Hantamland, neem my hand …


Thirteen hours is a darn long time in a car. I know, because that is how long it took us to get from Mata-Mata up in Kgalagadi to where Calvinia perches upon the endless Hantam plains. This little gem clings to the very edge of the inland plateau, just about where the Northern Cape peters out onto the bleakly beautiful Renosterveldt of the Intshona Koloni.

We cruised onto the main drag minutes before 8pm, which is the Dying Hour in platteland dorps of this ilk, but were pleasantly surprised to find a shaft of welcoming light shining from Hantam Huis.  Alta is one of those “raak-vat Afrikaner vroue”, and had us set up in the Tuishuis in minutes.  To me this was a dé ja vu trip back into time, with the house stunningly trapped in a 1940s time warp, furnished and decorated exactly the way it would have looked two generations ago.

From the kapstokke en jongmanskaste, we wandered (past the biggest postbox in the world, nogal) back to the little restaurant for a traditional feast of world-class culinary proportions. I had kop-en-pootjies (or tripe and trotters), a curried mix of sheep’s brains, stomach, tongue and ankles, and it was better than my mum’s favourite “welcome home, Son” dish (although I’ll never admit this to her).

Chris Coetzee, long suffering husband of the no-nonsense Alta (by his own reckoning, anyway) regaled us with tales of the local top-hatted ghost, and of Anthony Sher, who hails from the nearby Middelpos. Chances are we would never have got to bed if he opened another bottle of red, but we pleaded an early night in order to get onto the mountain trails at sparrows the next morning, and thus snuck off to our waiting koperkatel.

Oorlogskloof Nature Reserve was to be the final reserve on our list of northern Cape destinations, but we quickly snuck in a stop at the 90m high Nieuwoudtville falls a mere 4km north of town. The setting is panoramic, with the Doring River plummeting in a fairytale veil over the standstone escarpment into dark pools below. Booted eagles, peregrine falcons and rock kestrel soar within this vertiginous arena, with their aerial acrobatics literally making your bum hum as you teeter on the edge of their fresh air world. We ran a thumping trail section through mountain restios and poplar stands, eventually bursting onto the rocky edge of the ravine. Dozens of trails spider-webbed below us, awaiting further exploration, but our time (for now anyway) had run out. Reality and deadlines, plus the Knersvlakte and Swartland, loom …