A new wind farm has been taking shape at Gouda in the Drakenstein Municipality of the Western Cape.
When Lynnette and I recently went to Porterville for the stargazing event at the Porterville Golfclub, organized by Nathalie Wagenstroom from the Porterville Tourism Office, I hadn’t been out that way for quite some time. I was therefore surprised to find that a new wind farm had sprouted up to the right of the R44 just past where it crosses the railway line.
This wind farm will consist of forty-six 100 m towers each carrying a 3 MW Acciona wind-power turbine so that the site can produce 138 MW at full capacity. The construction started in 2013 and was scheduled for completion in 2014 with the power being delivered to a 132 kV distribution network at the Windmeul substation near Wellington. Go here to read more about the project in the August edition of Engineering News. You will find a comprehensive overviewof the project as summarized in the August 2013 NERSA public hearings. There is more information here on the webpage of Energy4Africa. Driving past there it was clear that they are way behind schedule.
The Gouda Wind Facility is the first wind farm in South Africa to use concrete towers. Steel towers are imported while concrete towers can be manufactured locally. Another advantage is that one can build taller towers, up to 120 m, at a reduced energy cost. The wind farm at Hopefield consists of thirty-seven, 95 m steel towers each carrying a 1.78 MW turbine from the Danish firm Vestas. The installation will produce 66 MW at full capacity. Go here to read about the installation in the May 2014 edition of Engineering News.
The Gouda installation was erected by Acciona Energy and Aveng while Sarens supplied the equipment to transport and lift the various sections of the towers as well as the turbine blades and the turbines. At full capacity Gouda will supply enough power for 146 000 low income homes or 60 000 medium income homes.
Each blade of the three-blade turbine is 50 m long and the pitch of the blades is increased as wind speed drops to increase the torque and maintain the rotation speed. If the wind speed increases the pitch will be decreased to reduce the torque. At wind speeds of around 20 m/s at the hub height (that is around 70 km/h) the turbines are shut down. In rural areas the turbine blades are required to generate no more than 35 decibels of sound which is classified as less noise than a normal conversation.
When one sees these turbine blades rotating they always look as if they are in slow motion. A bit of mathematics reveals that if the rotor is turning at 10 revolutions per minute the tips of those 50 m long blades are travelling at over 180 km/h. Low flying birds cannot judge the speed of those rotor tips correctly and, because the rotors taper, the tips are far less visible than the sections closer to the hub, so they fly into them, with fatal results. This is especially the case for large, slow birds like geese, pelicans, cranes and storks. Raptors tend to be watching for prey on the ground so they also often fall foul of the blades. From an environmental perspective, it is important that wind farms should not be built on the migration routes of these birds, or in areas where they congregate to feed or breed.
National Science Week in 2014 took place from the 02nd to the 08th of August. Before that event could take place there was a lot to do. Lots of planning and discussions, lots of paperwork to be sorted, equipment to be hired, telephone calls to be made, e-mails to be sent and frayed nerves soothed because the money from SAASTA was not forthcoming. But eventually, all the loose ends came together and we could go and get the job done.
Sunday the 03rd of August
On Sunday the 03rd of August Lynnette, Petro, Snorre and I drove to Somerset West in the hired Quantum with a large trailer. National Science Week, 2014 had kicked of for us. Petro was going to house-sit Auke’s Aunt, will the rest of us did our National Science Week thing on the West Coast. After unloading Petro and her belongings we loaded Auke and his paraphernalia, said our goodbyes, and hit the road. We did not take the N7, as we wanted to avoid the road works between Citrusdal and Clanwilliam. We could have avoided them by taking the road along the northern bank of the Olifant’s River, but that road is unsurfaced and apparently quite bad in places, so we opted for the slightly longer West Coast route. This took us past Malmesbury, Hopefield, Langebaanweg, Saldanha, Velddrif, Laaiplek, Dwarskersbos, Elandsbaai, Leipoldtville and Graafwater. We reached our destination, Clanwilliam and the Long House Guest House, our base for the next six days.
Monday the 04th of August
On Monday the 04th of August it was cloudy and rainy but luckily we could set up in the hall of the Clanwilliam Senior Secondary School, courtesy of the principal, Mr Munnik. The program for the day was very well coordinated by one of the teachers, Mrs, Cornel de Waal. We had loads of learners from the host school and from the Sederberg Primary School right next door, where Mr Barends is the principal. Mr Nel, the principal at the Augsberg Agricultural Gymnasium, also arranged to have a large number of learners from his school visit us. Several of the educators from the various schools accompanied their learners. Snorre’s contribution was to undertake several parades around the school hall and spend time on the table amongst the hand-outs, having his head scratched by all and sundry. However, for most of the day he was quite happy snoozing in his carry-cage.
