In the unforgiving landscape of the Knersvlakte, Bitterfontein speaks compellingly to writers and artists who come for the flash of a passing spirit and the quality of the light.
Blink and you just might miss Bitterfontein when travelling on the N7 towards the Northern Cape, 386 km north of Cape Town. Framed by the rows of Hardeveld granite hills and Namaqualand’s plains, the town is served by the Bitterfontein Môl, a primary school, library, hotel, boerewinkel, satellite health clinic and Agrimark. A few of the houses, which sell for about R40 000, are still the fast-disappearing traditional cob houses which feature old-style bossieskerms.
Deriving its name from the bitter, brackish water which is still the main water source, Bitterfontein boasts the first desalination plant to purify drinking water in the southern hemisphere. So, they’ve got water!
The 906 souls living here in an area of 1.77 km2 are warm and hospitable, readily engaging in folklore at the drop of a hat. With its fair share of interesting tales, the town was the scene of an audacious diamond robbery in 1931 when stones worth £80 000 vanished without trace from a mailbag. To this day they haven’t been recovered.
Home to the martial eagle, black-backed jackal and Cape honey badger, the surrounding Knersvlakte has not only spectacular spring flowers, but also 1 300-plus succulent species known as stone plants, which grow no more than 10 cm high. And the local farmers are reputed to produce the most delicious-tasting mutton thanks to excellent grazing and climatic conditions.
A visit to the national monument Meerhof’s Castle on the farm Meerhof, 14 km from Bitterfontein, is a must-see. Sadly, the famous station has closed. The railway line previously shipped the blocks of green granite, the only of its kind in the world, that used to be quarried in the area.
You’ll have your horizon shifted in Bitterfontein – an unhurried place offering a slice of life unlike any other.
Photo by Andre Bester