As you’re driving north from Springbok towards the Namibian border on the N7, look out for the tall smoke stack on your right.
That’s the historic icon of a tiny place called Okiep, which was once the centre of the South African copper mining industry. In fact, just before the dawn of the 20th century, Okiep boasted the richest copper mine in the world.
Also called O’okiep, the village was once linked to Port Nolloth by a rather quaint railway line which crossed the Anenous Pass on its route to the coast.
If you – probably a Cornishman import – were a new arrival at the copperfields, you probably sailed down (or up) to Port Nolloth. You and three others climbed into a large basket which hoisted you up into the air and onto the jetty.
And then you boarded a little train and sat on a hard bench for two days while it chugged towards Okiep.
During the Anglo-Boer War Okiep was besieged by General Jan Smuts and his Flying Commando. The legend goes that during the sieges of Springbok and Okiep, Boer snipers would be on the lookout for any British soldiers daring to walk the streets of these settlements. The rule was that they would not shoot at women or children.
The problem for the Brit soldiers was how to get to the saloon without being picked off by enemy snipers. So they hit on the obvious solution: borrow a dress and a sun-bonnet and mince across to the bar like a woman on a mission.
Today, Okiep is a tiny place most famous for its seasonal flowers. In fact, if you want to experience northern Namaqualand at its most colourful, then the Springbok – Okiep area is where you’ll want to be based.
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