisms, loose flip-flop saddles, flat tyres. They’re going to have to sharpen this up soon. Rather take your own.

The sand boards are somewhat better, but you have to buy a tin of wax from the shop, otherwise you go nowhere. Some video clips here: Day 1, Day 2, Playing it Safe, More Wax, Please and That’s Better.

Duin 1

 Duins 2

You also need to take along some cool dudes to show you how to drive a sand board.

Cool dudes

Boegoeberg Dam

There really is a place like this!

My first memories of radio, was Fanus Rautenbach’s morning program Flinkveria.

It’s here that I heard that song for the first time, and often afterwards. It has gone out of fashion somewhat lately, though. It goes like this:

Boegoeberg se dam is ‘n doodlekker dam

Daar waar die meisies hulle hare was en kam.

and so on. Apparently the SA Army has different lyrics for it.

Boegoeberg se dam


Groblershoop is the nearest town. As far as we could see, it only has a main road, but at least a decent Agri Mark, 2 butcheries, general dealer, two fuel stations and offsales.

Regional Wine Review

Passing through, I acquired some of the local “Gordonia Special” wine. Last time I bought it was in Upington, where I was sent round the outside from the “Whites Only” half of the store to the “Non-whites” side to obtain a bottle. In the meantime, things have changed, and everyone was served over the same counter – through burglar bars that any bank would be proud of.

Over the past 27 years or so, they’ve also improved the bottle. Still plastic, but instead of a mineral turpentine bottle with flip-top, it now comes in something resembling an Epic oil bottle, with a lovely red plastic screwtop.We were offered the choice of a 1l or 2l bottle by the lady behind the counter, but I explained that we preferred to ration our arguing at any one time, so rather opted for two 1l bottles.

Traditionally this semi-sweet wine is consumed primarily for its effect, rather than colour, bouquet or taste. The label refers to it as “the strong one”. Don’t know compared to what, but possibly Paarl Perlé, Lieberstein and Virginia – die wyn vir manne wat manwees geniet, according to the early 80s jingle.

In “crunchie”, as my Pommie immigrant colleague Tom Sheppard from way back referred to the language us locals were speaking, it would be termed “bakleiwyn”.

However, if well chilled, it is actually surprisingly pleasant and refreshing, and somehow tastes a lot less cheap than the R25 rand price would suggest.  But perhaps it’s the connotation/company that shared it with me the previous times that makes it a fun wine to drink? I invite you to try it whenever you can.

Gordonia Special

The next day we went back for some more other local wines, specifically the Orange River Cellar reds. The Shiraz was good, the Pinotage so-so (won’t buy it again) and the Cabernet survived the trip home. I’ll post the results here as soon as I’ve tried it.

Anyway, I digressed, so back to Route.

From here (Groblershoop, in case you forgot) you follow the tar road to Boegoeberg, which turns into gravel for the last 17km. It winds all along an irrigation canal – mountain one side, with the river obscured by trees on the other. Up against the mountain is the virtually intact old road, with beautiful stone walls a la Baines/Italian POW craftsmanship. There is talk of opening this up as a trail.

Most visitors camp/caravan down at the river’s edge, in order to fish. Shade ports are conveniently located all along the shore to lessen the sunburn. Regional fishing competitions are also held here.

I don’t know anything about dam fishing, but if you coat your bait ball with red stuff out of a squeeze bottle – stating raspberry as an ingredient – prior to casting, then it must be serious business.

Hence there are only 6 chalets up against the mountain, built in pairs. Nos 5/6 having the best view of the dam and wall. This is the view from No 5.

View from 5

Each unit sleeps 4 and has a deck leading out of the open plan bedroom/kitchen/loft with a fireplace. There’s also a carport.

Fire whisperer

However, if you want to socialize with the neighbours, you can also use a dual braai on ground level, just below the balcony. For the price of R600 p/n for the chalet, you can’t steal it, especially if you consider Witsand Nature Reserve costing our family of four 3x as much per night. You only have to supply your own towels.

Hint:      Take some spare bayonet and screw type light bulbs. 4 were out in our unit.

It is from here we left just before 7 one morning to travel round to the Waterford 4×4 route. The trip – including a fuel stop at Groblershoop – takes just under an hour. For a report on the route, see here: Waterford 4×4 in Green Kalahari.


We headed for home the next day. Again via Witsand – as empty as before – this time to Olifantshoek.

Although we always stop at Kathu for a record shot of ourselves against the truck and excavator parked next to the side of the road, we’ve never bothered to go into the town.

We however chatted to a fisherman at the dam and he told us about the development that was going on there. To confirm that this was not just another fishing story, we drove in to have a look.

Probably the surprise of the holiday.

A proper town with 11500 inhabitants circa 2011 – so not just “3 doors and 7 windows”, as we originally thought. Built in one of only two natural Camel Thorn tree forests in the world, and declared a Natural Heritage Site. It was nominated by the NC region as their entry for the Kwêla and Rapport town-of-the-year competition in 2012 – Sabie won. The Sishen golf course makes the Top 20 list in South Africa.

I often get the feeling when driving through many platteland towns on the main routes that the town has served its purpose, and is now just hanging on. This is from observing the neglect, run-down facilities, untidy pavements and knowing that this was not always so.

Kathu has none of this. It is booming, with new suburbs under construction either side of the N14 – looks like they’ve run out of space in town – and also a second mall, with Game as anchor tenant. Just about every other shop and national restaurant franchise is already there.

The school grounds are immaculate and the main road through town, a two lane affair with large trees on a central island. Really a pretty town and well worth a visit.

The way home

We turned north at Vryburg via Stella, Mafikeng and on to Zeerust. The road was good and quiet, but the extended 60km zone – where most locals were doing 50 or less – into Mafikeng, was somewhat frustrating.

From Zeerust we headed home via Groot Marico – although this town is now disappointingly dead – and Rustenburg.

This route is 60km longer than the N14 and worthwhile a try if you’ve not seen that part of the country before. But this, together with the toll fees of Swartruggens R75, Marikana R16, Brits R10.50 and Doornpoort R10.50, quite a bit more expensive – and slower – to get home.

But a great holiday, and the Green Kalahari will see us again.


Your email is never shared.
Required fields are marked *