The white sand dunes

The white sand dunes

The white sand dunes near Oilifantshoek are a place not far from Kathu. In Africaans they called Witsand Nature Reserve. What stands for the white sand nature reserve. It’s a trip of three hours to the west. First, driving from Kathu and following the national road N14 in direction Upington. Then the second part is an unpaved road. Short after the little town Oilifantshoek, a poster indicates to turn left from the main road into the Kalahari desert.

From there following the unpaved road until to the end. In some places, the road evolved into a big challenge. It’s good to have a 4 by 4 driven car. That makes the journey more easy and safe. However, the 70 km took me around two hours. Offroad and far off the next main road it was a really exciting bumpy ride. For sure it’s a great adventure.

The white sand dunes give a huge contrast to the red sand of the Kalahari desert. It’s an amazing look.

The white sands dunes are a nature reserve. To stay overnight is possible. A couple of cottages are available out there. Very simple furnished but good enough to stay for a night.

The dunes looking like a white island in a red ocean. Iron oxide enriched sand of the Kalahari desert makes that picture possible. As a matter of fact, there is only sand, more sand, and much more sand. It is a very dry, very hot remote place. There is nothing out there. But that makes the place so much interesting indeed.

Due to the remote location, it might be interesting to stay overnight for stargazing. However, the hot and arid climate makes it difficult to find animals during the daytime. But even then some antelope like springbok or kudu I could watch.

African skies

Under African skies

At the end of the day when the sun drops down, the dust settles and after a short twilight transition then the African skies change dramatically. The temperature drops and millions of cicadas starting playing music. That is even the time when the sky looks like washed and then suddenly the first stars appear. It’s the time to enjoy the evening under African skies in the Kalahari desert.

That reminds me of the song “Under African Skies” from Paul Simon. For sure. one of the amazing things in South Africa is the night sky. However, today I’m dreaming under African skies and enjoy Paul’s song. The Kalahari is the right place for such dreams.

South Africa has a huge territory with a low density of population. The light pollution has a very low level compared to Europe or other areas in the world.

In the Northern Cape province, light pollution is extremely low. I’ve never seen such a clear and undisturbed night sky. That is exactly the moment of fantastic stargazing experience.

For instance, one of the most famous constellations is the Cross of the south. The cross is only visible in the southern hemisphere. From East Java in Indonesia, the Cross of the south is visible just a bit over the horizon. Here in South Africa, the cross is easy to identify. Because it’s much more above the horizon.

Orion and its belt with all the nebulas are an incredible rich constellation. It’s easy to watch them even with naked eyes only. Sirius close to Orion is a bright and brilliant star. With his intense twinkling, it’s amazing to explore this star.

Dozens of astronomy freaks traveling year by year to South Afrika because of very good observing conditions. The African skies are a spectacular stargazing experience for everybody.

Sishen iren ore mine

Sishen iron ore mine

Sishen iron ore mine is a mine near the town Kathu in the Northern Cape province in South Africa. The iron ore mine opened in the 1950s. Kathu the town beside developed in parallel to the mine. In fact, Sishen iron ore mine is one of the biggest iron ore mines in the world. That’s why Kathu called also as Africa’s iron ore capital.

The iron ore mined in Sishen has a unique behavior. Correctly, the mineral called Magnetite. This iron ore is ferrimagnetic. So far, most iron ore mined in the world is nonmagnetic. However, the red-brown mineral gives the landscape around Kathu the typical rusty color. When the mineral crushed it has a graphite shiny surface.

Iron ore is Kathu’s mineral treasure, the camel thorn tree forest is the ecological treasure.

Sometimes on a windy day, a big red cloud of dust moves over the town. Then Kathu covered by a red veil. Moreover, many houses built with bricks made in the same rusty red-brown colour. After that, only the green of the vegetation shimmers as contrast out of the red iron ore dust

The iron ore loaded by huge excavators on heavy dump trucks. The wheels of the trucks have a diameter of around four meters. The trucks easily carry more than 200 tonnes of iron ore. The mineral proceeds further with heavy equipment. This equipment placed around the mine. All of this heavy stuff is already visible from far.

Finally, the iron ore loaded on trains and send to the Atlantic coast for shipping worldwide. The electrified connection between Kathu and the west coast is known as the Sishen–Saldanha railway line. On this line, kilometers long trains carry the minerals to South African’s Atlantik coast. These trains considered one of the longest trains in the world.

