The northern and western Cape interior is arid and desolate looking and it carries still the charming historical names derived from both the first nation languages that emanated there and the colonial languages that arrived later. Epithets like the Klein Karoo, Kouebokkeveld and further north Namaqualand or Bushmanland are still in use today describing the regions formerly considered inhospitable by early pioneer farmers and settlers.
One of these…lying roughly between the severe escarpment of the Bokkeveld Mountains and the granitic undulations of Namaqualand…is an area known as the “Knersvlakte”. This featureless moonscape is covered with bizarre beds of quartz crystals lying impossibly white in the harsh midday sun across trackless plains as far as the eye can see…before being consumed by the shimmer of a desert mirage.
The term “kners” is from Dutch/Afrikaans and references the gnashing or grinding of teeth. These quartz beds made this rather disturbing sound under the wooden wagon wheels of the early Voortrekker pioneer. “Vlakte” is quite simply plain or flat land.
One may encounter the odd Springbok here or a small group of Bat eared Fox if fortunate. The resident birdlife will seem restricted to Pale Chanting Goshawks, Karoo Chats and the odd Grey backed Cisticola. In most respects the Knersvlakte seem entirely devoid of life…like some post-apocalyptic wasteland…that is…until you get closer to the ground.
In and amongst the individual quartz pieces lies an impossibly beautiful and surreal world so perfectly equipped for life there. A range of unbelievable succulents and stone plants…some with hilarious names like Theart’s Baby’s Bum…grow where no other plant would even begin germinating. Weird, alien-like insects…including a variety known as Stone Grasshoppers…have taken on the look of a piece of quartz in one of the best acts of camouflage one will see in the wild.
Nature…on the boiling, quartz strewn, desert wastes of the Knersvlakte…finds a way.