Vanwyksvlei, Northern Cape


Welcome to Vanwyksvlei – a former oasis in the Thirstland.

Vanwyksvlei lies less than 100km north of Carnarvon in the Northern Cape, but for all intents and purposes it could be on another planet.

The little town, once so vibrant, feels like the middle of nowhere as you drive in. The welcome sign at the entrance bears a rendition of a blissful Karoo dream – a huge body of water edged with green trees.

But now it’s dry. There are saltbush hedges and hard-packed dirt backyards, rainwater tanks and screen doors. Everything is closed against the heat.

On the edge of town is a curving line of windmills. Most have seen better days. Welcome to the Thirstlands.

Vanwyksvlei Dam, built in 1882, was the first dam to be funded by the State. Because of it, the nearby town was a wonderful oasis to live in. For many reasons, the dam no longer holds much water – and life has ebbed from the town, which now exists mainly in the fond memories of former residents.

Recollections and anecdotes are posted on a website dedicated to people who lived in Vanwyksvlei. They make for fascinating reading.

  • “The fresh water from the rainwater tank was used only for washing hair, boiling beans and cleaning the car…”
  • “We would drive 90km to a party on a farm – and then 90km back – distance meant nothing.”
  • “The hostel boys let the air out of the night-cart tyres and it stood stinking outside the girls’ hostel.”
  • “Vanwyksvlei had a cricketing academy and we used to play on a cement strip covered with green carpeting.”
  • “We had the greatest temperature variance in one day: from -11 degrees C in the morning to 45 degrees C in the afternoon…”

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