Written by Jacques Marais
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“Daai klippie; jy gaan hom nie mis kyk nie, want hy dra ‘n baadie en ‘n das”! (That little stone; you can’t ever miss it, because it wears a blazer and a tie)! Apparently, that’s how you spot a diamond up here on the Noord-Kaap gravel plains, or anyway, that’s the gospel according to the Northern Cape Tourism Region’s locals.

But this arid and minimalist landscape upon the tempestuous edge of the Atlantic Ocean also brims with a myriad botanical marvels, if you prefer your gems to be of a less geological nature. The biome unfolding here is known as the ‘Succulent Karoo, and it forms part of the Cape Floristic Region, unarguably the most rich and diverse botanical kingdom on Planet Earth. Meagre winter rains may drop as low as 20mm per year, with extreme summer heat spiking into the high 40s, yet the species count is unparalleled for similar arid regions elsewhere in the world.

Despite these climatic extremes, hundreds of endemic and weirdly wonderful plants survive (and often thrive) upon the seemingly barren plains. Miniscule conophytum succulents, creeping koekemakrankas, contorted and stubby botterboom, candelabra-flowered amaryllis and colour-burst asteraceae daisies pop onto your radar once you start paying attention. An unfortunate upside of this is that many of the wrong kind of people have started paying undue attention …

Unscrupulous poachers are targeting medicinal as well as aesthetic species along the area’s less-travelled back roads, often leaving massive natural destruction in their wake. The rare ‘boophane distichia’ (colloquially known as Boesmans Gif) is one such species: it is often used as a remarkable natural antibiotic during Xhosa circumcision ceremonies, but also boasts a striking leaf display. Together with a multitude of other species, these bulbs are ripped up root and all before being smuggled out of the country – often to China -to end up as a conversation piece on some rich asshole’s coffee table.

Oom Dudley Bruce Wessels showed us where hundreds of these bulbs had been dug up, and very little can be done to combat this (there are institutional and logistical issues at play). Yet, this very plant is also the source of some of the more ephemeral ‘diamonds’ you will discover here if you know where to look. The intricately fanned leaf system is designed to syphon dew droplets – gathered from the oceanic fog – and to channel it into the narrow frond grooves towards the bulb, where the moisture is then stored. If you delicately unfold the leaves, these glittering aqua gems will be revealed as just another hidden #NoordKaap treasure …

Yes, there are challenges here, like anywhere else on this beautifully buggered continent of ours, but there’s no doubt the Diamond Coast will leave you gobsmacked once you succumb to the 360-degree panoramas, hide-away natural treasures and agoraphobia-inducing plains. Our recent Beyond Expeditions #BeyondLockdown road trip in the epic Isuzu South Africa vehicles – supported by Dunlop Tyres SA – barely scratched the surface of this desert land, and I cannot wait to go back to #PlayLocal and #StayLocal in this intoxicating and largely untravelled tourism region.

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