Karoo Roads II, a visual journey


Philipstown in the Northern Cape is famous for its annual Draadkarretjie (Metal Car) Grand Prix in the summer, when the normally sleepy little town comes alive with a series of races on its streets. Photography: Chris Marais

Karoo Roads II is the sequel to the popular Karoo Roads I book of travels, encounters, history slices and adventures in the heart of South Africa.

Chris Marais and Julienne du Toit

All pictures by Chris Marais.

Most of our stories were collected during the current eight year drought. These are often people who thrive in times of weather crisis and pandemic, uplifting their communities through the culture of dance, creativity and the cuteness of Christmas.

The book will take you on a journey from the diamond deserts around Alexander Bay to the quiver tree forests of the North Cape, from the flooding of the Orange River beyond Kakamas to a sunrise walk around a Karoo cemetery. , from the days of a circus lion in Aberdeen to a raging car Grand Prix in Philipstown.

Other stories in Karoo II routes deliver the inside facts: why the Great Fish River flows most of the year; where are the massive herds of trekbokke it used to take days to cross the horizon, what happens at a merino ram auction, what is skinny tequila from the karoo, where do these shaped corbelled houses come from beehive and are there really UFOs flying in our night sky?

Here is, in a short and precise photo report, a taste of what is inside our new book.

The main street of Steytlerville, Eastern Cape Karoo, is lined with bougainvillea and the family coats of arms of the communities that live there. It was the first street in the world to be decorated with family heralds.
Following the January 2011 floods – Gariep Dam at a majestic 115% capacity, the locks open and the wall vibrates, sending its mass of water westward through the Kalahari deserts.
Northern Cape Quiver Tree Forest outside Kenhardt – massive succulents that have withstood decades of drought and extreme temperatures. In the event of water stress, they survive by “amputating” some of their branches.
The Anglo-Boer War is one of the themes explored by Prince Albert artist Cobus van Bosch, a member of the concept Open Studios in the village of Western Cape Karoo.
Diamond dive boats docked in Alexander Bay harbor in September 2005. Nearly a century of diamond mining on land and at sea has left the landscape bleak but full of legends.
The beach near the mouth of the Orange River at Alexander Bay – a dystopian driftwood scene, with abandoned buildings and a misty shoreline.
A disused cantilever house on Brownslaagte Farm outside of Williston, Northern Cape, with an old horse cart from a century ago. Although the style originates from Europe, the inhabitants of Khoikhoi origin have become experts in building a corbelled house.
The Stuurmansfontein Corbelled Guest House outside Carnarvon is one of the finest examples of this unique stone building style, in a land where trees were scarce when hikers settled here.
Stephen de Swardt shoots a six for Springfontein as Colesberg watches in awe – the Karoo Farm cricket in Prior Grange in the southern Free State.
Gently round up a herd of Merinos to the Ganora Farm Shearing Shed outside of Nieu-Bethesda in the Karoo Heartland. The cut and baled wool is sent to China and to the fine textile industries in Italy and Japan.
Deep in the mowing shed at Hanglip Farm outside Colesberg, Northern Cape. Most shearers are from Lesotho and the Eastern Cape mountains – and they are world class.
Dwarsvlei Siding outside Middelburg, Eastern Cape Karoo – which was once part of a rail link heavily guarded by colonial troops during the Anglo-Boer War.
One of the few stereoscopic images in the Burgersdorp Museum showing images from the Anglo-Boer War: a nurse attending to a wounded soldier at the field hospital.
Joust (mating) season for springbok rams in the Kalahari, where once millions of trekbokke crossed the horizon in scenes that rivaled classic East African migrations.
Springbok in motion on the Rooiplaat Plateau in Mountain Zebra National Park outside of Cradock, Eastern Cape Karoo. Cronwright Schreiner, the husband of the legendary local Olive, studied the massive trekbokke migrations at the end of the 19th century.
Cradock Cemetery on a foggy morning. If you listen to the locals dig a bit, you will find that a Karoo cemetery is full of explorers, nuns, soldiers, and in this case, a Harry Potter.
Pella Cathedral in a date oasis outside of Pofadder, Northern Cape. It was built by French missionaries who underwent serious “on-the-job” training. The sand-toned cathedral is a tribute to the order of Saint François de Sales, who is also the patron saint of writers.
The Merweville Moederkerk (Mother Church) in Western Cape Karoo is said to have been built of Beaufort West stone and timber from a ship that sank off the Cape Coast.
The old tequila (sorry, spirit of agave) factory outside Graaff-Reinet once housed these huge distillery tanks that produced quality liquor for export, much of which to Australia where they mixed it into a “cooler Outback cocktail”.
The People on the Move painting in the Dog Cave at Leliekloof Farm between Jamestown and Burgersdorp is one of the San works of art that inspired the late Walter Battiss to call this place “the valley of art”.
The old Tiekie Dam in Aberdeen, Eastern Cape Karoo, which was oddly located near the local lion enclosure, which made for some exciting moments when the occasional big cat escaped.
Nama Riel dancers make a dusty entrance into the competitive arena during the 2011 Williston Winter Festival, when the local community was the star of the show.
Williston’s last winter festival, held in 2018, was hailed as the ‘best Karoo cultural event’. Unfortunately, there hasn’t been one since. DM / ML

These images appear in Karoo Roads II – More Stories of the Heartland by Julienne du Toit and Chris Marais. For the first edition, copies signed by the author of the book, please contact Julienne at [email protected]

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