Sir Francis Drake wrote in his journal after rounding the Cape of Good Hope in 1580 –
“This Cape is the most stately thing and the fairest Cape we saw in the whole circumference of the earth”.
Yet from the Golden Hinde Drake could only see a tiny fraction of the Cape, but what lay beyond her coastlines was the unique and beautiful South Africa. From the deserts in the Northern Cape to the beautiful high forests of the Eastern Cape, South Africa is an area of vast contrasts in climate, geography, animal species and plant life. Groves of date palms grow in the west while in the east grassy plains roll down to meet the forests that fringe the beautiful coastline.
On the central plateau lies the Karoo and in the north the start of the great Kalahari dotted windmills and covered by beautiful starry skies. In the far south-west, the continent of Africa ends almost exactly as it begins thousands of kilometers to the north with a Mediterranean climate of winter rain and dry summers and folded snow tipped mountains strangely reminiscent of the Atlas range in the north.
The Cape area is a happy hunting ground for the enthusiast or collector with plenty of shells and semi-precious stones. For the historian there are the artifacts and rock art of the Bushmen. For the connoisseur there are wines, fruit and intriguing local dishes. For the climber and hiker there are the Cape mountains. The wilderness trails, crystal pools, deep caves and balancing rocks of the Cedarberg range are a must see and the dramatic views of Cape Town and Table Bay from Table Mountain are well worth the ascent. The Hex River Valley, Du Toit’s Kloof, Jonkershoek, Langberg, Tsitsikamma, Baviaanskloof and the massive southern extensions of the Drakensberg all offer endless possibilities for adventure and exploration.
Anglers can fish for big game off the Cape of Good Hope, the Transkei Coast and the KwaZulu-Natal Coast right up to Sodwana Bay or try the teeming shoals of yellowtail and snoek in False Bay. Off the West Coast we have some of the best shell fishing in Africa. For sardine enthusiasts there is the, ever punctual, annual sardine run off the KwaZulu-Natal coast. Surfers will find majestic breakers at Cape St. Francis and Elands Bay not forgetting the famous supertubes in Jeffrey’s Bay, also known as JBay. Where the Western Cape meets the Eastern Cape one will find the famous Tsitsikamma Forest.
The name Tsitsikamma derives from a Hottentot word meaning clear or sparkling water. The Tsitsikamma National Park covers a 113 kilometer, high rainfall, coastal strip of with many rivers and streams. It is a wild and unspoiled stretch of rocky coast, with steep, forested cliffs and definitely one of South Africa’s beauty spots. In the pools along the coast is an abundance of marine life. The Otter Trail hiking path runs along the southern length of the park. There are huts for overnight stops and the coastal scenery is a delight, with wild flowers, birds and other wild life. The walk requires three days. A field museum at the mouth of the Storms River displays relics of the prehistoric beachcombers who lived on the coast. In the forest there are several massive trees, the tallest being around 40 meters high. Some of the trees are reputedly 1000 years old. There are more than 30 species of indigenous trees, ferns and climbers, and many rare birds such as the Knysna loerie and the Narina trogon which can be seen in the forest.
The Kei River area in the Eastern Cape marks is the start of the ever beautiful Transkei which is also part of the Eastern Cape. The first human beings to live in the Transkei were Bushmen and Hottentot groups who wandered over the grasslands, the Bushmen hunting, the Hottentots grazing their livestock. The tribes who live in the Transkei today include the Xhosa, the Pondo, the Pondornise, the Bomvana and other smaller groups. The presence of these tribes is very apparent to visitors in the Transkei. They are friendly and colourful and give the Transkei its wild and wonderful reputation. The rondavel homes, all uniform in size and design, are scattered over the grasslands like stars in a milky way, set in a green coloured sky. With their walls painted white, their black-thatched roofs, their doorways all facing to rising sun and all good spirits. With the anti-lightning charms on the roofs, the cattle kraals and pigsties these homesteads of the Transkei provide a unique spectacle to anyone visiting South Africa.
