I find that one of the special joys of travel is to visit places that I heard about or read about as a relative youngster. I got a great kick, while visiting the UK, to walk down Harley Street and Fleet Street; seeing Buckingham Palace, and specially finding that “Banbury Cross” actually exists. I find that I am seldom disappointed, as the attraction is just in being there rather than in the expectation of finding something outstanding.
And so it was very easy to make the decision to take the 60-odd kilometre drive from Polentswa to visit the point located at 24o 45’ 55.3” South, 19 o 59’ 58.7” East, the point known as Union’s End, the extreme north-westerly point of South Africa.
The drive from Polentswa in the early morning was an absolute treat, with a brief sighting of a leopard no more than ten metres from the car. We watched a group of four bat-eared foxes as they hunted happily in an open field and were treated to the sight of five magnificent lilac-breasted rollers on a single dried tree stump. Then there were the wildebeest, gemsbok and springbok in large herds. And a lone meerkat that played sentry on a tree stump near his home.
Union’s End. Even the name is an anachronism; South Africa ceased to be a “Union” and became a “Republic” on 31 May 1961. But the name has been retained for this, the northernmost point of South Africa; the point where South Africa meets two of its neighbours, Namibia and Botswana, at the same spot. This is also the spot where the Nossob River (or river bed, really – it is dry for the greater part of its existence) crosses from Namibia into the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park and wanders its waterless way for 200 kilometres through the park, officially dividing South Africa from Botswana. It gives its name to the Nossob Camp and later, shortly after its confluence with the Auob River (also dry), it contributes to the names of another two camps, Twee Rivieren in South Africa and Two Rivers in Botswana.
But back to Union’s End.
The point where the three countries meet is marked by a small information board, a pole bearing the longitude and latitude of the spot and nothing else. Namibia is fenced off from Botswana and South Africa, but, as the spot lies in the transfrontier park, there is no fence between Botswana and South Africa at this point. The centre of the Nossob, which is the boundary between the two countries, is marked at intervals by cement bollards with “RSA” and “RB” etched on the appropriate sides.
The South African section of the transfrontier park was previously known as the Kalahari Gemsbok National Park and was established way back in 1931. According to the information boards, the earliest activity at Union’s End took place in the mid 1930s. Imagine what the area must have been like those 75-odd years ago! Imagine how difficult it must have been to reach, and yet there was already a problem with poachers. There was a plan to establish a border patrol post here in 1934 in order to control poaching, but insufficient funds were forthcoming and the post never materialized.
The Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park was established in 2000 when the Kalahari Gemsbok National Park in RSA was merged with the Gemsbok National Park in Botswana.