Cape Town  - ichtersveld

The Richtersveld


Map of the Richtersveld.

The southern boundary of the Richtersveld is the road from Port Nolloth to Steinkopf. The western boundaryis the road from Port Nolloth to Alexander Bay and further north to include the Richtersfeld National Park then south to Eksteenfontein and onto Vioolsdrift. The Northwest Province and the Orange river which forms the natural northern boundary between South Africa and Namibia is well known for its diamonds.

Near Oranjemund and Alexander Bay diamonds are mined on the beaches. In days gone by you could walk along the beach near the mouth of the Orange River and pick up the odd diamond lying in the sand. Prospectors found the whole place to be infested with diamonds and when the government heard of this they laid claim to the area and blocked people from entering it. Anybody found with diamonds or even in the Sperrgebied as it is called were arrested and charged.

Today the Oranjemund area is fenced off and the beaches are being mined and millions of carats of diamonds are found each year.

Well where did all these diamonds come from and how did they get onto the beaches in this area. The answer is the Orange River or Gariep River which is its ancient name. Inland from the mouth of the river is an area called the Richtersveld. It is an area like no other in SA.

The Richtersveld a sample of the terrain

It is is a dry arid area with many types of rocks and virtually no soil. Certain areas are lonely and hostile and the winds howl through them at speeds of up to a 100 km per hour. When the winds blow anything loose is blown away and this is what has happened to the soil. Most of it has blown away. In the Richtersveld you will find many types of rocks, the oldest of which are found in the mountain ranges of Paradys River, Rosyntjieberg and Windvlakte Formations.

It is believed that the volcanic rocks are approximately 1996 million years old. At sunset these mountain ranges emit a pink hue which turns to an orange as the sun sets. In the morning as the sun rises the mountains emit a lilac glow. According to geologists the mountains were once a belt of volcanic islands. Surrounding the older rocks in an area comprising about a third of the Richtersveld are the younger Namaqua granites. These granites were emplaced in two phases, the first about 1900 million years ago and the second about 1700 million years ago.

During the late Crustaceous to early Tertiary periods the concentration of gaseous magma below the earth's crust occurred and caused great pressure under the surface. This resulted in volcanic activity which formed the diatremes or volcanic pipes. These pipes were were the conduits for the release of magma which exploded upwards with such force that material deep down under the earth's crust was taken up as well. Included in this material were diamonds. Over the years the pipes and the craters of the volcanoes were weathered away by water and wind and the contents of the pipes were spread over the plains of the Richtersveld.

Water draining from the area washed the diamonds down into the Orange river which distributed the diamonds over a large area and into the sea. The sea at that time was about 10 metres higher than it is today and many of the diamond areas that are mined today were once in the sea.

In certain places along the river diamonds are found on top of its banks which are today a 100 metres above the level of the river. I have painted a very dreary picture of the Richtersveld and it would seem to be like a moonscape. This in fact is not the case. Certain areas are moonscapes yet other are quite beautiful especially after having received some rain. The flowers awaken and within days bloom and the area is transformed into carpets of colourful flowers.

There are of course many hardy plants which grow in the area and survive for long periods without water. Many of them survive from the moisture laid down by mist which often occurs. For anybody who would like to know more about this area I have found this wonderfully illustrated book by Graham Williamson called

“ Richtersveld, The Enchanted Wilderness”

Get it today !

Of course the aim of this article is to attract you to SA to come and see for yourself. While you are here you can visit the Richtersveld which is the ancient home of a girl's best friend, the diamond. (Man's best friend is a dog)

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