After the end of the normal school day we had a steady stream of learners who lived close to the school or in the school hostel, as well as members of the public visit us. Although we were on site until well after sunset, the weather never cleared up sufficiently to justify setting up a telescope. It actually started drizzling right on cue as we started loading our stuff back in the vehicle.
The team will always have fond memories of the Clanwilliam Senior Secondary’s hospitality. The lunch and other refreshments provided were life savers for the presenters.
Tuesday the 05th of August
On Tuesday the 05th of August we had an early breakfast and then set of in the rain and predawn darkness northward on the N7 to Klawer. This section of the N7 is also under reconstruction, or as SANRAL calls it, rehabilitation. We arrived at Klawer Primary School and the principal, Mr Esterhuise, showed us to the class where we could set up for the day. It rained on and off while we were unloading making it very difficult to keep things dry and not to tread mud into the classroom. The school kept a steady stream of learners coming all day and in most cases they were accompanied by their educators too. During the afternoon and early evening we had more learners, their parents and also other members of the public visit us. Snorre again made one or two appearances as “The Cat on the Table”. He also took a walk around the school grounds on his leash with Lynnette but spent most of the day in his carry-cage, which he seems to prefer when there is a lot of activity around him.
We set up a telescope late in the afternoon, when the weather looked as if it might clear, and actually managed to project the Moon for short periods before the rain sent us scurrying indoors and convinced us we should pack up and call it a day.
Negotiating the N7, which, as already mentioned, was in rehab, in the dark was not fun but we eventually made it back to Clanwilliam and the Long House where we unhitched the trailer and then had a well-earned supper before going to bed.
Wednesday the 06th of August
Wednesday the 06th of August started with a repeat performance of the previous day, as we again headed north up the N7, but this time past Klawer and on to Vredendal and the Vredendal Primary School. The only difference was that we started out so early that we had to skip breakfast, which was a major inconvenience. At the school the principal, Mr Moon, had arranged for us to use the school hall and also had extra hands lined up to help us unload. We had a very busy day with a constant stream of learners and educators from our host school as well as leaners from Vredendal High School, courtesy of the principal Mr Swanepoel, and also from Vredendal Senior Secondary School thanks to the principal, Mrs Henderson’s efforts. We also had a visit from the SAASTA representative, Me Lithakazi Lande, who had driven up from Cape Town the previous day. Unbeknown to either party she had spent the night at the Yellow Aloe Guest House which is right next door to the Long House. A major difference was that she started later than we did so she could have breakfast before tackling the N7. She, however, also complained about having had to negotiate the road works on the N7 between Citrusdal and Clanwilliam the previous day, justifying our use of the West Coast route. Lithakazi left before lunch as she had a long drive down to Vredenburg ahead of her and I gave her a detailed description of our route so that she could avoid the dreaded N7 between Clanwilliam and Citrusdal. . Unfortunately the partially overcast weather and especially the high level cirrus clouds made the projection of the Sun impractical. Snorre only made one or two forays out of his cage to eat, drink water and use his sandbox but, other than that, seemed disinclined to spend time outside the cage. Fortunately he was not registered with SAASTA as a presenter otherwise we would have had to deduct form his pay for non-performance.
During the afternoon we had a few visitors but we also had to share the hall with a dance group practicing their moves – very loudly!
That evening we had a good attendance of parents and other members of the public and we were also able to project the Moon as well as show a variety of other objects through the second telescope. After closing up we again had to run the gauntlet of the N7, its rehabilitation, the darkness and the seemingly never ending stream of heavy vehicles, before we could get to Clanwilliam, supper, a cold beer and a welcoming bed.
Thursday the 07th of August
Thursday the 07th of August was a much easier and shorter drive after breakfast to Graafwater, where we were to set up at Graafwater Primary School. Mr Pieters, the principal, was on hand to welcome us and organize the willing hands that helped us unload. That morning we saw many learners and educators from the host school as well as learners and educators from Graafwater High School, organized my Mr Koertse, the principal there. During the afternoon we were visited by numerous children from the nearby residential areas. Late in the afternoon we unfortunately had to call in the help of the principal as the children became difficult to control. There was an altercation involving sticks, stones, lots of shouting, climbing on the roof, running around and at least one knife. The problem was caused by two groups of older youths that arrived at the school and appeared to be competing for control of the younger children. Snorre seemed more amenable to sitting on the table in Graafwater, but quickly took refuge in his cage when the attention becomes too demanding.
Later in the afternoon Mr Pieters brought along his telescope, which was malfunctioning, and, much to his delight, we quickly set that right for him. It was more an operator malfunction than a telescope malfunction as he was using a 4mm eyepiece with a 3xBarlow and was totally mystified by the fact that he could not get anything into focus. After the telescope “repairs” we got busy with the evening’s proceedings. We projected the moon and could show a variety of other objects to a large group of people through the second telescope while Auke took people on visual expeditions through the night sky. After packing up, it was an easy drive back to Clanwilliam for all the usual rewards after a rather stressful day.