A total lunar eclipse & Mars close to earth

Total lunar eclipse on July 28, 2018

A highlight for stargazing was the total lunar eclipse on 28, July 2018. The eclipse was visible in a clear night sky from Kathu in South Africa. However, the total lunar eclipse on July 28, 2018, started in the evening in the Northern Cape at 19:14. It was exactly the right time after sunset for watching the magic.

Interesting in this lunar eclipse was that planet Mars had the nearest position to the moon for 15 years. In addition, Mars had the nearest distance to earth as well.  This constellation happens only for one time during 25000 years. That reason makes Mars a bright shiny object on the sky.

A lunar eclipse occurs when the earth takes a position between the moon and the sun, simply spoken. Lunar eclipses are not so rare as expected. It was already the second this year. The next lunar eclipse will occur on January 21, 2019.

When the eclipse started a shade moved over the moon disk until the moon was fully covered. That took around one hour. During this time the moon changed its colour into a deep red. For the next hour, the moon kept its dark red colour. In between this time the lunar eclipse reached its maximum.

The deep dark red gives the moon a mystical glance. From now on the shadow moved out of the moon and the colour changed back to usual yellow.

The cool clean air was perfect for a stunning eclipse. In addition, light pollution isn’t so strong in Kathu. That makes the planet Mars easily to identify as well. The night sky magic finished after 6 hours at 1:30 the next morning. The duration was the longest for a total lunar eclipse in this century. With 103 minutes it was a long enjoyable lunar eclipse.

The Big Hole

The Big Hole in Kimberley

Kimberley the capital of South Africa’s Northern Cape province has a deep relation to diamonds mining. The Big Hole in Kimberley is the result of diamonds mining in the last century. Like the gold rush in the USA, South Africa had a diamonds rush. The mine closed in 1914. Since this time the mine was just a big hole for Kimberley. However, in the 1960s a rethinking of the hole came up. The idea was born to turn the old mine into a museum.

The underground water of the nearby Vaal River and rainwater filling the hole today. The water level is around 40 meters from the bottom. The depth of the hole from the top until the water level is 175 meters.

The old mine claims that it’s the biggest handmade hole by humanity. However, around 40000 workers dug out the hole to an open-pit mine. The mine extended to an underground mine as well. The unsafe working and living conditions cost thousands of workers their lives.

The entire museum splits up into different sections. The entrance hall with shops and the ticket counter is the starting point for the museums’ tour. Another part is the Big Hole with the visitor platform. From here everybody can have an amazing look into the old mine. Besides the platform, historical mining equipment gives a view of the mining work.

The highlight is a look at the diamonds collection at the end of the tour. And finally, a visit to the open air museum, a rebuilt part of old Kimberley.

It was a good idea to take a guide and not running around by my self in the museum. There is so much to tell more about the place. The museum is time travel in diamonds mining and in the history of Kimberley.

Augrabies waterfalls

Augrabies waterfalls

The Northern Cape has a couple of interesting places to visit. One of them is indeed the Augrabies waterfalls. Unfortunately, I haven’t so much learned about the Oranje River in the school. However, the most important thing was, that the river is the biggest in South Africa. Also, the river coming from Lesotho’s Drakenbergs and crossing South Africa from the east to the west.

The Augrabies Waterfalls locating in the Augrabies National Park in the northwest of South Africa close to the Namibian border. The Augrabies National Park is a game park and includes the Augrabies falls with its canyon. The Northern Cape is huge and the distances are far. It’s a three a half-hour ride by car via Upington to Augrabies from Kathu. The road leads sometimes along grape yards and the river banks in the Oranje valley.

The Augrabies park is an amazing place. It’s a wild landscape with the Oranje river gorge in-between. The gorge is a massive granite formation and shaped by the Oranje River since primeval times.

The main camp with reception, restaurant, and a little shop is the starting point. From here the adventure starts.  The well-signposted ways to platforms installed along the gorge are safe and easy to walk. It takes just a few minutes to walk and to get a breathtaking view. From the platforms, I got an overwhelming view over the gorge with its waterfalls and the rocky landscape around.

Well prepared and maintained facilities middle in the nowhere surprising. Actually, the waterfall is a cascade with several stages. That’s obviously during my visit. Because of the seasonal low water level of the Oranje River during the current dry season in the Northern Cape.

Anyway, the little water still seething and foaming and finally flows down the rocks into the gorge.

