Despite being South Africa's largest province by area, the Northern Cape is the most sparsely populated and also the least visited by foreign tourists.
While the sparsely populated bit is quite understandable (I mean it is very hot, quite arid and where else should we spread out all our much-needed farmlands, right?), a recent trip up the N14 made me wonder why more tourists aren't encouraged to explore this forgotten province.
Yes, sure, compared to the bounty of experiences offered by the Western Cape, Limpopo, the Eastern Cape and Gauteng, the Northern Cape may not be an obvious bucket list bullet point. However, what makes it worth a visit is the perfect distillation and abundance of luxuries we never even knew we lacked till experienced first-hand: space, open skies, landscapes of ever changing and contrasting colours, small expressions of exquisite life thriving - almost imperceptibly - underfoot.
The N14, the national road connecting Johannesburg and Springbok (where it meets the N7 to Namibia), provides visitors with an excellent cross section of what the Northern Cape has to offer. It stretches just over 1000km and passes through a variety of legendary towns, including Upington, Kuruman, Kakamas and Pofadder, and breathtaking landscapes changing from farmlands to red Kalahari sand to rich green vineyards fed by the mighty Orange River.
Here are 7 great things about taking a roadtrip around the N14.
This long, practically straight stretch of road is padstal heaven. Really. Dried fruit, dessert wines, dates, home baked goods, biltong and quaint tin-cup-leather-rimpie-type souvenirs are just a few of the goodies you can expect to pick up. Must stops? The Pink Padstal in Kakamas - it's rather famous and, like Ronnie's Sex Shop on R62, great for photo opportunities.
If you're looking for something more understated, stop at Akkerboom, which is located about 20km east of Kakamas. An old rusted car with succulents growing where the bonnet used to be, a windmill, a large acacia tree and wire art are the first things that welcome you when driving through the gate. Be sure to pick up a punnet of buttery, sweet dates and a packet of pucker-up-sour dried apricots.
Social Weaver nests
The scenery speeding by your window may seem disturbingly monotonous for the most part, however, once you allow your eyes to focus, you'll notice an intriguing network of life going ahead unnoticed all along the road: social weaver nests.
Road signs, trees, telephone poles, heck, anything that allows for some elevation become the perfect hosts for these gravity-defying masses of dried twigs and the industrious buzz of bird life that go with them.
Once they become part of your awareness, you'll be amazed about the entertainment factor they hold!
Okay, so these thundering falls in the are located about 34km off the N14, but a non-negotiable must-see.
As the Orange River approaches Augrabies Falls it divides itself into numerous channels before cascading down 56 metres of ancient granite cliffs. The river then continues its path through an 18 kilometer gorge. The sight and sound of the power of the water will not be easily forgotten. Another interesting site in the area is the famous Moon Rock, a massive exfoliation dome or "whaleback" which provides unparalleled views of the surroundings.
The biggest date farm in the Southern Hemisphere
Located a few kilometers off the N14 in the direction of Pella, you will find the largest date plantation in the Southern Hemisphere. Combined with red-tinged cliffs, large expanses of yellow-brown sand, desert-like vegetation and clear blue skies, this collection of majestic trees seems to transport one directly to the exotic Middle East, a scene from 1001 Arabian Nights.
Klein Pella Guest Farm is located on the property belonging to Karstens Boerderye, providing cool accommodation for weary travellers, and also the opportunity to buy some of the hugely sought-after fruit, most of which get exported to other parts of the world.
There's nothing much to see, but just because of the special place it holds in the collective South African psyche, Pofadder is a compulsory stop. Yes, there's something supremely satisfying about finding yourself in the quintessential middle-of-nowhere.
There's a petrol station with a small café and coffee shop that sells a variety of dusty souvenirs - t-shirts proclaiming New York Paris Pofadder, snazzy caps bearing the town's name, beer mugs, shot glasses and little hand-painted rocks.
If you'd like to immerse yourself in the nothingness, check out the Rus-i-bietjie campsite in the very heart of the town. Surprisingly enough, it's very well taken care of and a popular stop-over for seasoned Northern Cape roadtrippers.
The Orange River
The mighty river is a constant companion on your journey along the N14 - sometimes just out of sight, but the evidence of its influence is nearly always quite visible in the patches of green here and there.
However, it's incredible power is nowhere as evident as when you reach the outskirts of Kakamas.
Barren desert landscapes slowly start giving way to the greenest greens on the colour wheel. Vineyards - taller than those you see in the winelands - stretch out as far as the eye can see, while willow trees keep watch over the wild waters.
If you're keen for a bit of adventure, doing a rafting outing on the Orange River definitely comes highly recommended. It's also great for fishing or just relaxing with a delicious glass of local one, sweetened just so by the ever-beating-down sun.
Dotted here and there along the road you will see trees that initially don't demand much attention. They take on a sort of unassuming stance, blending into their surroundings with sturdy succulent trunks and not much foliage of which to speak. However, the longer you look at them, the more attractive they become.
I spent a lot of time studying quiver trees from my car seat, and couldn't help but notice how they seem to express an exuberant joy of life in the way their tops branch out into a firework explosion of succulent leaves. An over-the-top gratefulness for the few blessings they have to count.
While seeing them one by one is pretty okay, getting to stand in the midst of a quiver tree forest is quite something else. If you stand still long enough and listen, you could almost swear you were telepathically communing with creatures just a step or two away from taking on their human form.
Nadia Krige visited the Northern Cape as part of the Toyota Enviro Outreach programme. Read all about the 10 day expedition to discover and explore the plant life in this remote and poorly explored part of South Africa in 'Exploring with Botanists.'