Friday the 08th August
Friday the 08th August saw us setting up on the premises of the Sandveld Winkel in Leipoldtville, courtesy of Mr Dirk Eygelaar and Mrs Marie Eygelaar. The site was a stone’s throw away from the Leipoldtville Primary School and the principal, Ms Hammers, had everything organized so that the educators could bring the learners to us in groups during the course of the day. We broke for a light lunch with the Eygelaars and during the afternoon many children from the nearby residential areas visited us. During the evening we had a good attendance by members of the public, who came to look at our moon projection and view other objects through the other telescope while Auke did his thing with the sky tours. Snorre had the day off, because he was able to spend the entire day stretched out on an easy chair in the Eygelaar’s home, far away from the attention of those eager little hands.
Unfortunately the clouds moved in early and put an end to our show. After supper with Mr and Mrs Eygelaar we set of to Clanwilliam and a very welcome night’s rest.
Saturday the 09th of August
On Saturday the 09th of August we set up in front of the Clanwilliam Tourism Office. This was going to be a long day of real sidewalk astronomy with lots of feet passing from the residential areas to the town’s shopping area and back again. Unfortunately a technical hitch prevented us from projecting the Sun but we were able to project the Moon, from shortly after moonrise in the late afternoon. A great deal of interest was shown in actually viewing the objects through the other telescope.
Sometimes things happen during outreach events that make one wonder about people’s motivations and the following is one such incident. One lady left in a huff after spending quite some time in the queue waiting for her turn to look through the telescope. When she got to the telescope, and before looking through the eyepiece, she asked where the food was. On being informed there was no food, she turned on her heel and marched off, announcing that if there was no food she also did not want to look through the telescope. Apparently some people do not see well on an empty stomach, so next year we will have to budget for soup and sandwiches – SAASTA please take note. Snorre again spent the whole day with us, but in a non-participative capacity snoozing in his cage under the table most of the time. He asked to be let out on one or two occasions for food water and also to use his sandbox, but showed no interest whatsoever in sitting on the table. I think the noise from the passing traffic was not to his liking.
A special word of thanks goes to Esther Steens and her staff at the Tourism Office. They stayed on several hours beyond their normal closing time, so that we could have electricity for the projection and to make their toilet facilities available.
Sunday the 10th August
On Sunday the 10th August we had a leisurely breakfast, said goodbye to René and her staff in the kitchen at the Long House, who had so willingly supplied the early eggs and bacon and especially the coffee every morning. After breakfast we packed up and headed down the West Coast back to Cape Town. Unfortunately the crayfish for lunch did not materialize but maybe next year we can fit that in. After exchanging Auke for Petro in Somerset West we drove back to Brackenfell, where Lynnette and I set about the onerous task of unpacking, putting everything away and returning the Quantum and trailer to the hiring company. Snorre was very glad to be back home and free of his leash and harness.
On Monday the 11th of August we started the huge administrative task of preparing the final report and the financial report. One of the difficult and often delicate tasks is to get the schools to complete and send us the final documentation required by SAASTA. Some just don’t send, others send but don’t complete, while others supply information that does not match what we already have about the visit and poor Lynnette has volunteered for the task of sorting all this out.
Will we do it again next year? Maybe but only time will tell.
Field trip with Dr Juri van den Heever and the honours students from the Department of Botany & Zoology at the University of Stellenbosch. 17 – 22 March 2014
This is a diary of the six day event with lots of pictures to illustrate the text. I must first give some background about the tour and its origins to put all readers in the picture. Juri van den Heever, the architect of the tour, moved from the South African Museum to the Department of Zoology at Stellenbosch in 1987. In 1988 he took the first of these tours as part of the Honours course and has been taking them ever since. I had been with the Department of Biochemistry at Stellenbosch University since 1985 and, as Juri and I had been at school together, we were able to renew our friendship when he came to Stellenbosch. This led to him asking me if I would like to participate in the tours and fill in on the Biochemistry of plants as well as some other aspects. The tour provides the students with information on Geology, Vertebrate anatomy, Palaeontology, Plants and plant usage, Insects, Birds, Ecology of the areas visited, History, Culture, Geography, Astronomy and, last but not least, the opportunity to participate in discussions on science in general and the philosophy of science and being a scientist.
So, from around 1994 or so, we have been in this together, although I skipped one or two due to pressure of work at Biochemistry or some other immovable commitment. Over the years we have also taken members of the public, high school learners and fellow colleagues at the University on these tours, whenever there have been seats open in the vehicles. These “outsiders” have very often made valuable contributions to the range and depth of the topics touched on during the tour. One interesting feature of these trips over the years has been the large number of our University colleagues who have annually committed themselves very enthusiastically to participate in the next trip only to pull out at the last minute. This year we had 14 students from the Department of Botany and Zoology and one member of the public, Peter Müller, a retired Wood Technologist.
