SPONSORED: Experience hospitality unlike anywhere else in South Africa. Drive along the Quiver Tree Route and explore areas within the vicinity of Kakamas, Upington, Augrabies and Keimoes.
The dirt road winds through dense bushes and gets narrower and narrower until we suddenly stop in front of a gate. It’s shut tight.
No one is manning the remotely operated gate, and we don’t see any signs with a farm name or number we can call. We’re stuck.
We left Cape Town early that morning for our journey on the Quiver Tree Route, and we’re on our way to Khamkirri, a holiday resort just outside of Kakamas.
The Quiver Tree Food and Wine Route is a road that promotes tourism in this part of the Northern Cape. According to Maxi Compion, a champion of tourism in the area, the route came to be in 2008 when she and Marina Bothma from the Koms Quiver Tree Nursery in Keimoes thought of ways they could lure visitors to the region. They connected role players in the area with the Northern Cape Tourism Authority and brought forward the idea of the Quiver Tree Route.
The route includes the whole area west of Upington through Kanoneiland, Keimoes, Kakamas, Riemvasmaak and up to the Augrabies Falls.
Part of this region is known as the Green Kalahari.
You can take on the route from any direction – it’s not a road that needs to be travelled from point A to point B, and there’s no specific order in which you should visit the towns.
We decided to stay somewhere central so we could head out in a different direction every day.
Werner to the rescue
Unfortunately, it seems our GPS decided to take us on a shortcut through a farm just before dark.
We’re clearly on private land. If we turn around now, we’ll have to find our way back through the maze in the dark and only arrive at Khamkirri after dark.
I call Werner Bouwer, Khamkirri’s fantastic manager, who earlier in the day called to find out if we were all right. Werner asks a few questions to determine exactly where we are and tells us to sit tight.
He’ll see what he can do. Less than a minute later, the gate swings open. Not only did Werner figure out our location from our descriptions, but he also had the farmer’s number and asked him to open the gate.
Khamkirri is a lovely resort situated on the banks of the Orange River. The cabins are rather luxurious and well equipped with crockery, linen, braai equipment and air conditioning, and each offers stunning views of the Orange River.
Campers can choose between private stands (each with its own bathroom), normal stands that share ablution facilities or “glamping”.
All the stands are on grass, underneath trees and close to the swimming pool and open-air bar and restaurant.
We decided to stay at Khamkirri specifically because it’s 25 km out on the N10 – the road to Riemvasmaak, which we were very keen to visit.
Our initial plan was to go to Riemvasmaak and Augrabies in one day, but Werner advised against it because then we will rush both.
So, after breakfast we leave Khamkirri and head to Riemvasmaak with our swimming costumes, wide brim hats and sunscreen.
Located in the heart of the region, Riemvasmaak is home to a natural warm water source.
En route, we’re struck dumb by the changing scenery that starts to transform into a moon-like landscape: the rocks get bigger and the roads rockier.
We stop a few times to double check that the GPS isn’t leading us off course again, but no. Here is the entrance to Riemvasmaak.
“Nee wat, your car will make it,” Henry Basson reassures us. We parked our car at the gate to pay the entrance fee (R40 per person), but my sister is getting cold feet, and it’s no wonder – it’s in her SUV that we need make our way down and back up the steep rise.
I walk ahead to scout the road, and I agree with Henry: we can risk it.
At the bottom of the valley, between 80 m-high granite cliffs, you’ll find a rare gem – something you’ll hardly believe you’re experiencing for yourself.
Here, in the middle of nowhere, is a crystal-clear pool with warm water bubbling up from the ground.
The whole experience and area are unpretentious and unadorned. We sit in the small pool first and afterwards enjoy a picnic at the picnic area.
Henry comes and chats to us about the community project that manages Riemvasmaak and shows us the interesting rocks to be found in the area.
Legend has it that Riemvasmaak got its name from an incident in the early 1900s, when locals rounded up stock thieves and using thongs (rieme in Afrikaans), tied them to a giant rock next to the Molopo River.
They left them there for the night, but when they returned the next morning, only the thongs remained.
In the valley, you’ll also find self-catering units (four- and eight-bedroom chalets) that are managed as part of the community project, but they weren’t taking bookings when we were there.
If you stay for a weekend, there are hiking routes to ancient rock paintings in the area.
That evening, Werner takes us out on a sunset cruise on the Orange. Khamkirri can also organise canoe or rafting trips on the river for you, or a game drive that includes a sundowner picnic. We’re keen for the boat cruise.
