Northern Cape ideal for extreme sports



[Image] Clearing of the Hakskeen Pan has been
underway since early in 2011.

[Image] The Bloodhound car will reach a speed
of 1 000 mph in under a minute.
(Images: Bloodhound SSC)

• Peter Mckuchane
GM, Northern Cape Tourism
+27 82 467 2525
Monwabisi Mkompela
Spokesperson, premier’s office
+27 53 838 2600

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The Northern Cape province is aiming to become South Africa’s preferred extreme adventure and sports destination.

The semi-arid region is home to breathtaking scenery and unusual nature formations and offers some of the best opportunities for abseiling, white water river rafting and deep cave diving in the country.

But with its vast expanses and perfect thermal conditions, it also offers opportunities for lesser known extreme sports like paragliding, flying and landspeed records.

With a new landspeed record attempt due to take place in 2012 at the 19 km long Hakskeen Pan, located about 160 km north of Upington, the world is taking note of what the province has to offer.

The Northern Cape Tourism Authority promotes the province as a preferred adventure destination, says GM for business tourism Peter Mckuchane.

He says the Northern Cape not only offers extreme sporting opportunities but is a destination of “extreme nature and extreme cultures”, aspects which add to the appeal of the province.

Maloof Money Cup

In September 2011 the Northern Cape hosted the first international Maloof Money Cup (MMC), an annual skateboarding championship that will take place for the next three years in the provincial capital, Kimberley.

It was the first time that this American event was hosted outside its home base, and it attracted the best current world skating champions to South Africa’s doorstep.

In signing the contract with competition founders the Maloof family, the Northern Cape provincial government showed its commitment and formal endorsement of skateboarding as a sporting discipline in the province, Premier Hazel Jenkins said at the time.

Kimberley now boasts one of the world’s best skating parks and plans to introduce the sport to other parts of the province.

The MMC was broadcasted internationally over three days and included a five-event skateboarding competition and skateboarding festival. Considered to be the world’s richest skateboarding championship, it has a total purse of R3.75-million (US$458 000).

The event also turned out to be a real money spinner for Kimberley, with hotels and restaurants overflowing and extra workers hired to cope with the massive influx of fans from all over.

Jenkins added that the event really galvanised the people of the Northern Cape. She is also excited about the possibilities which the province’s new role as host of the latest landspeed record attempt will bring to the area.

“The opportunities it affords the province can act as a catalyst for the establishment of a science orientated university in the Northern Cape and offers tremendous tourism potential,” she said on welcoming the landspeed record hopefuls, the Bloodhound SSC team from the UK.

Towards a new landspeed record

The team, led by Royal Air Force Pilot Wing Commander Andy Green, the current landspeed record holder, were in South Africa earlier in November 2011 to promote the event. Green hopes to set a new record of 1 609 kph (1 000 mph) at the Hakskeen Pan in 2013.

Green set the current record in October 1997 when he drove the Thrust SSC to a new world record of 1 227 kph (763 mph), in the process breaking the sound barrier and improving the previous record by 209 kph (130 mph).

The latest attempt will take place at the Northern Cape pan, chosen over 34 others because of its near perfect conditions. Over 19 km long and 5 km wide, with a vertical variation of only 61 mm over the entire 2 km distance of the run, the pan’s surface is ideally hard and flat.

The area offers ideal weather conditions, factors which were confirmed by Green and his team during their South African visit.

For the attempt to be successful, the car must complete two runs within the space of an hour, with the average times calculated as the new record.

“The ability to control the car’s stopping, and therefore the turnaround time, is key to the success of the record attempt,” the official Bloodhound website notes.

Bloodhound is about more than breaking records, Green reminded the gathering.

“Yes, we want to break the record, but we also want to create a global showcase for science and technology,” he said.

“The UK, Europe and South Africa have a critical shortage of engineers and scientists. We hope the project will inspire young people to become engineers, mathematicians and scientists.”

Parliament has already approved in principle the establishment of a Northern Cape university but the institution’s focus still has to receive the green light and will be subject to funding, Jenkins confirmed.

Employment boost

The speed attempt will also bring about much-needed employment opportunities. Mckuchane says the province has undertaken to prepare Hakskeen Pan for the world landspeed record runs, with the first trials to start early in 2012.

Additional job opportunities will be created running up to the event, with 315 unemployed locals tasked with clearing the track of stones and debris, critical for such a dangerous event as even the smallest stones become bullet-like at these speeds.

The clean-up project will be undertaken through the national Expanded Public Works Programme and will take about six months to complete. The event is expected to spawn more opportunities in tourism and extreme sports.

“The Northern Cape government believes the record attempt has the potential to generate a lot of future interest and if the attempt is successful, could turn the area into a tourist hub where similar events can be hosted in the future, as it will be the fastest track in the world,” says Mckuchane.

The event alone is expected to bring thousands of spectators to the area.

Thermal heights and cave depths

But the Northern Cape also offers a host of other extreme activities. The province regularly plays host to international paragliding competitions, with the Paragliding World Cup taking place in March 2012 in the Karoo town ofDe Aar.

The area is considered to be one of the top paragliding sites in the country because of the hot desert conditions which create massive hot air bubbles, providing the perfect lift for paragliders.

De Aar itself is recognised as the home of cross-country paragliding in South Africa, and is the venue where numerous international and national paragliding records have been set in recent years.

Extreme cave diving is another favourite and here the Northern Cape again has some of the most dangerous – and exciting – on offer.

Boesmansgat is a unique sinkhole on the farm Mount Carmel where many world records in cave diving have been set and where a number of divers have lost there lives. The third deepest freshwater cave in the world, it was the scene of Nuno Gomes’s 1996 cave diving record of 282 metres.

Unrivalled natural beauty

The Northern Cape is South Africa’s biggest province, a dry land mass of 361 830 km2 which offers a surprisingly wide range of natural treasures, each with its own unique perspective on this sparsely populated region.

There is the red sand veld and yellow grasses of the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park in the Kalahari; the wild shrubs of the Karoo Hantam with its clear, star-studded evenings and the floral splendour and big skies of Namaqualand, to name but a few.

The area also has a rich archaeological and geological history. Names like Nossob, Okiep, Ais-Ais, Aoub and Gannaga ring strangely in the ear, reminders of a time when the only human inhabitants here were the indigenous San bushmen, migratory hunter-gatherers who lived in simple harmony with nature.

Later, white inhabitants moved into the area and added their own contributions: Kieliekrankie, Hotazel (Hot as hell) Riemvasmaak, Mier (Ant) and Pofadder, descriptive Dutch names which tell a visitor more than they may wish to know about a place.

Today the area has a rich cultural diversity with Tswana, San, Nama and European all calling it home.

It is here that you will find South Africa’s largest river, the majestic Orange and the country’s biggest waterfall, the Augrabies. The Eye of Kuruman, a natural fountain which is reputedly the biggest in the southern hemisphere is also located in this province, as is the biggest hand-dug mining excavation in the world, the 215m deep Big Hole of Kimberley.

The driest province in the country is also the most colourful when Namaqualand rolls out its massive carpet of spring flowers from late July until October, splashing the brown earth in a breathtaking and abundant display of oranges, purples, whites and yellows every year.