30-Nov-2002 -- The four of us, Roland Elferink, Henning van Zyl, Barry and myself, left Johannesburg at about 07h30 on November 30, 2002 heading toward Lichtenburg in the North West province of South Africa. We had decided to find the confluence point of 26 degrees south and 26 degrees east – we were on a mission to find twenty-six, twenty-six.
Making sure we were well prepared
Barry had purchased the necessary maps (1:50,000) from the Government Printer and he already had a GPS device. We decided that it would be a fairly easy trip to leave Johannesburg, find the point 26S 26E and come back within a day.
Some research, however, revealed that the area was best known for its alluvial diamond diggings and conservative farmers with big guns. This combination, added to the fact that in recent years there had been a number of murderous attacks on farmers, meant that we had to be very sure we had permission to visit the farm. A few phone calls to Lichtenburg, the biggest town in the area, produced a phone number for Piet Dreyer, the owner of the farm "Elizabeth" – where the point 26S 26E is located. Mr. Dreyer said he would not be on his farm on Saturday, but his son would allow us access.
We arrived in Lichtenburg after an uneventful trip at about 10h15. We had a light breakfast at the local Wimpy to fortify ourselves ahead of the final approach, and headed north toward Bakerville, a tiny ghost village that had been the centre of a diamond rush in the late 1920s. Today Bakerville is nothing more than a couple of houses, a dilapidated general store and a few piles of rusty diamond mining equipment.
This somewhat morose town has some interesting links to two of our team members. Barry’s father had briefly owned a diamond-mining claim in the area. He had also dated the daughter of the Bakerville butcher some time in the forties.
Roland’s grandfather was a professional runner who staked claims for other people. In the early days of the Bakerville diamond rush, it was the custom for all men who wished to stake a claim to gather behind a starting line at an appointed time. A starter shot a gun into the air and the professional claim-stakers sprinted off with their pegs to mark out a claim. Roland says his grandfather was very fast.
We stopped to take a few photographs of the scrap heaps when a drunk, pot-bellied owner of the piles of rust accosted us. He was clearly very offended by our presence and presumed we were some sort of scrap yard spies. Four city boys taking photographs of his precious rust heaps was definitely very suspicious, so he slurred abuse at us until we left town.
Heading west from Bakerville on a sand road, we soon came to Grasfontein, an area held by a tribal trust of one of the Setswana people. The map indicated that we should leave the main sand road and proceed through the small Grasfontein village where the villagers eyed us warily, but the children appeared to be quite intrigued and even smiled for us when we paused briefly to take a picture of the Grasfontein store.
Leaving the village we drove along a very rocky, bumpy track past innumerable, abandoned diamond diggings. We were very happy to be in a Landrover because that track would have been impassable in a city car. It was already very hot and all we could see around us were thousands of piles of gravel next to shallow pits.
It was easy following the extremely accurate surveyors map that included every kink and twist of a pathway that had not been used in years. It was easy until we came to the end of the road. We discovered with much embarrassment, that the black line crossing the track on the map was in fact a barbed wire fence. We were still 3.5 kilometres short of our destination.
We considered leaving the air-conditioned Landrover and making the rest of the trip on foot, but a seven kilometre round trip in the blazing mid-day sun over fairly rough terrain was something we wanted to avoid if at all possible. It was around 35°C outside. A quick in-vehicle vote was called and a unanimous decision was passed to find another route through the Dreyer farm to 26S 26E.
We headed back to the tarred road, past enormous fields of dried out sunflowers and turned right onto another sand road as we approached the Thusong hospital. We drove along the well-maintained sand road for about eight kilometres until we came to the front gate of the Dreyer farm. The GPS indicated that we were about 3.7 kilometres from 26S 26E – this time from a completely different direction to the first approach.
The road to the farmhouse - just over three kilometres long – took us past some more diamond diggings, a few sheep pens and some confused looking Brahman cattle.The farmhouse was set in the centre of an unusually green part of the parched countryside as they had clearly pumped water from an underground source. The house, built of large stones from the area was quite small, and it must have been quite pretty before a three metre high fence was erected around it. Security was most definitely a serious problem for farmer Dreyer – all the doors and windows were protected with heavy-duty iron burglar bars, two fierce rottweilers patrolled inside the fence and several signs on the perimeter warned intruders to "Keep out". Perhaps the most intimidating warning of all was just outside the fence. As we waited for someone inside the house to hear us, we noticed numerous, spent shotgun cartridges scattered all over the lawn.
Nobody responded to our shouts and the rottweilers made such a noise that anyone in the vicinity would surely have known we were there, but there was no response from the fortified dwelling. Henning used his cell phone to call the farmhouse but no one responded. We presumed that the farmer must be out patrolling his vast lands, or perhaps he went to town to buy something.
We left the farmhouse and followed a new track towards the 26S 26E point. This new track appeared to be going in precisely the correct direction to help us reach our goal, so that after another three kilometres of very bumpy track, and going past several cattle pens we were within four hundred metres of the point. The track veered off to the right so we decide to test the Landrover for a few hundred metres until we came upon a barbed wire fence barely 250 metres from the confluence point.
We climbed through the barbed wires and easily walked to the place where the GPS said we had reached 26S 26E. We had reached our destination!!! Success at 12h22 in the blazing mid-day sun where the Garmin GPS told us the altitude was precisely 1485,9 metres above sea level.
It was just a flat piece of land with nothing but a few dried out thorn bushes in the vicinity. We built a small cairn to mark the spot and proceeded to take dozens of pictures of ourselves, of the GPS, of the cairn and everything else that could be seen from that spot. We also used our cell phones to call our respective wives and inform them of our achievement.
We noticed that a set of tyre tracks had actually driven over the spot not too long ago, so when we went back to the vehicle, we drove through some more cattle pens until we, too, were able to drive right up to the spot where the No. 26 lines converged.
Incredibly pleased with ourselves, we drove back to Lichtenburg, had a couple of beers and a burger, and returned to Johannesburg at about 17h30. It was 267 kilometres from 26S 26E back to Johannesburg.
Wildlife spotted on our journey:
- Many meerkate – a type of small mongoose
- Warthogs – on the farm "Elizabeth" we spotted two adults and three juveniles high tailing away from us
- Guinea fowl
- Tick birds (cattle egrets)
- Brahman cattle
- Two mean rottweilers
- Three donkeys (on the road near Grasfontein)
- Sheep and