Whilst I’m not going to pretend that you will find the likes of the Arctic pole, or Tristan da Cunha in South Africa there are, nonetheless, out of the way places that will capture your heart and take you well away from it all.
If you have ever wished you could simply vanish for a while, you can, by heading to these remote areas of South Africa…
Photograph: Baviaanskloof, Eastern Cape
The third largest nature conservation area in the country, the Baviaanskloof is the valley that runs from east to west through the Baviaanskloof Mountains in the Eastern Cape, between the towns of Willowmoreand Patensie. To call it incredibly scenic is to do it an injustice. This mega reserve and wilderness area that also manages to include agriculture and several communities, is an area of such outstanding natural beauty that people either become tongue tied when attempting to put it into words, or resort to descriptions of biblical origin.
High mountains, endless valleys, river crossings, rugged passes and unequalled serenity make this a space in which getting lost is something of a pleasure. Although you may need a overland vehicle to head to the interior.
Photograph: Hantam Karoo, Northern Cape
HANTAM KAROO, NORTHERN CAPE
Strewn with little out of the way villages like Nieuwoudtville, Loeriesfontein, Williston, Hanover and Brandvlei, anywhere on a farm in this remote and dry part of the country is going to take you out of cell phone reach and into the kind of silence and star-smattered night skies that will restore your sense of balance in a matter of days. Out here time slows to the rhythm of sheep, wheat and lucerne farming in the shade of the Hantam Mountain (a Khoi word meaning mountain of the red bulbs).
Little disturbs the continuity of wide, open space until the cocophany of colour that follows good rains in the form of the annual spring flowers. Small towns, imposing churches, flat-topped koppies and windpumps predominate. People have been known to visit and never leave.
Photograph: Richtersveld, Northern Cape
This massive, mountainous desert in the extreme north-west corner of the country boasts spaces like the Nababeep Conservancy, Richtersveld National Park and part of the Ai Ais Nature Reserve in Namibia. It is a harsh environment littered with some of the world’s richest desert flora, rugged kloofs, high mountains and martian scapes for which the only moisture is off the early morning fog that rolls in from the Atlantic Ocean.
The last refuge of the Nama people littered with rare succulents known as ‘half human’ trees is regarded as the only Arid Biodiversity Hotspot on Earth. Water is a commodity, there are 33 types of plants found nowhere else in the world, and plenty of space in which to lose yourself and the ideas you hold about the world.
Photograph: Die Hel, Gamkaskloof, Western Cape
Roughly 100 kilometres from Oudtshoorn is the valley known as Gamkaskloof or ‘Die Hel’ (although nobody can agree as to where the ‘hell’ part of it originated). Surrounded by the Swartberg Nature Reserve this narrow and isolated valley that is also a World Heritage is roughly 25 km long, and languished in obscurity for over a 100 years when the only access in and out of the valley was horseback or shank’s pony, despite frequent requests for a road. Still, a rather sturdy vehicle (a sedan with high ground clearance is fine, if it hasn’t been raining) is a pre-requisite to navigating the road that exists today.
It took until the early 1980s for the original few families that lived here to leave, and it might take you as long once you experience the isolation, natural beauty and night sky stars. There is a true sense of wilderness here. No point taking your cell phone and laptop.