Long ride North
It has been a long while since our last rock hunting trip. So when the Cape Town Gem and Mineral Club was invited on a road trip organized by the newly formed Richtersveld Gem and Mineral Club in October 2019, we jumped at the chance.
Packing the bakkie with lots of supplies and loads of water, we met up with the convoy of fellow rock hounds at Vanrhynsdorp on the N7.
Heading North, our destination for the evening was the bush camp – Houthoop.
On the way we stopped at a farm with some heaps of sorted gravel. With permission from the owner, we scrambled around the piles and came away with some fossils and a fossilized shark tooth!
After letting everyone dig around for a few hours, we continued our sightseeing tour with a visit to Hondeklipbaai (Dog Stone Bay) whose namesake stone has been vandalized and even struck by lightning! It now resembles a drunk seal? A visit to the wreck of the Aristea, a fishing vessel turned minesweeper that ran aground in 1945, finished our sightseeing tour and we headed for camp.
We arrived at Houthoop late in the afternoon and finished setting up camp just in time for a spectacular sunset against the silhouette of the horizon.
Some digging in these heaps got me a fossilized shark tooth!
The dog rock that no longer looks like a dog.
Houthoop Campsite with it’s beautiful sunsets.
Gone Diamond Digging
Taking local advice, we where up early to miss the worst heat of the day. Driving 90km into the middle of nowhere, the stark and dry landscape with huge mounds of earth everywhere in the distance seemed desolate.
We arrived at a working diamond dig, at the base of some hills. After introductions to the dig team, we received a crash course in Richtersveld Diamond digging. I will elaborate in another article, but lots of fun was had by the rock hounds scratching and poking and digging for Diamonds. We had a brunch of a delicious diggers breakfast, supplied by Sonia (Richtersveld Gem Club hostess for the trip), and her crew (Pieter and Riaan).
A Selenite vein was discovered and I managed to dig out my own piece. Nothing spectacular, but my first.
No-one found any of the shiny stuff, but at about 2 or 3 grams per 100 tons, our chances where slim.
On the way back to camp, the bakkie stuttered and lost all power. Luckily, Malcolm in his Land-rover was behind us and proceeded to tow us in a hair-raising, sphincter checking fashion back to our camp. After a few beers and all the “Manne” standing around the bonnet, Werner (our host from the Richtersveld club) jumped in and jury rigged the fuel pump, which was discovered to be the problem. There is no-one to call out here, you have to make a plan!
The next morning we said good-bye to Houthoop and headed to Kleinsee on the coast. We spent the morning on the beach, digging in the sand. It was like a giant, very small pebbled, scratch patch! A seafood buffet lunch was had on the porch of the Angler’s Club.
After lunch, we drove North to Port Nolloth, and our camping spot next to the sea. Pieter and Riaan had invited their families round for supper, and with the sun setting over the open ocean, we had a fine West Coast spread for supper. The old folks told Diamond stories and everyone had a relaxing evening.
The next morning early I saw a beautiful sight – A flock of Flamingos taking off over the ocean all white and hard to see, then banking into the sun and flashing vivid pink. I got up early every morning to see them take off, but couldn’t get a decent photo.
The green rock that indicated the node of Epidote.
The next morning saw us driving into the middle of nowhere again after dendrites. We found a spot where locals go to cut out their own slate tiles. Some sites where harvested commercially, but the factories have long closed down. Bits and pieces of the long ridge have been cut into and exposed here and there for about 20km. We found/chopped out a few interesting pieces, and then Johan found an outcrop of Epidote bearing rock a bit down the hillside.
This turned into an hour long ramble down a gully, finding better pieces as we went down. When the cars started hooting that it was time to move on, we where what felt like 2km (maybe 500m) down a hill, with armloads/jerseys full of rocks. A bit of exercise and my first self harvested Epidote!
We moved on to Kristelkop (Crystal Hill) to have a poke around. Graham found a nice pocket with a few pieces of quartz, and everyone found a few small beauties.
Walking around in the bush up close, you could see that we where arriving just in time for flower season. Everywhere the brown and barren desert was starting to come alive with colour. Just sporadic spots here and there, but up close the flowers where beautiful. I think more flower pictures where taken than crystal pictures on this trip.
The Orange River
For the last leg of our trip, we headed up the coast to Alexander Bay. A quick stop at the desolate and windswept sub-zero temperature beach and then we headed inland along the Orange River. Some cut blocks of stone where seen on the side of the road, so we stopped to investigate. We found a hillside littered with Dolomite, sometimes called “Elephant Skin” stone due to the weathering patterns.
The roads where deeply rutted in places, and we where happy to reach our destination – Brandkaros (I think “burning cloak”). Nestled in a bend of the Orange River, this little oasis used to be a holiday spot for the De Beers workers. We spent the next 2 days taking it easy in the heat. Some hiking and some digging through the gravel on the riverbank, netted me a few pretty rocks. The moon-rises and sunrises where spectacular from this spot, looking out over the huge dunes on the other side of the river into Namibia.
So under a gorgeous golden orange moon, we had our last big braai, drinks and jokes and a haircut! Tomorrow it was back to the normal world, where people look at you funny if you randomly sit down in the middle of nowhere and start scratching through the dirt.
We woke up early the next morning and hit the long road home. All in all a bit more of a site seeing / scouting trip than a rock collecting one. I did have a few first time crystal experiences and managed to buy a few beautiful pieces from Werner and Sonia.
Glad to be home and cleaning crystals!
A word of warning – The roads are hard-core. If you are headed anywhere but the main towns, travelling in a convoy with multiple cars is a good idea and common sense. You don’t need a 4×4, but something with good clearance and big tires is helpful.
Next Up – What I found in the Richtersveld.
Hunting for Dendrites in the do-it-yourself tile factory. Notice the layers.
Orange River Quartz in it’s natural habitat.
An Oasis of green and moisture in a dry and barren land.