Deep in the heart of Oudtshoorn, where the SUV’s are adorned with horns (usually painted blue) and mock bull’s testicles hang from their towbars, the people are a cross between of South Africa’s iconic comedian Leon Schuster and Crocodile Dundee.
And it was a ‘typical’ Willem who greeted us in the Oudtshoorn veld one cold morning as we joined his group in watching the meerkats wake up. What can be fun about that? Lots actually.
Willem sits you in a semi-circle on camp chairs armed with coffee and rusks as the sun comes up. He regales stories about the meerkats and their habits – like the quaint one of the family hierarchy. EACH day, the dominant male urinates on the others, and so down the ladder, the urination goes. Until you reach the weakest Meerkat – who really smells, having been urinated on by at least 12 of the other family members!
After 45 minutes of hilarious tales, the meerkats started to emerge and warm their tummies in the morning sun until they were all awake and then scurried off to forage and live out their lives – no doubt wetting their brothers’ and sisters’ feet.
The meerkat or suricate (Suricata suricatta) is a small carnivoran belonging to the mongoose family (Herpestidae). It is the only member of the genus Suricata. Meerkats live in all parts of the Kalahari Desert in Botswana, in much of the Namib Desert in Namibia and southwestern Angola, and in South Africa. A group of meerkats is called a “mob”, “gang” or “clan”. A meerkat clan often contains about 20 meerkats, but some super-families have 50 or more members. In captivity, meerkats have an average life span of 12–14 years, and about half this in the wild.
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HAPPY HERITAGE DAY TO ALL SOUTH AFRICAN READERS!!! Have a great braai…….
This has to be one of the most iconic gravel roads in South Africa, holding almost pilgrimage status to gravel-road devotees. It winds through 37km of rugged mountain scenery, culminating in the vertigo-rush, single-width Elands Pass, and terminates in the very hot, low-altitude Gamkaskloof – reminiscent of a lush oasis and paradoxically nicknamed Die Hel (The Hell).
A long and fertile valley cuts through the mountains on the east/west axis. There are various accounts of the lengthof this valley. As the crow flies it measures 12 km from the Gamka River to the base of the Elands Pass. This was the original Gamka Poort farm which was granted to Petrus Swanepoel in 1841. The Boer commando leader Deneys Reitz entered the valley in 1901 during the Anglo-Boer war whilst attempting to evade British forces. He wrote an interesting account of their short visit:
” As we approached the huts, a shaggy giant in goatskins appeared and spoke to us in strange outlandish Dutch. He was a white man named Cordier, who lived in this valley with his wife and a brood of half-wild children in complete isolation of the outside world……. We were received with uncouth, but sincere hospitality and applied ourselves to the goats meat, milk, and wild honey that was placed before us…..He told us that no British forces had ever penetrated the valley and that we were the first Boers to do so”
Getting there – by pictures:
Here’s a pictorial essay of the ‘going up’ leg of the Swartberg Pass – from the Prince Albert side:
The Karoo (/kəˈruː/ kə-roo; from a Khoikhoi word, possibly garo “desert”) is a semi-desert natural region of South Africa. There is no exact definition of what constitutes the Karoo, and therefore its extent is also not precisely defined. The Karoo is partly defined by its topography, geology, and climate — above all, its low rainfall, arid air, cloudless skies, and extremes of heat and cold. The Karoo also hosted a well-preserved ecosystem hundreds of million years ago which is now represented by many fossils.
The Karoo formed an almost impenetrable barrier to the interior from Cape Town, and the early adventurers, explorers, hunters and travelers on the way to the Highveld unanimously denounced it as a frightening place of great heat, great frosts, great floods and great droughts. Today it is still a place of great heat and frosts, and an annual rainfall of between 50–250 mm, though on some of the mountains it can be 250–500 mm higher than on the plains. However, underground water is found throughout the Karoo, which can be tapped by boreholes, making permanent settlements and sheep farming possible.
Source: Readers’ Digest History of South Africa.
To-day, the Karoo is the centre of South Africa’s rich wool farming industry, as well as many flocks of the ‘white diamonds’, the Angora Goats and their priceless mohair.