Di­a­monds and daisies

Ex­plor­ing the old di­a­mond fields of the West Coast

Land Rover AFRICA Magazine - - CONTENTS - Ian Theron Tech­ni­cal edi­tor Ian Theron shows Landy rookie Mike Kaufmann the ropes on this West Coast over­land ex­pe­di­tion.

Tech edi­tor Ian Theron en­coun­ters some in­ter­est­ing char­ac­ters and vast land­scapes dur­ing his visit to the old di­a­mond fields of the West Coast.

Vast ex­panses of hilly ter­rain, suc­cu­lent Ka­roo veld and golden Na­maqua­land quartz gravel make for some dra­matic land­scapes. How­ever, the real beauty of the old di­a­mond mines of the north­ern Na­maqua­land lies in the proper 4x4 play­ground it of­fers.

It’s 04h00 on a balmy sum­mer’s morn­ing in Cape Town’s north­ern sub­urbs and I’m en­joy­ing a strong (and nec­es­sary) cup of cof­fee be­fore I de­part to pick up my pas­sen­ger. My ex­cite­ment is ob­vi­ous as I have been an­tic­i­pat­ing this trip for quite some time. I was for­tu­nate enough to be in­vited on this ex­ploratory West Coast trip by Greg van der Reis and a cou­ple of mates from the 4x4 Off-Road Ad­ven­ture Club, just to see how far west we can travel to­wards the coast, start­ing some­where on the gnash­ing plains of the North­ern Cape. I was in­structed to meet early morn­ing at Klawer and I was al­lowed one male pas­sen­ger only. The first one that sprung to mind was Andy Mark, pub­lisher of this mag­a­zine, and a big Land Rover en­thu­si­ast. How­ever, he al­ready had prior en­gage­ments (his daugh­ter’s birth­day) and af­ter some thought, I in­vited Mike Kaufmann, the mag­a­zine’s mar­ket­ing di­rec­tor. Mike’s a rookie to the Land Rover fra­ter­nity and has never driven one be­fore. He’s also a Jeep owner but we won’t hold that against him. We met up with five other Land Rover own­ers for a Wimpy break­fast and cof­fee and set off into the vast ex­panse of the des­o­lated north­ern re­gion. Af­ter trav­el­ling for a while, we de­cided to hit the dirt. At this stage, I wasn’t yet sure if I should let my rookie co-driver be­hind the wheel as his only 4x4 ex­pe­ri­ence is slam­ming side­walks with his Jeep on his way to work and back. Our guide for the trip was a bloke, coin­ci­den­tally also named Michael, in a Defender Td5. He took the lead as he ap­par­ently knew the area well. It was a great ride, ex­plor­ing and try­ing to find ways out of don­gas and riverbeds.

We even­tu­ally crossed over a du­bi­ous­look­ing bridge and down a very steep dry riverbed where we stopped un­der a rail­way bridge for lunch and dis­cussed all things Land Rover. It was rookie Mike’s turn for a se­ri­ous ses­sion be­hind the wheel of my Defender Td5. He wanted to know which way out and I replied, “Just choose a gear and fol­low Karsten’s or­ange G4 Defender back up that steep em­bank­ment that we just came down.” Karsten made it up first time and ev­ery­one else got stuck. I must ad­mit Mike was a quick learner, driv­ing up the em­bank­ment like a pro, absolutely loving the Landy’s ca­pa­bil­i­ties. From there he just got bet­ter and bet­ter and I was won­der­ing if I was ever go­ing to get my beloved Land Rover back. Af­ter some tricky driv­ing, we found a way down, set up camp and en­joyed some good com­pany and ex­cel­lent ribs. It took only a few beers be­fore Mike started fish­ing about prices for a sec­ond-hand Defender and won­dered how much he would get for his Jeep. I set up my stretcher un­der the Landy’s awning and watched in awe as Mike made his so-called bed. The self-in­flat­ing mat­tress he brought along was no big­ger or thicker than a child’s knee­board and his cush­ion re­sem­bled some­thing closer to a face cloth.

The strong­est stone in the world

The next morn­ing, we got up early and felt fresh. Well, ex­cept for Mike, who ex­pe­ri­enced some back­ache and we lined our stom­achs with a great break­fast at a nearby farm stall, restau­rant, nurs­ery and rus­tic shop rolled into one that sold all kinds of plants and other odds and ends. With boosted en­ergy lev­els, we headed to a re­dun­dant di­a­mond mine sit­u­ated close by. Di­a­mond min­ing was wide­spread in the coastal ar­eas of Na­maqua­land. The 48 500 ha area is very rich in suc­cu­lent plant species, but many of them re­main threat­ened due to the over-ex­ploita­tion of the di­a­mond min­ers from many moons ago. I am re­luc­tant to re­veal our ex­act po­si­tion. It’s absolutely vi­tal that the area’s en­vi­ron­ment is treated with re­spect, and ir­re­spon­si­ble driv­ing is frowned upon. The area re­mains very sen­si­tive af­ter min­ers nearly de­pleted it of its nat­u­ral re­sources. We knew the drill: don’t leave any trails of rub­bish or dam­age; al­ways clean up af­ter your­selves; and be wary of driv­ing over plant species.