Monday 17th March
Just after 06:30 on Monday the 17th of March, Lynnette dropped me off at the University’s vehicle park where Juri was already inspecting the two Toyotas and completing the paperwork. We hooked on the two trailers and shortly before 07:00 we were parked outside the Department and the students could begin to load their gear, the supplies and other equipment for the week. Shortly after 07:00 Juri gave the first briefing and then we embarked and headed out of Stellenbosch toward the West Coast Fossil Park near Langebaanweg. Our route took us through Malmesbury, which has a tepid, sulphur chloride spring that once attracted many ailing Capetonians to a Sanatorium that was built there. A shopping centre now covers the site.
After turning off the N7 onto the R45, our route took us across the undulating hills of weathered Malmesbury shale that form the wheat fields of the Swartland (Black Land), These were once covered in Renosterbos (Elytropappus rhinocerotis), which is the signature plant on weathered shale and mudstone throughout our area. Its dark colouring, when seen from a distance, was probably the origin of the name Swartland. Once past the Moorreesburg turnoff, the countryside gradually changed to alluvial sand covered in restios interspersed with small and medium sized shrubs. Just after the small settlement of Koperfontein we passed the brand new 66 MW Hopefield wind farm owned by Umoya Energy. The farm became operational in February 2014 and develops sufficient energy to power 70 000 low-income homes or 29 000 medium-income homes, when the wind blows. Go here to read a short article on this wind farm.
The R45 bypasses the town of Hopefield, a fact which has turned the town into a virtual ghost town. Between Hopefield and the Air Force Base at Langebaanweg, the markers of the pipeline bringing water to the West Coast from Voëlvlei dam can be seen at intervals on one’s right and, shortly after Langebaanweg, we turned off the R45 into the Park. The Park was originally a Chemfos phosphate mine, but after the closure of the mine in 1993, it was declared a National Monument Site in 1996. The Park, now covering about 700ha, was officially launched in 1998. It is currently under the control of the Iziko Museums of Cape Town, and is managed by Pippa Haarhoff. It has recently been declared a National Heritage Site. The following site gives more information on the Park. The fossils date back about 5.2 million years to the late Miocene/early Pliocene era. Go here for more information on this exceptional area. After some refreshments at the visitors centre we got back into the vehicles and followed the guide, Wendy Wentzel, down to the dig site.
The dig site is in the old ‘E’ Quarry area and displays an astounding array of fossils. Wendy ran us through an informative description of the various animals found at the site, the conditions thought to have existed when the animals died and the methods used to uncover the fossils. The majority of the bones visible seem to be those of the short-necked giraffe or Sivathere but there is evidence of wales, seals, various elephants and different sabre toothed cats as well. The only bear south of the Sahara was also found at the Park in the smaller dig site adjacent to the larger one visited by the general public. Shark teeth found here are evidence for the existence of a behemoth that would have dwarfed the infamous cinematic Jaws. After the talk we moved outside to the sorting trays where everyone had a go at finding the fossil remains of the smaller animals such as mice, frogs and moles. Then back to the vehicles to return to the visitors centre for a quick bite to eat, something to drink and a visit to the essential amenities before departing on the next leg of our journey.
We retraced or route past Hopefield and shortly after Koperfontein we turned left to Moorreesburg. On that stretch of road we had an excellent view of the ancient termite mounds or “heuweltjies” that give the fields such a lumpy appearance. These mounds were already alluded to by the 18th century Astronomer and Geodesist, Nicolas-Louis De La Caille. Go here to read the section in Dr. Ian Glass’s book on De la Caille. For a more recent and scientific coverage of the topic you can go here to read an article published by the Department of Soil Science at the University of Stellenbosch. We passed through Moorreesburg which considers itself the “heart” of the Swartland wheat industry and actually boasts a wheat industry museum, one of only three in the world.
We then headed for the twin towns of Riebeek West and Riebeek Kasteel. Just outside the former we passed the cement factory of PPC (Pretoria Portland Cement) where one can visit the restored house in which General Jan Christian Smuts was born. Smuts, educated at the Victoria College, later the University of Stellenbosch, and Christ’s College at Cambridge University, went on to become State Attorney of the Transvaal Republic, a successful general in the Anglo-South African War and eventually Prime minister of South Africa. Daniel Francois Malan, the first Prime Minister to actively apply the basic principles of institutionalized apartheid after the 1948 elections, was also born in Riebeek West. These two towns lie on the slopes of the Kasteelberg. From these two towns one has a sweeping view of the Northward tending arm Cape Fold Mountains from the Limietberg behind Wellington through the Winterhoek west of Tulbagh and on into the Cederberg where the peak of Cederberg Sneeukop can just be made out.
