A few mishaps hit the Sak River Expedition as it got underway. Ten men, each carrying a backpack of between 20 and 25 kg, were due to set off from the source of the Sak River in the Nuweveld Mountains, outside Beaufort West, on October 26, and walk the entire 450km length of this river to its end at a giant pan in Bushmanland, by November 6. The group included a Norwegan, New Zealand biologists, interested in riverine rabbits, the director of the African Conservation Trust and “adventurers,” like Beaufort West’s Arnold Hutchinson, who walks vast distances simply because he loves the Karoo. “One man was not able to start because he broke an ankle,” says organiser Steve Moseley. “Severely bleeding blisters forced a second to pull out after 3½ days. The next man to leave completed the five-day hike he had agreed to undertake. The rest of us are doing well. So far, we’ve seen three riverine rabbits, not bad, considering only 250 members of this critically endangered species are left. Temperatures have been extreme, varying from 4 deg C to over 50 deg C, but views across this desolate landscape have been breathtaking. We’ve all been amazed at the amount of water in this normally dry riverbed.” Steve thanked sponsors: Bokomo for high-energy breakfasts; Global Plus for a satellite phone and African Conservation Trust, who sponsored a function to create greater awareness of the plight of the riverine rabbit and the Karoo in general at Williston, on October 28. Speakers included: Tim Snow of Endangered Wildlife Trust’s (EWT) Poison Working Group, Neil MacGregor, who spoke on conservation farming in the Karoo and André Roussow, from the Namaqua National Park, who discussed predator management. “We greatly appreciated the help we received from farmers. Many dropped drinking water, marked by flags so we could easily find it, others went out of their way to feed and entertain us.”


Gay van Hasselt has done it again. Her well known Prince Albert Royal cheese, popular with village residents and tourists alike, won a bronze medal at the World Cheese Awards competition for the second year in a row. The competition, the biggest and most respected of its kind in the world, this year drew 1843 entries from Europe, the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. Entries were judged by leading experts and results announced at a function in London. “South Africa was awarded six gold, eight silver and eight bronze medals. This proves our local cheeses compete well on the world stage,” said the only South African on the panel of judges, Kobus Mulder, manager of Agri-Expo Dairy.


Modern technology has won the day in Prince Albert. Local historian Ailsa Tudhope, who often envisaged writing a book of stories on the village, recently joined forces with local artist/photographer, Sheila Coutouvidis, to launch a company called Digital Sa and produce a CD Rom entitled Prince Albert Images. It took months of research, writing and photography to cover the town’s history, architecture, places of interest (including where to go and what to do), monuments, the museum, Saturday morning market, Swartberg Pass, weavery and tannery. The disc, which costs R70 including postage and packaging, contains a bibliography of recommended books and articles on the region.


Desperate efforts to save a rare cycad have at last been rewarded. After 32 years, the plant has been named in honour of the man who discovered it. Dracostrobus dedekindii, fully described in the newly published The Cycads and Cycad Moths of Kwa-Zulu Natal, by M R Cooper and D Goode, was discovered in 1972 by Reinwald Dedekind, who now lives in Prince Albert. Reinwald originally discovered this cycad in a kraal near the Msinga Reserve, in Natal, one morning while looking for garden feature rocks. It had been half eaten by goats. At the time he had a complete collection of the Encephalartos and over 100 aloe species, so he knew this was a new species. He was elated. “He offered to buy the plant, but the owner refused. Not even the offer of an ox would change his mind. He did, however, point out the gorge where the plant had been found.” reports Judy Maguire in the Prince Albert Friend. Reinwald went to the gorge only to find that every accessible plant had been harvested by muthi makers. He nevertheless reported his find as a new species, but 17 years passed before it was officially recognized and described as “Encephalartos cerinus, discovered by a local farmer.” This scant recognition didn’t dampen Reinwald’s enthusiasm. He continued to search for examples of this rare plant. Then, one day a messenger arrived saying Chief Khumalo had sent him to tell Reinwald of a large cycad on a high mountain. “Reinwald hurried to the chief’s kraal only to be shown a mutilated stem,” reports Judy. “The rare cycad had been smashed to pieces by its ‘discoverers’ who’d enthusiastically rolled it down the mountain side. Nevertheless, Reinwald recognised the plant he’d been searching for and obtained permission to remove suckers from the ‘mother plant.’ However, when he reached it after a hard steep climb, he was saddened to find the nyanga muthi gatherers had almost destroyed it. Eventually Reinwald paid Chief Khumalo R140 so that he could rescue the plant before it was killed. It was a female cycad and Reinwald still has live material from it in his garden. These, however, seem doomed never to be fertilized because the only known male plants, found in the Umtamvuna Gorge Nature Reserve and relocated by the Natal Parks Board, all died.”


