Surrounded by Karoo koppies (hills) that form part of the Karee mountains, one finds Carnarvon, an attractive and fascinating Karoo village in the Northern Cape province of South Africa.
Carnarvon and surrounds charm visitors with magnetic hospitality, good traditional food, a history steeped in land conflict and mission work (mostly Rhenish missionary history). The former, combined with unique architecture, hundreds of windmills and vistas of flat topped hills, gave Carnarvon and district a unique charm that lures visitors to experience all of this in the peace and quiet of this sparsely populated land.
The San-Bushmen that roamed the area hundreds of years ago used the typical Karoo hills for ceremonial events such as initiation rites. The San were hunter-gatherers and their lifestyle and culture could not survive in an era when migrating livestock farmers moved into the region. The game that they depended on for their livelihood became scarce as the large herds of domestic animals competed with the game for grazing. At the same time hunters with firearms killed off large numbers of game. The result was that the San started killing domestic animals for food with resulting reprisal raids carried out by the livestock farmers. The San clans that did not move away, started working for the livestock farmers and their culture was lost for ever. The only evidence that remains today of their presence is the thousands of rock engravings on the black boulders of the Karoo.
The livestock farmers comprised a wide variety of cultures such as white European trekboers, Basters, Khoi, Koranna and Xhosa. A Xhosa community under British protection established themselves during the early 1800's at Schietfontein, a local water resource. The farmers competed, even violently, with each other to secure enough grazing for their livestock.
Britain, in its role as coloniser also tried to exert its influence. It it is therefore no wonder that the history of Carnarvon has been described as one that is hallmarked by the most enthralling interactions between migrating tribes and the British colonial authorities. Even the village's original name, Harmsfontein, was changed to Carnarvon to honour the British colonial secretary, Lord Carnarvon. Henry Howard Molyneux Herbert, the fourth Earl of Carnarvon (8131-1890), studied for his BA degree at the University of Oxford, became under secretary of Colonies in 1858 and State Secretary in 1866.
Things to see & do
If you want the real scuttlebutt on Carnarvon, you need to be in the vicinity of the front desk of Swanepoel Wind Pump Repair Services during working hours.
The local farmers talk about the weather (or lack of it), the price of things, politics, the finer points of combining two junked wind pump heads into one working unit, those damned jackals and, if there’s a breath left, the Square Kilometre Array. SKA.
This massive, multibillion dollar international project is the biggest thing to hit the science world since the Higg’s Boson was found.
Seven enormous ‘dishes’ – the Karoo Array Telescope, or KAT7 – are already in operation, receiving information about the Universe. South Africa has funded another 64 for the second phase and called it MeerKAT. These are currently being built. All these will help inform the best way to arrange the other 2 800-odd that will be pointed at the sky here and across Southern Africa in the coming decades.
With another 250 receivers in Australia, they will be picking up ancient radio signals that will help explain the vexing issues that have been dogging astronomy for decades.
SKA has already had some positive impact on the local community in town. Apart from the excitement of such a huge project being launched in the area, the broadband access is now some of the best in South Africa.
The local high school has a state-of-the-art computer lab and SKA is funding a number of study bursaries.
It seems, however, that the local farmers’ main concern is the communications issue, because Telkom lines are down, cell phones near this sensitive site are unwelcome and satellite phones cost the earth.
Is SKA going to buy them all sat-phones and solar chargers, they want to know. They are also beginning to ask questions about SKA expansion plans.
However, not too long from now, there will be plenty of very thoughtful bespectacled folks walking the streets of Carnarvon: world-class geeks and their tech teams. Welcome them to the neighbourhood.
Places to stay
- Carnavon Hotel - www.carnavonhotel.co.za
- Lord Carnavon Guest House - www.lordcarnavonguesthouse.co.za
- Osfontein Corbelled Guest House - +27 72 310 7979
- Stuurmansfontein Corbellked House - +27 82 221 7500
The Area: The Karoo
With the first rains, the seemingly arid soil of the Karoo bursts into abundant life, its hardy succulents complementing the sweet grasses on which the region's merino and fat-tailed sheep graze. The everpresent windpumps testify to the countless streams flowing between fissures underlying the dry but fertile soil.
Small, isolated but welcoming villages, a distinct Karoo architecture and imposing churches rest in valleys between desolate, flat-topped koppies. Take a short trip from Colesberg, an essential stopover for all travellers and a sheep-farming centre, to Hopetown, the scene of South Africa’s first recorded diamond find.
Return, passing Orania, a self-proclaimed Afrikaner volkstaat, before making your way to Vanderkloof and the Rolfontein Nature Reserve on the shores of the great Vanderkloof Dam.
Indulge in watersports or relax on its secluded banks which stretch 100km to the Doornkloof Nature Reserve on the man-made lake's southern shores. Throughout this wonderful part of the great Karoo, you can visit, hunt or hike on game farms and nature reserves teeming with every species of antelope. And, like the country they live in, the hardy inhabitants of the Karoo make you feel immediately at home in their beloved countryside.
- Check out the Tortoise Reserve located on a farm
- Learn about the rich history at the local museum
- Eat at the Meerkat restaurant
- Lemon Tree Coffee Shop
- Have a peak at Carnavon from the old British Blockhouse on top of a nearby koppie
- The Appie van Heerden Nature Reserve is worth a drive, especially for sunset views
- Golf, Bowls, football, tennis, aero club
Communities of Xhosa moved up to the Orange River as early as 1795. One group subsequently settled at Schietfontein, which was served by a Rhenish mission, and a village named Harmsfontein was established in 1860.
In 1874, it changed its name to honour the British Colonial Secretary, Lord Carnarvon. The district is well known for its corbelled houses, built between 1811 and 1815. Carnarvon is set among flat-topped hills and is one of the region’s busiest farming centres.