We left Kasteelberg behind, crossed the Berg River and just after passing the hamlet of Hermon, we turned left on the R46. Our route took us past the blockhouse that once guarded the railway line during the Anglo-South African war and then Voëlvlei dam, one of the major sources of water for Cape Town and the West Coast before passing into Nuwekloof through which the Little Berg River exits on its way to join the Berg River several kilometers beyond the village of Gouda. In 1739 the head and right hand of the infamous Estiénne Barbier were placed in this area after his execution as a gruesome warning to anyone contemplating an uprising against the VOC. In Nuwekloof one can still see the dry stone wall supporting Andrew Bain’s road which was in use for more than a hundred years until it was replaced by the present road in 1968. The road then passes into the Land of Wavern, south of Tulbagh and heads up the valley of the Little Berg river with the Witzenberg rising on the left and, on the right, the Elandsberg which is replaced by the Watervalsberg once one has crossed the watershed at Artois. It then swings to the left, passing North of Wolesely and shortly afterward entering Michell’s Pass.
In Michell’s Pass we stopped on the only section of Andrew Bain’s road that has been preserved. Out came the tables and food and, while a light lunch was enjoyed, Juri spoke at length about Bain, the founding of the town of Ceres and the true origins of the town’s name as well as the tremendous importance of the pass at the time it was constructed. After lunch we packed up before inspecting the impressive dry stone walls of the old road and then drove the last bit of the pass into Ceres where we filled up with fuel and everyone had an opportunity to visit a small supermarket. Our next stop was the pharmacy to so that Benjamin could buy medication for the Otitis Media he had developed. We finally left Ceres heading for Eselfontein, the farm of Gideon and Janine Malherbe where we would look for fossils in a quarry and spend the night in their Ecocamp. Driving out to the farm the road ran across extensive beds of Bokkeveld sediments with the Skurweberg’s younger sandstone layers sloping down under them from our right. In the distance on our left were the cliffs of Gydoberg and the Waboomsberg rising high above the northern edge of the Ceres valley.
We spent time in the quarry giving everyone the opportunity to experience the thrill of finding a fossil. That special feeling when you crack open the rock and see it, knowing you are not only the first human but the only human to ever have seen the creature that has been entombed in the sediment for several hundred million years. Many shell imprints were found from a variety of families as well as several fragments of trilobites. The prize find of the afternoon was Benjamin’s trilobite. Fairly late in the afternoon we packed up and drove up the fairly rigged road to the Ecocamp where we unpacked and set about preparing supper. Benjamin and Dale did their first of several stints at the fire on the trip, grilling the chicken to perfection. Benjamin’s approach is that he would rather cook every evening than wash dishes. Juri, Claire and Sheree’s potato salad went down very well too. Unforeseen problems with the water supply meant that we all had to wash in the adjacent mountain stream. There was very little interest in astronomy as most people were pretty tired after the long day but, nevertheless, the Moon, just one day past full moon, rising behind the pine forest made quite a spectacular site.
Tuesday 18th March
At 07:00 Juri started the day by getting everybody up and moving in the direction of breakfast after which we packed up, packed everything into the vehicles and the trailers and set off on the first leg of day two. This entailed a short drive in the direction of Lakenvlei dam, then past Matroosberg to Okkie Geldenhuys’s farm Matjiesrivier, where we collected our annual allocation of peaches. With the sandstone of the Cape fold mountains behind us, but still standing on Bokkeveld sediments, the view to the north of the farm gave us our first view of the Witteberg sediments.
Shortly after leaving the farm we picked up the R46 again and headed East toward the N1 and our first fossil stop of the day near the game farm Aquila. On the way there we passed Verkeerdevlei, the original water supply for Touws River and a forlorn looking Dakota aircraft parked amongst some scraggy looking pines in a military training area. About 300m before reaching Aquila, we pulled over and got out to look for Zoophycos, one of the few fossils one finds readily in the Witteberg sediments. After finding some examples and making sure everyone knew what it looked like we departed. As we drove away, we had a good view of Aquila’s huge automated solar energy installation that produces 60 kW of electricity by means of a Concentrator Photovoltaic system. The area around the solar panels also houses the lion rehabilitation pens as a deterrent to would be thieves. This system forms part of an eventual 50 MW installation currently under construction. Go here to read more about this exciting installation.