In the north of the Eastern Cape the long wall of the Drakensberg provides a barrier to the lands of the interior. To the east, the grassland falls away in lovely rolling slopes, divided by deep valleys through which the rivers drain to reach the lagoons and sandy beaches where the Indian Ocean surges in with a restless murmur and an insistent pounding on rocky outcrops and cliffs. Herds of cattle graze on the slopes women work in the fields and smoke their long pipes. Old men sit in the sun and the young men or go off to work in the cities and towns.
Between the Orange River and the Vaal River, lies a rolling prairie around 1400 meters above sea level. Flooded with sunshine and always green and warm in summer to brown and crisply cold in winter. From one horizon to another, north, south, east and west, this prairieland stretches away with the winds like a whispering siren’s voice. The only thing tempting the traveler ever onwards is the distant hillock to acting as a beacon on a journey seemingly without end through the Golden Free State. This prairieland is the summit of the central plateau of South Africa. Geologically it is all part of the Karoo System made up of an extensive series of sedimentary deposits laid down in successive epochs between 125 and 250 million years ago. The soil is deep and rich and the area, drained by the Vaal River, grows huge fields of wheat, maize, sorghum, groundnuts, sunflowers and many other valuable crops adding to our food chain. The towns of the Free State are small and friendly originating from the needs of the surrounding farm lands.
The dryer southern portion is drained by the Orange River and sheep in their flocks wander over the lands grazing on route to the water holes that lie next to the ever present wind pumps. These windmills murmur and creak as they fill the drinking troughs and reservoirs with the characteristic alkaline water of the Karoo System. Nearly 30 000 farms cover the central plains of the Free State. The area has always been regarded as one of the principal pantries of the continent of Africa. In former years, Bushmen hunted the herds, springbok, blesbok, hartebeest, gnu and kwagga. It is said that these herds were so large that their numbers were beyond count. Because of these vast numbers of wildlife European hunters were lured into the area and the sound of their guns became the incessant voice of doom until these magnificent herds of wildlife were almost completely eliminated and in the kwagga’s case extinct. This is one of the many same old sad stories of endless destruction by European Hunters who destroyed so much of the beauty in this country.
Today, thanks to the South African National Parks (SAN Parks) organisation and all the other provincial Parks boards and nature conservation organisations, we have been able to protect what belongs to OUR unique eco system.
Gauteng has been a land of extraordinary adventures and characters. The landscape is endowed with such scenic and mineral treasures that man became the stage for great human dramas in the early days of the Transvaal. The entire territory was a treasure chest of rocks, minerals, metals and precious stones. Exposed in parts of Mpumalanga are the granite domes of the Primitive System the earth’s oldest known rock system. For at least 3 000 million years these huge domed rocks have withstood the ravages of weather. They remain as memorials to earths beginning and for 1000 million years the earth was permeated by strange odours and multi-coloured vapours.
Then as water vapour formed the rains came and surface of the Gauteng area was further cooled. The water eroded and dissolved the higher masses of original material into sludge and deposited it as mineralized sediments which formed such rock systems like the gold-bearing Witwatesrand area known by man as the richest rock vein ever found. Nature was indeed generous in the creation of the Gauteng area. Beneath the ground she bestowed vast wealth and on the surface the soil was deep and fertile. Man desired the area on sight and came to the Transvaal, now Gauteng, in a bewildering, complex assortment of peoples. When the Voortrekkers arrived in the 1830’s they found a battleground of ferocious tribal rivalry.
From this inauspicious beginning they created the South African Republic, which had its capital first at Potchefstroom and then later at Pretoria. In 1886 a guy by the name of George Harrison (not the Beatle) stumbled on an outcrop of gold on the main reef of the Witwatersrand and from then on, from all parts of the earth, gold prospectors poured into the area. There were political upheavals and petty wars with the tribes and then eventually the Anglo Boer War of 1899 to 1902. The British then annexed the Transvaal but soon gave it substantial self-rule and in 1910 it became part of the Union of South Africa.
KwaZulu-Natal has long been described as the ‘garden province’ of South Africa. The sub-tropical luxuriance of its coastal vegetation and river valleys and the rich, sweet-grass grazing of the midlands at the foothills and heights of the Drakensberg which is home to so many ferns and flowering plants. Well watered over most of its area the 86 967 square kilometers of KwaZulu-Natal boasts a dense population of many forms of life.
