Alexander Bay, Northern Namaqualand, Diamond Coast
The original mining town on the Diamond Coast is owned by the State-owned diamond-mining company Alexkor, and though once closed off to the public like the rest of the Diamond Coast, Alexander Bay is now accessible without permits. Mining operations continue, but there is now a concurrent move toward rehabilitation of some damaged areas and preservation of a unique environment. You still have to drive through a security gate though.
Alexander Bay is the driest place in South Africa, experiencing only 2mm of rainfall a year. Still, mists from the freezing Atlantic help to sustain fragile life – including that of a rare living lichen field on a hill outside the town, and the Ramsar Site (wetlands with International significance and protection) Orange River mouth wetland and salt marshes are a Flamingo-featuring birder’s dream with many rare and some endemic species, and even though the immediate coastal area is really mostly all sand, dune scrub and driftwood, inland you will find verdant lucerne and citrus farms, irrigated by the Orange River.
You can see Oranjemund and the start of the Skeleton Coast in Namibia across the river mouth, and if you look down long enough, you can find semi-precious pebbles such jasper and rose-quartz. If you are very curious, get down on your hand and knees and look at the gravel roads in Alexander Bay, said to be full of semi-precious stones from rose-quartz to garnets, and if are a botanist or just like small, strange-looking plants, plan to stay a few days. The dune, rocks and stones holds many surprises.
Getting there: Alexander Bay lies on the R382. Take the N7 north from Springbok to Steinkopf, then turn on to the R382. Total travelling distance is 230km.