Our next stop was Touws River for acquiring refreshments and use of the amenities and then we were off again headed for the Logan Cemetery on the N1. Although the mountains around us were all Witteberg deposits, we were soon driving on the frist of the Ecca deposits and about 10 km north of the town the first patch of Dwyka tillite, a glacial deposit, appeared to the left of the road. Also fairly abundant along the N1 was the yellowish Kraalbos (Galena Africana), a pioneer shrub that takes over in disturbed or overgrazed areas. It can, however, proliferate to the point where it suppresses the regrowth of other plants. As we progressed in the direction of Matjiesfontein, we saw more and more Dwyka tillite on either side of the road and the Witteberg Mountains to the south also became more and more prominent. When parked at the Logan cemetery one can see good examples of Ecca, Witteberg and Dwyka.
On the way to Sutherland we took note of the various sizes of the drop-stones in the cuttings through the Dwyka tillite and also pointed out the various outcrops of the Whitehill Formation, a distinctive stratigraphic unit near the base of the Ecca group and stressed its importance as a repository of Mesosaurus, fish and insect fossils from the early Permian. As we progressed northward we crossed the Collingham Formation, a section of volcanic ash and eventually arrived amongst the Beaufort or Karoo sediments which were deposited on land by huge meandering rivers in a gigantic basin that stretched right across the present day South Africa. At a deep cutting about one km after crossing the Tanqua River, we stopped to look at the exposed mudstone and sandstone beds so typical of the Karoo sediments and also to explain to the students how the early Karoo Basin was filled in.
In Sutherland we visited Mr Eddie Marais, who in his youth had the privilege of collecting with Dr L. D. Boonstra. Mr Marais has a collection of artefacts that Juri used to explain to the students what they could expect in the field the following day and how to distinguish between calciferous nodules and actual bone. He also took the opportunity to discuss the development of the Karoo fauna and explained the gradual transition of true reptiles to mammal-like reptiles and later to true mammals which could be observed in the fossil record of the Karoo sediments. After enjoying the refreshments graciously supplied by Mrs Marais, we left to refuel the vehicles.
On our way to Fraserburg we passed the SAAO site where SALT and all the other South African telescopes are situated. On arrival at Fraserburg, we unloaded and Karin showed us to our rooms and as soon as the children in the hostel had left the dining hall, we moved into the kitchen to prepare supper. The end result of the kitchen team was a delicious pasta dish. After supper there was some astronomy discussion with various members of the group and most of the group went to bed in preparation for a long day on Wednesday.
Wednesday 19th March
We were in the dining room shortly after eight to have breakfast and then we set off for the local museum which is housed in the old Pastorie of the Dutch Reformed Church. The very friendly person in charge of the museum, Don Pedro Malan welcomed us at the museum and Juri set about giving a detailed explanation of the fossils on display. His explanation also covered the development of the various groups of animals that had been present in the Karoo basin during the period when it was filling up. After his talk everyone had the opportunity to look more closely at the fossil display and look around the museum in general before we set of to Droogvoetsfontein, where we met up with Mr Pieter Conradie. We all piled onto and into his pickup for a trip into the veld and then back to our vehicles which Juri and I then drove to the next stop while Pieter ferried the students there. Juri and I then rejoined the crowd on the pickup for the trip to where he had found a fossil, or at least bits of a fossil. As with many of the fossils in the Karoo lying exposed on the surface the elements take their toll and this one had not fared any better. All that was left, were a few scraps of nondescript bone not worth collecting and the surroundings also suggested that these had probably washed in from elsewhere in any case. Back on the pickup and back to the vehicles for a short drive before we dispersed in all directions to look for the elusive fossils. After about two hours I had found some pieces of rib bone and others had found another badly weathered fossil on the slope of a hill.
Back to the vehicles and off we went to Pieter’s farm, Dagbreek, where we prepared a light lunch in the shade of a tree. The new-born lambs were an immediate hit with the students. After lunch we set off again, but this time with Pieter on his motorcycle leading the way. After an interesting drive, we arrived at the next farm, Onderplaas, disembarked and set off on foot down a riverbed with scattered pools of water and muddy patches amongst the grass to trap the unwary. What was left of this fossil was still firmly embedded in the rock, but most of it had been worn away by the perennial flooding of the river. Disappointed we trudged back to the farmyard, said our goodbyes and set off for our next contact, also Pieter Conradie, the son of the first Pieter Conradie. He and his wife Marisa were waiting at the appointed place with their three lively children and our prickly pears. Pieter excitedly led us up a hill to look at his fossil, which unfortunately turned out to be a collection of calciferous nodules; his disappointment was quite tangible.
Our group did a quick recce, found nothing and then set off after Pieter Jnr for refreshments at his farm Middelfontein a few kilometres down the road. Refreshments, in addition to cool drinks, consisted of chilled prickly pears, ice cream and various delicious liqueurs to be used as toppings. I, for one, made an absolute pig of myself with the prickly pears and ate 50 of them! After some small talk with the Pieter and his wife and their three cats, we said goodbye and headed back to Fraserberg, anxious to get there before the shops closed as the beer supply was running low. We rounded the day off with a congenial braai, once again executed by Dale and Benjamin in a masterly fashion. We did some astronomy too for those who were interested and then went to bed.
