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traveller’s report

10 October 2007

19 - 21 September 2007 I have long wanted to experience the Richtersveld, and an opportunity unexpectedly came when I was commissioned to take photographs for a book on South Africa's World Heritage Sites. The area far exceeded my expectations, in terms of sheer wild beauty, diversity, and the friendliness of the locals. My boyfriend and I started our trip with a visit to Eksteenfontein, where Joani and Volenti from the Community Conservancy and the Information Office respectively were very helpful, providing me with maps and information on where I would find places of interest and where to camp, as well as who could help us mend a puncture we got on the way. (A local resident went around the village obtaining the tools we needed to repair it, while we chatted with his wife and friends on their stoep.) The landscape is incredible, and I was amazed at how much diversity there was in such a relatively small area. We hiked up the red rocks at Rooiberg, to look at the Halfmens trees that seem to march Northwards up the hill, before driving through the dry eroded river valleys leading to the Great River (Orange), dotted with endangered Giant Quiver trees, where the green vegetation along the river banks appeared even brighter after the dry desert colours. That night we slept on the banks of the river, under a sky brilliant with the stars that are only seen in the the clear skies far from civilisation. Further west we found rolling hills comparatively lush with plants unique to the area, where we chatted to some herders, one who was out with his Grandfather's goats, and another who showed us around his very neat home, a traditional domed hut and skerm. We paid a visit to Kuboes, walked up Cornelskop, where we experienced a fantastic panoramic view of the desert landscape leading up to the mountains in the distance, before spending the night at the Tierhoek campsite, situated miles from anywhere in a horseshoe valley formed by huge rounded red granite boulders. A troop of baboons joined us for breakfast, and spent the morning barking to each from all the highest points. (We were convinced they chose the location for the incredible echoes!) Up close I found a whole thriving world to explore with my lens, and I spent a lot of time taking close-up shots (while my boyfriend got shots of me crawling around on my belly!). The flowers and plants that inhabit the desert landscape of the West Coast are magical in their adaptations to the harsh conditions, and the different rocks and soils themselves are fascinating. And then there are the San petroglyphs, chipped into the hard black dolerite hundreds of years ago. What's very sad and incredible to believe is that in recent years some people have scratched their own meaningless graphiti over these ancient images! Joani and Volenti told me that realisation that something was needed in order to protect the heritage of the land was one of the catalysts in forming the Conservancy. I was impressed by the enthusiasm the locals expressed for the project, and I think it is fantastic that they are the people who are running it. Three days and four nights was not nearly long enough for me to truly experience the place, and the first opportunity I have I will return for a much longer period! I highly recommend it as a place to put on your list to places to visit too! Andy Nixon, Muizenberg, South Africa

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