South Africa’s Verneukpan – Where Deception Becomes Real

Verneuk means to deceive and swindle in the Afrikaans vernacular, which is a derivation of the Dutch. This is because the 57 kilometre (35 mi) long / 11 kilometres (7 mi) wide pan fills with shallow water during rare rainy seasons, but was often arid when settlers stopped by to feed their gasping flocks.

Driving to Verneukpan South Africa

The pan is in the parched South African Northern Cape, by African standards a short distance from the Square Kilometre Array. If you must drive along the dusty road that seems to last forever on your own, then hire a 4X4 off-roader with a puncture repair kit, powerful radio, extra water, and enough diesel fuel in the long-range tanks to get you there and back.

The Road to Verneukpan

Verneukpan South Africa: Verneukpan in the distance
Verneukpan in the Distance: Photo Ralph Malan /CC 2.0

A Dry and Arid Place

Not much appears to happen on the level, dry pan surface, although when good rains do occasionally come birds flock to the water in great numbers. Perhaps they have a collective memory when this was a huge lake along the lines of the Botswana Etosha Pan. Reality can be an illusion when you are thirsty, and mirages draw you on in hope.

Other pursuits draw humankind nowadays. Verneukpan is a good place to camp out under a canopy of stars and listen to the universe. Others challenge the wide-open spaces, blue skies, desert colours and deserted beauty on scrambler motorcycles. The genteel art of flying kites is safer.

This unforgiving place takes few prisoners and it is a long walk to Brandvlei (Burning Pan) ten kilometres. This is just as dry when no rain falls, although it did have a hotel with billiard table and pub when I was there.

Verneukpan South Africa: Verneukpan Pan
Not Another Puncture: Photo Ralph Malan / CC 2.0

Sir Malcolm Campbell’s Verneukpan Land Speed Record

Not much changes in Verneukpan South Africa except for tyre tracks. Some locals swear they know where Sir Malcolm Campbell left his in 1929, when he achieved a land speed record in his Blue Bird 2. But they won’t tell, because those left by curious sightseers would soon obliterate them. There are no fences here and few controls.

Campbell achieved 212 miles per hour (341 km/h) before the sharp stones claimed his last precious set of tyres brought from England over 13,000 kilometres / 8,125 miles away. I know Mercedes, Audi and BMW drivers who go faster on their autobahns. Would they be brave enough to attempt the same on Verneukpan, I wonder?

Verneukpan South Africa: Blue Bird
Blue Bird Arrives in Cape Town for Record Bid: Photo Powerhouse Museum Collection /  Open Source

About Richard Farrell

Richard FarrellI tripped over a shrinking bank balance and fell into the writing gig unintentionally. This was after I escaped the corporate world and searched in vain for ways to become rich on the internet by doing nothing. Despite the fact that writing is no recipe for wealth, I rather enjoy it. I will deny I am obsessed with it when I have the time.My base is Umtentweni in South Africa on the Kwazulu-Natal South Coast (30.7167° S, 30.4667° E). I work from home where I ponder on the future of the planet, and what lies beyond in the great hereafter. Sometimes I step out of my computer into the silent riverine forests, and empty golden beaches for which the area is renowned.

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