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South Africa Holiday: Springbok

Springbok, the principal town of Namakwa, is set in a narrow valley bisecting the high granite domes of the Klein Koperberge (the small copper mountains). It owes its existence to copper-mining from the 1850s.

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Springbok, originally called Springbokfontein after the many antelope that visited the area, was laid out in 1862 around a small hillock in the middle of the valley.
Click to see a detailed map of Springbok and the Northern CapeThe first white expedition was in 1685 by Simon van der Stel, governor of the Cape of Good Hope established 33 years earlier by the Dutch East India Company (see also his description of the Quiver tree of Kokerboom). Hearing reports of rich copper deposits, he camped a 5km to the east of the present town of Springbok, at a spot where he sank three prospecting shafts. The largest of these shafts, on which he carved his initials, is a national monument and a great tourist attraction.
Interest in the riches of the region waned after this, but several travellers were drawn to this dry land. They came to hunt, for the adventure of the wild interior or to spread the Gospel. Jacobus Coetse hunted elephant here in 1760. Hendrik Hop headed an official expedition in 1761. Willem van Reenen, lured by tales of copper and gold, came soon after and found a few white farmers already established in the Kamiesberge to the south of the present town of Springbok.
Between 1777 and 1778 the explorer Colonel R.J. Gordon reached the Gariep river (great river)north of the Sneeuberg - he named the great river the Orange river in honour of the ruling House of the Netherlands. In 1813 John Campbell of the London Missionary Society travelled through these parts.
As early as 1836, when large numbers of Boers (farmers) were leaving the eastern frontier of the Cape Colony on the Great Trek which took them into the Free State, Natal and Transvaal, Sir James Alexander found European settlers at Springbokfontein.
Philips and King from Cape Town bought part of the Melkboschkuil farm from the Cloete brothers in 1852 and, on the north-western slopes around the present town, established an open-cast copper mine. Before the smelting furnace was built, high grade ore was transported by ox wagon to Hondeklip Bay on the Atlantic coast. Parts of the old Copper Road they travelled can still be seen.
When richer deposits of copper were discovered at Okiep, 8km to the north of Springbok, and at Nababeep, 18km to the north-west, the little village of Springbokfontein suffered and its development slowed down.
Plans for the town were laid out in 1862 and four years later a smelting furnace was constructed in a gap in the ridges to the north-east of the town. For years this smelting furnace was to prove a boon to the town. When it came into production the farmers of the district once more had an extra source of income, as in the days of transport riding, but now they set about meeting the demand of the smelting furnace for hard wood. The Company was prepared to pay very high prices for suitable wood in this treeless region. This furnace, the oldest in Southern Africa, is a national monument.
Towards the end of the South African war (the Anglo-Boer war of 1899-1902) the British fort built on a koppie (hill) in the centre of town was destroyed by dynamite planted by a commando unit led by General Jan Smuts.
The name Springbokfontein was shortened to Springbok in 1911.
Today, Springbok plays a key role during the wild flower season in Namaqualand, as well as tourism centre for visitors to the nature reserves and national parks in Namaqualand.
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