Journey over the edge

Photograph of Great Escarpment

Road descending Great Escarpment towards Graaff Reinet

One of the reasons Colesberg gets so cold is that it is so high, 1400m (around the height of Ben Nevis). The central plateau of Africa is all at a considerable altitude from Nairobi to Johannesburg. At some point, though, as one heads towards the coast one has to descend and in South Africa, this descent is usually quite sudden. The edge of this central plateau is known as the Great Escarpment.


Graph showing altitude profile of Great Escarpment

Altitudinal profile of Great Escarpment from Colesberg to Willowmore

I tracked my route today from Colesberg to Joubertina in the Langkloof. Below you can see an altitude record for my route. You will observe the the plateau gradually rose from Colesberg, with a slight dip around Middelburg, up to the high peak of the Lootsberg Pass at almost 1800m (the view from the top of the pass is shown above). This is the start of the great escarpment and over the next 70km it descends over 1000m to Graaff Reinet.


The Great Escarpment is South Africa’s largest geographical feature, extending from roughly Calvinia in the north-west through a sweeping arc to Graskop in the north-east. I shall rejoin the Great Escarpment again further east, where it forms its highest peaks, the Drakensberg Mountains. Indeed, the Drakensberg are not a mountain range as most people think of mountains but the edge of the escarpment. When you climb to the top of the Drakensberg Mountains, one does not get fantastic views all around, but only back over the KwaZulu-Natal foothills – in front of you stretches the uplands of Lesotho. But we will hear more about the Drakensberg later in the trip; tomorrow I am visiting the coastal valleys to search for the first species of Kniphofia to be discovered by Europeans, K. uvaria.


Brunsvigia in veld and giant millipede crossing road

Brunsvigia and giant millipede

Plant of the day: Brunsvigia – I spotted these balls of fiery red standing out in the otherwise drab veld. They are no less impressive when they go to seed, as the inflorescence breaks off and tumbles across the grassland distributing its seeds as it goes.

Bug of the day: Shongololo – that is the local name for these giant millipedes (Archispirostreptus gigas). I only spotted them on one particular stretch of road, but every 100m or so one would be making a “dash” to get across the road (or trying to get back again, I wasn’t quite sure). They are around the length of your hand, with shiny black bodies and bright orange feet.

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