Buying a rare cycad from a paramount chief is one thing. Moving it down a mountain and across rugged terrain is quite another as Reinwald Dedekind found. Twenty strong men, several sheets of corrugated iron, two thick ropes and 100 litres of beer, were needed to gently slide the precious plant down from its lofty perch to the plains. Then, it had to be carried for three kilometers, across extremely rough, rugged terrain, before it could be loaded on to a vehicle. As Reinwald and his “cycad rescue” party arrived at the vehicle they were confronted by a wizened old crone who gesticulated and cursed loudly. The cycad had been growing on the mountain since she was a child, she said. Its muthi had brought the rain and no good would come from moving it. She then pointed at Chief Khumalo and proclaimed he would soon sicken and die because he had given the ‘abelungu’ (white people) permission to remove the plant. Oddly enough, soon afterwards the chief did take ill and three months later he was dead. Also, despite great care and careful treatment, the plant refused to grow. It simply rotted away and died. And, no further specimens were ever be found. Even helicopter searches of the highest peaks were unsuccessful.


Prince Albert has a link with Space Ship One. Mike Melville, who piloted this craft into space on June 21 to become the first commercial pilot with an astronaut rating, is the great grandson of George Rainer, who in 1880 was magistrate of Prince Albert. He was also the man who headed off into the mountains to establish a bridle path over the Swartberg. Having accomplished this he persuaded MP Jan Luttig to raise funds in the Cape Parliament so that Thomas Bain could build a pass across the peaks. “The rest is history,” reports Prince Albert historian Ailsa Tudhope. “Rainer’s foresight gave us the breathtaking Swartberg Pass, one of the most impressive dry-stone walled passes in the world.”


Past and present recently united when over 1 200 people flocked to Merweville to celebrate the centenary of the Dutch Reformed Church. “The town felt as if it would burst at the seams,” reports resident Cindy Spence. “Excitement filled the air. There were shouts of joy people met up with family members, old friends and acquaintances. Many had not seen each other since childhood. It was a weekend of celebration in true Koup style – delicious food, treasured friends and wonderful memories. Three years of research went into the commemorative album, “Die Koup Jubel”. Full of modern and historic photographs, it is now available at the cost of R100 from Rev. Lourens van Vuuren at the church office.


The Zulu Tracbar 2004, a car rally open to Citroëns manufactured between 1934 and 1957, made two sweeps through the Karoo. The event was so oversubscribed that organisers divided the tour in two. Fifty-two cars, all shipped from France, participated. The first group of 60 people in 22 cars travelled along the Route 62 from Cape Town through Beaufort West to Durban. The second group, 75 people in 30 cars, did the route in reverse. “Not all vehicles were owner-driven. The organisers hire out vehicles from their fleet for each Tracbar event,” reports Hilary Steven Jennings, who hosted the tour at Hillandale Guest Farm where both groups chose to camp out on the lawns. The first group enjoyed a Karoo braai consisting of liver and bacon rolls, chops, sausage, chicken wings and vegetable “potjie” accompanied by an extensive table of home-made breads, jams and preserves. Koeksisters, small milk tarts, homemade chunky fudge and quince sweets were served for desert. “The group so enjoyed the bread that we provided a similar table with breakfast. This consisted of mealie meal porridge served with rich, fresh creamy farm milk, stewed fruit, sugar or honey, scrambled egg, bacon and tomato. We varied the evening meal for the second group, serving stuffed leg of lamb and venison under the stars on a crystal-clear night. Both groups loved the Karoo.” The cars did not travel in a group. Each driver was briefed and given a road book. They then set off when ready. “There is a breakdown vehicle, which tows a low bed trailer in case it is necessary to ‘lift’ a car. It also carries extensive tools, two spare engines and a welding plant. It leaves last so that they can assist any who have problems. One driver had a spot of bad luck 15km from Hillandale. He turned his car on its side. Fortunately, there was no damage. Local farmers soon righted it, checked the oil and water and he was able to set off again.”


A young French naturalist who came to South Africa in 1838 found the Karoo rather trying. Adulphe Delegorgue, landed at the Cape “armed with a mighty elephant gun, an enquiring mind and a keen sense of humour.” For a short while he explored Cape Town and surrounds, then to his delight a field cornet invited him to join a trip to “the northernmost limit” of the Colony. Adulphe accepted with alacrity, even though he knew 22 days in the saddle would be a rough journey for anyone not used to daily riding, he writes in Travels in Southern Africa. The group overnighted on farms, slept one night at Matjiesfontein, and then “painfully pursued a course” into the Karoo. “The effect of the sun combined with the red saline dust affected my eyes. I could not keep them open. We found dry rivers, salt springs and scrawny vegetation. Families in this area were poor, but honest. The water was too brackish for drinking, yet they used it to make tea which they served without sugar. Taken hot, this drink, which to me tasted like medicine, quenched the thirst very well.” Adulphe was pleased when he could shake the dust of the Karoo from his feet and when the water he was offered to drink was cool and fresh.