Thursday 20th March
Today is the autumn equinox when the sun is exactly over the equator on its way north and the day and night should be the same length. It also signals the start of autumn in the Southern Hemisphere and spring in the Northern Hemisphere. These facts did not really seem to impress anyone, so I didn’t push the matter. Anyway, we were packed up and finished with breakfast shortly after eight – at least most of us were! Then we set out on the Williston road to the palaeosurface on the farm Gansefontein. It is very sad to see the systematic deterioration of this site when we visit it every year. All Coenie De Beer’s efforts since he took a month’s unpaid leave from the Geological Survey in Pretoria 25 years ago and came down here on his motorcycle to map and measure the then freshly exposed surface, have been in vein. Well, not quite in vain, because an insurance company donated money to put a fence around the site and put up a notice board. What is really needed is a building to cover the existing site and money to uncover more of the surface around the existing site, but as things stand now, the non-preservation of this site is actually a disgrace for South Africa.
After the visit to the Palaeosurface we made a quick stop for biltong and dried sausage and then set off down the R356 toward the Theekloof Pass and our next destination. Theekloof Pass is potentially one of the most spectacular passes, if not in the country, then most certainly in the Western Cape Province. After the obligatory stop for photos half way down, we continued our descent into the lower regions of the Karoo. The pass also affords one an unprecedented view of the layered nature of the Karoo sediments with their alternating sandstone and mudstone layers, broken by dolerite sills and dykes in many places. Upon arrival at Rooiheuwel, the farm of Flip and Marge Vivier, we were enthusiastically welcomed by the Jack Russels and an overzealous Boxer before being taken inside for a welcome cool drink. Once that was done, we set off to look at a fossil on a neighbouring farm, which was “just around the corner”. Those of you who do not know the Karoo, should beware as this phrase could mean anything from 15 to, as we have experienced, 40 or more kilometres.
When we finally stopped and disembarked, Flip indicated that the fossil was “just over there”, pointing at a fairly distant hill on the other side of a dry riverbed, so of we went, The fossil was also a disappointment. Almost definitely a Pareiasaurus, but apparently lying on its left side with the tail, pelvic girdle, right limbs and ribs all missing. The head was very probably also no longer there, so we decided to leave it there to continue its losing battle with time and erosion. Back to the vehicles and to Rooiheuwel for a quick lunch and then a short drive to a place where we could get into the veldt to look for fossils again. Once again no luck, so we drove off to explore for likely fossil sites. One problem on this farm is that the vegetation cover is quite dense and the potential fossil areas are well hidden until you are right on top of them and finding traces of bone would then be doubly difficult too. We returned to the farm, said goodbye and drove to Merweville, our overnight stop. Juri’s vehicle was running low on fuel so he drove quite slowly to conserve what he had, but eventually we got there.
At Huis Mervia, the local school hostel, we unloaded and Juri set off to find the local parson of the Dutch Reformed Church, who had promised the group could go up into the church tower and out onto the catwalk to admire the view. He found him and off they went. In the meantime, the braai-maestros were getting the fire ready for their next culinary tour de force. As an entrée, we had slices of bread from two huge farm loaves baked by Mrs Blom, the hostel matron, and then it was Karoo lamb a la Dale and Benjamin, with onions and butternut wrapped in tin foil and grilled to perfection on the fire. Some astronomy after supper and then most of us turned in for the night.
Friday 21st March
It was a public holiday which we assumed would not affect us, but it eventually did. I went into town to refuel my vehicle, came back and had breakfast before we packed up and left to visit our fossil on Hendrik Botes’s farm Jakhalsfontein, which is spelt oddly as you can see. Juri thinks the fossil might actually be on Vaalleegte and we should really resolve the discrepancy someday. En route we passed the turnoff to the tragic Englishman’s grave, but that story will have to wait. Once on the farm, we unhooked the trailers for the long drive to our fossil dig site where we have been letting successive groups of students systematically excavate, what we hope is a fairly complete Pareiasaurus. It is quite a long walk from where we park the vehicles, but once there, we rotated and some hacked away with hammers while others scoured the area for other fossils. About two hours of hacking away and Juri decided to call it a day and head back to the vehicles. Eventually everyone was back and aboard so we could turn round, drive back, hook up the trailers go to an unoccupied house further down the road and his house is definitely on Jakhalsfontein. We had lunch on the veranda or, as it is called locally, the stoep. During the lunch break, some quinces were picked under Juri’s expert tutelage so we could have stewed quinces and cream for dessert that evening.
