Kenhardt, Northern Cape

quiver trees Kenhardt

The famous quiver tree forest outside Kenhardt.

The most remarkable feature of Kenhardt on the Karoo – Bushmanland border is the magnificent quiver tree forest just outside the little town.

Out on the Kenhardt – Cape Town road are hundreds – perhaps thousands – of these shallow-rooted, photogenic plants. In the late afternoon and early morning, they are golden sculptures on dark dolerite hills.

Go there with a camera at the bookends of the day, and you’ll experience a stillness that is quite spiritual.

In the silence, marked only by the crunch of gravel beneath your feet and the buzz of bees (mostly in late winter months), you’ll start to wonder what animals, what travellers have rested in their shade. The biggest ones are many decades old.

Kenhardt’s quiver trees have many twisted shapes, as if they’ve been tortured by the sun and the heat. You’ll find old grey skeletons, fallen giants with their roots blackened as if burnt.

In eras gone by, these quiver trees would have seen the passage of millions of trekbokke, never-ending waves of migrating springbok, passing by. It seemed that the trekbok population was endless, but they were hunted so relentlessly that by the arrival of the 20th Century, South Africa’s greatest wildlife phenomenon had dwindled down to pitiful numbers.

This area was once the kingdom of the San Bushmen. They used the parts of the quiver tree to store their arrows, and they picked off what they needed from the massed herds of wildlife that passed. When the animals were gone, however, their way of life ended. Most of the San living in the Kenhardt area went deep into the Kalahari Desert. Those who remained behind nearly starved to death and were dispersed onto the various farms in the district.

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