In Namaqualand you can journey for hours without seeing a soul. Here, you can experience the ancient land of the Bushmen, which is rich with some 4000 species of plants, many of which flower in Spring (August and September). This is the world of Loeriesfontein, Northern Cape. The Windmill Museum in Loeriesfontein is one of kind in Africa. The wide, arid plains around Loeriesfontein, Northern Cape, in an area known as Bushmanland or Namaqualand, are the subject of one of the most haunting serenades in the Afrikaans language:
Ooo, Boesmanland vat my hand,
En lei my oor die rand se kant.
As jy vir my kan sê waar die Boesmanland lê
Boesmanland vat my hand.
('Ooo, Bushmanland take my hand,
And lead me over by the ridge.
If you can tell me where Bushmanland is
Bushmanland take my hand.')
'Young and old, we live a different pace of life here because we live with the seasons and we still have time. You will have missed a lot if you haven't been to Bushmanland,' says 85-year-old Gezina Louw who has lived in Loeriesfontein for 57 years. She founded South Africa's only Windmill Museum here in the 1970s, establishing the town as the windmill capital of South Africa. 'I established the Windmill Museum because water and windmills are the lifeblood of the dry areas and this is a tribute to them. The first windmills in South Africa were imported mainly from the United States where they started making them in the 1870s.'
Thirty windmills are featured in the old school playground, creating an agricultural, metal artwork. Alongside the windmill display is the old school building which houses the Fred Turner Folk and Culture Museum, also established by Louw. 'I thought we must preserve things,' she says. The culture and historical way of life of the 'Trek Boers' of Bushmanland or Namaqualand - people of Afrikaans heritage people who travelled here in the 1700s in search of land - is represented here. More than 1000 items are on display, including a trek wagon, equipped tent, cooking and eating utensils, a coffee grinder and a horse mill. The museum also features several Bushman artifacts, including bows and arrows and ostrich egg bowls.
Fred Turner, after whom the museum was named, was an early trader who established the first general store here in 1894, called Turner and Haupt. Over a century later the store is still there, transformed into a supermarket called Turner and Haupt Spar. Much of the historic character of Loeriesfontein is still intact, with the original Loeriesfontein Hotel still very much open for business and receiving visitors who base themselves here as they explore the natural attractions in the area, including the legendary Quiver Tree Forest where the Bushmen made quivers for their arrows.
This area is a paradise for photographers and plant lovers, as well as those interested in some of the more unusual parts of South Africa's history. When the Namaqualand flowers bloom in spring (usually late August or September), the area is covered in carpets of colour.
How to get here
Follow the N7 highway (north out of Cape Town), turning off on the R27 at Van Rhynsdorp to Nieuwoudtville, then following the R357 to Loeriesfontein (a further 65km north). The distance from Cape Town to Loeriesfontein is about 400km, or a 5-hour drive. It is much further from Johannesburg - about 1200km, or about 12 hours or more. The closest large town is Springbok.
Best time to visit
All year round unless you specifically want to see the flowers, which blossom in Spring (August - October) if there has been rain.
Where to stay
The area offers a choice of farmstays, guesthouses and the Loerisfontein Hotel.
DID YOU KNOW?
Loeriesfontein is in the heart of Namaqualand, which is home to more than 4000 species of plants, and is world-famous for its carpets of spring flowers in Spring (August-September).