In past years the midlands of KwaZulu-Natal was the grazing area for great herds of zebra, blesbok, hartebeest, eland and other antelope. Some of these were permanent residents and others migrated from winter frosts on the Central Plains of the highveld in the Free State and Gauteng for warmth and grazing and then returned in the spring to feed on the first shoots of the young green grass. These mass movements of game animals blazed the first paths up the escarpment and opened up the passes through the Drakensberg Mountain Range.
In the never-ending process of creation the principal tools of nature have always been fire and water and in the Drakensberg the combined efforts of these elements are clearly evident and even today this gigantic mass of rock is still in the throes of construction. The Drakensberg came to be as a result of an astonishing change in the mood of nature. For more than 100 million years the face of South Africa had been a vast swamp with forests dripping rain. Then about 180 million years ago a drastic change began towards a new world. Probably by altering the direction of the prevailing winds nature swept away the rains and the swamps dried up causing the forests to die. The dinosaurs and early creatures were buried in mud and became fossilized which later turned to shales and sand as it dried and was compressed. This sand was rich in colour and oxidized by iron into shades of yellow, orange and red. Nature played with the sand and using winds to pile it up above the level of the former swamps, and thus creating one of the most majestically beautiful of all geological rock systems in South Africa.
Once again some 25 million years later a profound change occurred. Wind was abandoned as the major tool and replaced by fire. Through great fissures in the mantle of the earth a vast mass of basaltic lava surged out of the earth covering much of the surface. This lava rose up to 4000 meters above sea level creating a solid block of dark rock reaching high into the sky and becoming the roof of Southern Africa. On to this roof fell the rains which originated mainly from the warm waters of the Indian Ocean and this rain formed rivers which eroded deep valleys into the earth. The mass of basalt which was left by the lava surge began to dwindle leaving many unusual shapes and features which were sculpted into the landscape. Balancing rocks, pinnacles, cliffs, rock shelters, overhangs and deep caves were formed. On the eastern side the lava retreated before the onslaught of the windy wet weather and eroded backwards at a rate of about one meter every thousand years leaving a fertile scar around 150 kilometers wide which is the present sandstone landscape of the northern areas of KwaZulu-Natal.
The original mass of basalt still forms the roof of South Africa this is the flat highlands of Lesotho. From the east the basalt mass resembles a high wall which is irregular along its summit with no gaps. This summit is a high lying moorland cut into only by gorges and valleys. This summit generally holds its altitude for 200 kilometers westwards until the entire basalt mass falls away in the Free State with a precipitous edge almost as spectacular on the western side as on the eastern side. The Zulu-speaking people in the east called the edge of the basalt mass uKhahlamba (‘a barrier’) and they say that it resembles a row of spears. They called the summit uluNdi or oNdini (‘the heights’) and the Sotho people who live on these heights call the eastern edge Diomo tsa Natala (‘the cliffs of Natal’) and this is how the mighty Drakensberg mountain range was born and is today the largest and most visited mountain range in South Africa.
The eastern regions of KwaZulu-Natal are covered with the typical African savannah and climate is warm to hot. Herds of elephant, rhino, lion, cheetah, wild dog and other predators flourished in all size and variety and thrived on the grass, shrubs and trees and hunters once considered this to be one of the most productive hunting areas in Africa. The coastline of KwaZulu-Natal is lined with high forest, sandy beaches and lagoons at the mouths of scores of rivers. Down this coast flows the warm water of the Mozambique Current. The atmosphere is warm and humid and the Indian Ocean blue and clear.
The Bushman tribe was among the earliest human beings to explore KwaZulu-Natal and in the valleys of the foothills they found caves and rock shelters and there are many Bushman paintings that are evident all over KwaZulu-Natal that prove their abundant existence. The Bushman were humble and peace loving people but they were attacked and slaughtered by the tribes that were migrating down from the north. They had to move out of the area which was regarded as paradise by all new comers. The Zulu tribe became a formidable military power and they have a long history of hard fought battles and extreme bravery.