He points out various birds’ nests while we sip our drinks and watch the sun set spectacularly behind the horizon. I can’t believe that more people don’t come to Kakamas for holidays.
The Pienk Padstal and Augrabies
We head in the direction of Augrabies the next day. It’s 40 km west from Kakamas. On our way, we stop at The Pienk Padstal in town for breakfast.
I also pick up some light reading at the bookshop, and we load two bags of rose quartz for our rock garden at home. Die Mas, where you can taste wine and brandy, is also well worth a visit.Die Mas also offers self-catering and camping accommodation that is centrally located.
If you want to see how the mighty Orange River cuts through a rocky landscape like a knife, Augrabies will leave you speechless. Augrabies is more than just a waterfall: it’s a national park managed by SANParks and covers more than 50 000 ha.
The iconic photo of the 90 m-high fall that we all know is taken at a lookout point in the main camp, but there are other spots in the park where you can view the “place of great noise” from different vantage points.
Don’t rush your visit. Allow yourself enough time to properly explore the park.
We spend hours strolling along the paths around the lookout points and examining the exhibits and information boards.
For example, here you’ll learn how the trunk of the quiver tree was hollowed out and used to store arrows, and how it functioned as a giant fridge.
If you drive farther through the park, you’ll see that Augrabies is also home to 49 mammal species (amongst others the rare Hartmann’s mountain zebra), more than 180 bird species and, due to the rocky terrain, 20 snake and 29 lizard species.
Upington and Keimoes
It’s our last day on the Quiver Tree Route, and we drive a wide loop to Upington, one of the oldest wine regions in the country.
You can also order delicious food at both cellars. If you overnight in Upington, you can travel from there to one of South Africa’s newest UNESCO World Heritage sites: the ‡Khomani Cultural Landscape, where you can go on a guided hike with the ‡Khomani San.
However, we decide to drive in the direction of Keimoes to spend the night there in a school that’s been transformed into a guesthouse.
We spend the rest of the day in Keimoes, the birthplace of the Quiver Tree Route. Maxi, who previously ran a museum and information centre from a centuries old church located in Main Street in Keimoes, worked hard to put this route “on the map”, and she’s been described as the “talkative lady” of the region by a German publication. She laughs about this.
Maxi talks about everything you can see at Die Werf Lodge, her vision to empower women in the community through the tourism industry and their attempts to restore the town’s Persian waterwheel. She also mentions the wonderful work Hannetjie O’Connell (follow her on Facebook) does in the region.
If you want to view Keimoes’ hundreds of small islands, drive to Tierberg, which is located just outside of town. From here, you’ll also be blown away by blankets of flowers covering the landscape during flower season. And pop into the Akkerboom Farmstall.
Maxie suggests taking the R359 dirt road in the region if you want to go “off the beaten track”. She adds that the road is in a good enough condition that you can traverse it in a normal car.
We drive out on the R359 and arrive at Marina Bothma’s Koms Quiver Tree Nursery – the same Marina who helped to establish the Quiver Tree Route.
“Do you want one that’s straight or one with attitude,” asks Marina Bothma from the Koms Quiver Tree Nursery, located just outside of Keimoes.
Quiver trees in their hundreds stand in tidy rows, their sizes ranging from a matchbox to one that shoots meters into the heavens.
I badly want a quiver tree of my own, but I’m wary of the wet weather in Cape Town, where my quiver tree will have to take root.
I don’t want my tree to die. Marina patiently helps me choose one I can take home and replant in a large pot, and she also gives me advice on how I can help it grow.
“The quiver tree is sensitive to water on its crown. So, for the first few winters, try to get it under a roof when it starts to rain in Cape Town,” she says while issuing me with a certificate.
Due to the quiver tree’s conservation status (critically endangered), you need a permit to own one – you can’t just take cuttings and plant them, but the nursery can issue you with the necessary permit.
To one side, there are knee-high succulents covered in huge spikes. “That one is called mother-in-law’s cushion,” Marina says and laughs.
I think the person who accidently sits on that cushion will be the only one to experience the region as unwelcoming.
KNOW BEFORE YOU GO:
ROADS: A normal sedan can navigate all the roads in this article, but you’ll appreciate extra ground clearance if you go to Riemvasmaak. Put a day aside if you want to drive there – if you want to visit Augrabies and Riemvasmaak in one day, you’ll rush both.
QUIVER TREES: Koms Quiver Tree Nursery can deliver quiver trees to any destination in South Africa, and they can supply you with the necessary permits. They will also give you advice on how to care for your quiver tree. Contact them at email@example.com or visit their Facebook page (@komskokerbome).