Bushland in the Northern Cape

The Northern Cape province

The Northern Cape province is one of the nine provinces of South Africa. The province has a very low population. Hills and bushland dominate the landscape. Additionally, a huge area of the province is part of the Kalahari desert. While in the wintertime temperatures drop below zero, the summertime is hot. In fact, temperatures up to 40 degrees are possible.

Major cities are very rare. Small settlements appearing from time to time besides the road. The distances between cities are huge. Kimberly is the capital of the Northern Cape province. That is about three hours by car from Kathu. In the north locating Namibia and Botswana. Both sharing a long border with South Africa.

The Kalahari desert as a part of the province also called the green Kalahari. Actually, it’s a semidesert. The lush green river banks give a dramatic contrast to the rocky and dusty vast land. The camel thorn tree is typical for the Kalahari.

Iron ore, diamonds, and other mineral mining are some of the main economies in the Northern Cape. Kimberley is the diamonds capital and famous for the Big Hole. However, farming is another big business. Even grapes growing here. Also, there are some wineries around Upington. Tourism is a very important business.

The province is the home of many small game reserves. Moreover, even big national parks are here. For instance, the Augrabies Waterfalls with the 10 km canyon. Or the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park shared by South Africa and Namibia. My impression of the Oranje River is a little different from what I’ve learned in school. Even it’s the biggest river in South Africa it looks very tiny.

Anyway, the Northern Cape has endless straightaway roads with a lot of space around. That reminds me of my time in the Midwest of the US.

The golden hour in Kathu

Kathu the town under trees

Kathu is a small town in the Northern Cape province of South Africa. The town locates on the south edge of the Kalahari desert. The nearby towns are Upington and Vryburg. The distances are huge to my surprise. More than 200 km in each direction. Founded in the late 1960s, Kathu is indeed a very young town. With a population of around 15000 inhabitants, the town is a mid-size town. It’s obvious that the city comes straight away from a drawing board because of the structured arrangement.

Only bushland and savannah dominate the surrounding countryside. The red sand and the dry vegetation gives the landscape a unique look. In contrast to the bushland, the town is the home of a camel thorn tree forest. It’s one of two forests in the world. Therefore, Kathu also called the “town under the trees”. So far, it’s not surprising to me that these trees are the town’s landmark. The Sishen golf course, one of South Africa’s top golf courts is part of the camel thorn tree forest.

The camel thorn trees with long and sharp thorns are under protection in South Africa. The trees are Kathu’s ecological treasure and creating a unique atmosphere for the town.

Even if the land around is flat nevertheless, the elevation of this area is 1100 m and more. Only a couple of hills are visible at some distance from the town. In the summertime, the temperature rises more than 30 degrees. While in the wintertime, the temperature drops far below 10 degrees. I had to defrost my car windscreen for many times.

It’s my first time in South Africa but my second time in Africa after Sudan. Obviously, things are very different here in the south.  Compared to what I saw before in the north of Africa.

The Nubian Desert Sudan's northern part

The Nubian Desert in Sudan

The north of Sudan including Sudan’s capital Khartoum is part of the Nubian Desert. The River Nile separates North Sudan into a west and east part. While west of River Nile the part called the Libyan Desert, east of Nile the part called the Nubian Desert. However, the north part of Sudan belonging to the Sahara desert.

The Nubian Desert has a very arid climate. The average annual rainfall is very low. The fluctuation in temperature is huge. Between day and night. The variation can be more than 30 degrees. The landscape is mostly flat and rocky. Hills of lava stone from early volcanic activities are visible.

The vegetation is very rare, only some trees and little grass that’s all. However, sometimes children playing around and obvious people living here. Donkeys, sheep and goats are the animals appearing from time to time beside the road.

Along the banks of the Nile River, a green belt spread out. It’s the habitat for humans and varieties of flora and fauna. For instance, palm trees, banana trees, watermelon and some more agriculture. Five of Nile’s cataracts locate in the Nubian Desert. Only the first cataract locates in Egypt.

Compare to the desert in Saudi Arabia, in Sudan are fewer sand dunes but more rocks and hills. While the sand in the Saudi Arabian Desert has a yellow colour, the sand in the Nubian Desert is red. The landscape looks like a picture from planet Mars.

The Nubian Desert is the home of the Pyramids of Meroe. Around 250 pyramids built from desert stone near the banks of Nile River. However, the size of the Meroe pyramids is smaller. They built around 800 years later than the last Egyptian pyramids. Meroe was the capital of the Kingdom of Kush for several centuries in ancient.