After lunch we made a quick stop at the café in Prince Albert Road and an essential pit stop for some members of the group before hitting the N1 and heading south to Laingsburg. This took us out of the Karoo sediments and onto the Ecca which were laid down just offshore in huge estuaries. We arrived at Laingsburg to find the liquor store open, but the supermarket closed so we had beer but no cream and we also needed sour cream for the potjiekos Dale was going to prepare for supper. We checked some of the other obvious possibilities for cream and sour cream, but none produced the goods. So we drove to the sports fields where we were going to spend the night in the clubhouse and, after unloading, I went and investigated one more possible source for the cream and sour cream, but that also turned out to be a dead end. Dale had found ways to improvise his way around the sour cream, but the prospects looked grim for the stewed quinces.
It is a pity the Flood Museum commemorating the disastrous flood of 1981 was closed as I would have liked the students to see it. If you visit Laingsburg pay the museum a visit and then drive down to the railway bridge, get out of your car and stand under the bridge. When you look up consider the fact that, on that fateful day, the water was lapping the rails on top of the bridge before the embankment at the eastern end gave way. Just for a moment consider the entire valley filled to that depth with churning, muddy water. It is a chilling thought I can assure you.
Dale’s potjiekos and rice was excellent. Actually it wasn’t, it was superb! After lots of philosophical discussions, there was some down to earth stuff too, we tidied up and went to bed. As I was having the last conversation with Juri, before we finally went to bed, he remembered that he had forgotten to cook the quinces. I had actually wondered about this after supper, but assumed the lack of cream was to blame.
Saturday 22nd March
While gathering the troops, it turned out that rather than make their own breakfast, everyone was in favour of picking up coffee and whatever from the local Wimpy and heading south as quickly as possible. A few kilometres outside Laingsburg, we crossed into the ancient lake basin again and could clearly see the tell-tale white slopes on either side of the road. Before long we encountered the first of the Dwyka tillite and shortly after that, the Witteberg Mountains came into sight on our left. Just before Touws River we encountered the first of several stop-and-go sections where the National Roads Agency was undertaking extensive road works all the way down to the Hex River Pass. Topping the rise just before the farm Kleinstraat, we had a good view of Aquila’s second solar farm with 1 500 panels, being built by the French firm, Soitec, which was nearing completion. The installation will provide 50 MW (peak DC) power and provide a 36 MW AC output to the local grid. This makes it one of the largest plants of its kind in the world. Go here to read more about the installation about the installation. You can also go to this link for more information.
From this point we were on the Bokkeveld shale again and, as we navigated the Hex Pass and skirted De Doorns and Orchard, we moved further and further into the sandstone layers of the earlier deposits. By the time we exited the Hex River Valley we had left the Bokkeveld behind us and the sandstone layers towered high above our heads. Shortly after leaving the Hex River Valley, we pulled into the De Wet Cooperative Winery where we traditionally stopped to sample their Muscadels and Ports. Just across the road from the winery was an impressive hill of Malmesbury shale lifted upward by the rising magma millions of years ago. As the magma cooled and formed granite, the heat baked the otherwise fairly crumbly shale into a hard metamorphic rock the geologists call Hornfels. This is mined in a quarry on the Worcester side of the hill and produces the blue-grey chips ubiquitously used in road making.
From De Wet we took a back road via Nonna, Overhex and Aan de Doorns to Eilandia and the quarry where we hoped to find more insect fossils and perhaps a fish or too and just maybe a Mesosaurus. At the quarry Juri and I were somewhat concerned by the fact that there had been considerable excavation since our last visit, and access to the specific section that usually produced the insects, was quite precarious; in fact rather dangerous. Apart from Juri having a rather nasty fall, it all went well. We came away with several Notocaris imprints, a fantastic leaf imprint thanks to Robyn and section of Mesosaurus backbone courtesy of Nombuso. A snap vote before we left decided against stopping for lunch so we would head straight back to Stellenbosch. One got the distinct impression that the students felt it was a case of “Home James, and don’t spare the horses”.
I stopped to take photos of the clearly visible termite mounds on the slope of a hill that we passed. Our route took us past Brandvlei dam and then through Rawsonville and Du Toit’s Kloof Pass where Juri elected to avoid the Huguenot Tunnel and drive over the pass, which is the route to take if you want to enjoy a spectacular view. After unloading at the Department and saying all the goodbyes I went and dropped off the trailer and then delivered the vehicle to the vehicle park, where Lynnette was already waiting. We stowed all my gear away and then went back to the Department to pick up Lona, who also lives in Brackenfell and had asked if we could give her a lift home.
All that was left for me to do, was to work through all 500 photos that I had taken and write this report. The report writing was seriously disrupted by the need to complete our application for a National Science Week grant from the NRF via SAASTA.