In 2003 Round-up readers met an eccentric old Scot with a link to the Bantjies “millions.” Now more has been discovered about his second wife. James Alexander Thwaits first married Catharina Dorothea Bantjies. She died on December 2, 1870, aged 35, leaving seven children, six of whom were minors. Four years later on November 23, 1874, James married Janet Maria Wilhelmina Melvill in George. She bore him six more children. When she died on January 21, 1897, James wrote “A thoroughly good wife and mother” next to Condition in Life on her death certificate. “This is normally the place where the deceased’s occupation in life is filled in,” says Norma Thwaits-Farber, who was researching the history of this family. She discovered this loving tribute in some dusty files 107 years after it was written. “It endeared dour old James Alexander to me. As I read it I suddenly realised what a beautiful compliment he was paying this woman who had competently reared his 12 children, only half of whom were her own. She obviously loved them equally and was a good wife to him.”


Western Cape’s nature conservation organisation has just acquired a new logo and corporate identity. The bontebok logo, which was part of Cape Nature Conservation’s image for almost quarter of a century, has made way for this new and much more modern design. Its blue area symbolises the oceans and rivers in the province. This is interlinked to a green part which symbolises the magnificent and diverse vegetation. The new logo is held in the palms of two hands, symbolising the role of communities in conservation. The design as a whole symbolises seamless integration between humans and nature in the organisation, which will in future be known as CapeNature.


Tense military men and eery moonlight are a jumpy combination. A while ago Boer war researcher Taffy Shearing read of a Boer brigade getting a terrible fright in the “haunting moonlight” of a Karoo night. “One late October night in 1901, Jaap van Deventer, who became General Van Deventer during World War I, was leading some of General Jan Smuts’s men across the Karoo,” she says. “They had just successfully crossed a railway line and were stealthily moving out onto the plains when everyone suddenly halted. There, dead ahead of them, in the sinister light cast by the moon, was an encampment of British tents. The men froze. Each instinctively reached up and clutched his horse’s muzzle to prevent it from whinnying. As they stood staring at the scene, they noticed there was no movement in the camp. Also, there appeared to be no guards. Carefully, silently, they edged forward straining to get a closer look. Then they clearly saw it was a farmer’s wagon, stacked with bales of wool and parked for the night. The moonlight and shadows from trees on a nearby koppie had combined to make the bales look like tents. With sighs of relief the men moved on. The next day outside Fraserburg Van Deventer and his men encountered some District Mounted Troops on their way to a party. The Boers tied the men up securely, gave them food and drink and then spent the rest of the evening dancing with the girls.


Dining ought to be a social as well as gastronomic pleasure in the opinion of wellknown travel writer T V Bulpin. “Dining in a din is quite distasteful,” he wrote in his widely read travel guide, Discovering Southern Africa. “Dirty, smelly, unfriendly, inhospitable places and those playing commercial advertising radio programmes in their public rooms, particularly at meal times, should be avoided,” he states. Also, to be avoided are places with overloud live bands and singers of dubious talent who present deafening entertainment. Bulpin feels a diner ought to be able to express his desires to the waiters in a confidential tone or normal speaking voice. He should not have to shout, wave his arms, write his desires down nor use sign language amid ear-splitting, discordant ‘music and the incessant bawling of love ditties.” Having said all that Bulpin adds that “Soft music is perfectly acceptable.”


Each time fuel prices rise someone somewhere sets out to find a cheap alternative to petrol. Some years ago research was conducted in Europe on a genetically engineered bacteria said to be capable of turning millions of tonnes of agricultural waste into ethanol. Farmers across the continent were keen for this to be a success as straw burning is forbidden by European anti-pollution laws. But the search for fuel alternatives is not new. Way back in 1916 in the Great Karoo a farmer believed he had the answer. According to Lawrence Green’s Karoo this man distilled a mixture from prickly pears and proclaimed it a winner. To prove its worth as a low-cost alternative to petrol he invited Lawrence Green to drive with him through South Africa to the then Rhodesia to promote it. Green describes the journey across the Karoo, when the route was little more than a wagon track, but he neglects to name to farmer. They drove from Cape Town to Bulawayo, it seems, but there the venture ended in failure because the farmer inhaled too much of the poisonous gas from the liquid and it killed him.


A rare golden creature, said to be found only on the peaks of the Nuweveld Mountains outside Beaufort West, has not been seen for years. This butterfly, the Poecilmitis Midas, a handsome golden creature with brilliant metallic orange wings, was first seen during a summer in the 1950s. It was flying under the precipices at altitudes of over 1 500m above sea level. Because of its magnificent colour and beauty this rare creature was named after the mythical King Midas, who turned everything he touched to gold. The first specimen was caught by D Dickson in October 1954. Shortly after that the creature seemed to vanish. Droughts were blamed for its non-appearance. Then to the delight of lepidoperists some sightings were reported again in 1967. Again it disappeared, leaving scientists very worried. In the 1970s lepidopterists scoured the mountains in search of the butterfly, but no sightings were reported. In fact, no one seems to have seen one for over 35 years. The question now is: Has it managed to hide from experts, or has it become extinct? There is a specimen in the British Museum and some in private collections.

“Man alone suffers so excruciatingly in the world that he was compelled to invent laughter.” Friedrich Nietzsche, whose controversial thinking influenced generations of theologians ,philosophers, psychologists, writers and poets.