The real sports be­gan when we en­tered the di­a­mond fields. We came across the same dry riverbed and de­cided to cross its steep banks. Af­ter some con­tem­plat­ing, Karsten took the plunge in the or­ange G4 Defender and stormed the muddy river banks. It was touch and go, but he made it through and got stuck on the op­po­site end. Af­ter a few more at­tempts, he even­tu­ally made it to the top. Next up was our guide Michael in his Defender Td5. He charged that same mud patch and got halfway be­fore sink­ing down. For­tu­nately, Greg was at hand and man­aged a suc­cess­ful re­cov­ery. Mike and I de­cided to take a dif­fer­ent route and made it through com­fort­ably. Then it was time for our guide to give the em­bank­ment an­other go. Fol­low­ing in my tracks, he again made it halfway and went down. For­tu­nately, Casper (our trip pho­tog­ra­pher) was ready and wait­ing and man­aged to cap­ture the whole in­ci­dent on cam­era. An­other route was sug­gested and we man­aged to get our guide to dry ground. We made our way down­stream to find a pos­si­ble route down to the coast. This time Greg de­cided to take the lead and showed us a swim­ming spot with a clear, sandy bot­tom; or so we thought. Mike was first to strip down, but be­fore he could get into the pool, the clay bank he was stand­ing on turned into a slip­pery slide and one bounce on his bot­tom, he ended up in a mud bath. Af­ter clean­ing him­self off, he was al­lowed back in my Landy and we moved on. Many dead ends and washe­d­out don­gas later, it was Greg who had to give up at­tempt­ing the same hill again and again – so much for trac­tion con­trol. We then rerouted; Mike and I took the lead and even­tu­ally found a way through. A cou­ple of guys missed their lines and got pulled out. An­other mem­ber of our en­tourage, Alan’s Dis­cov­ery 3 re­ally im­pressed us as it made light work of the don­gas.

Don­gas, mud and set­tling near the sea

Then it was my turn again. I was look­ing for a route back down to the river when I dis­cov­ered a steep em­bank­ment. How­ever, as I hit the bot­tom I know I was in deep trou­ble. Know­ing the dif­fer­ence be­tween deep mud and ma­nure, I no­ticed this was not ma­nure, but it was in vain. With smoke bel­low­ing out the ex­haust, I was stuck. Thanks to our guide, I was soon back on dry ground. And af­ter some road build­ing, we all man­aged to make it back to higher ground.

We back­tracked to the gravel roads and headed west. Michael was once again our guide and took us down some dry riverbeds. How­ever, he soon lost the track and got stuck again. Ev­ery­body quickly con­sulted GPSs and we found a way back to the gravel road. We were hun­gry and had less than half a day to reach the coast. Some­where in the mid­dle of nowhere, we stopped for lunch. Greg whipped up the most won­der­ful toasted sand­wiches with ba­nana and cin­na­mon. We found our way to the coast to set up camp next to the sea. It was time to re­flect

The stars flick­ered above us with no sign of hu­man life for kilo­me­tres – this was liv­ing at its best.

on our ex­ploratory trip with all its ob­sta­cles and ex­cite­ment. That night we put our feet up around a lekker braai and en­joyed a few brewskis. We ex­changed sto­ries for a while and some of the crew drifted off to bed, opt­ing to sleep un­der the night sky, far away from a cer­tain pho­tog­ra­pher’s snor­ing. Apart from the in­ces­sant snor­ing and the con­tin­u­ous rum­bling of the sea in the back­ground, the night was quiet and serene. The stars flick­ered above us with no sign of hu­man life for kilo­me­tres – this was liv­ing at its best. Hav­ing re­alised the ca­pa­bil­i­ties of the leg­endary ve­hi­cle and the ad­ven­ture that goes with it, rookie Mike is now a fully fledged Land Rover lover. He has vowed to sell his Jeep and in­vest in a Defender; we’ll keep a close eye on his progress. And the boys were: Greg, Steve and Casper in Greg’s Defender Puma; Michael, our guide, in his Defender Td5; John in his Defender Td5; Alan in his Dis­cov­ery 3; Karsten in his Defender G4 Td5; and me in a Defender 110 Td5 with new Landy-lover Mike as my co-driver.

I let Mike slide be­hind the wheel just to gauge his ca­pa­bil­i­ties and he man­aged quite well, but not with­out a few oohs and aahs, of course.

Cross­ing over the old rick­ety bridge.

Mike our guide get­ting stuck for the umpteenth time.

Me in my lux­ury bed and Mikey on the floor de­vel­op­ing a back­ache.

Set­ting up camp af­ter an ex­cit­ing day. With some­thing cold in hand.

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