Since we have never fully explored the southern parts of Namibia before, we decided to head up to Namibia a few days before the planned start of the FOSAGAMS Namibia 2018 tour to explore the area. Heidi Naudé from the Pretoria Club put us in touch with Gisela Hinder who owns the Rosh Pinah Geo Center and after some discussion with Gisela on our interests, we pre-booked a guided geology tour with her. Our first night in Namibia was spent camping along the Orange River, and a casual walk across the road resulted in us loading our pockets with some particularly colourful tumbled banded-ironstone pebbles. 

Naturally tumbled banded ironstone pebbles

On arrival in Rosh Pinah, we immediately fell in love with the aesthetic design of the Geo Center which incorporates natural local material and blends in so well with the area. A pretty thatched roof and stone walls complement the airy, large windows of the museum section. And inside, in custom-built cabinets, is a plethora of old Rosh Pinah and Skorpion Mine lead and zinc specimens to appreciate, as well as excellent specimens from the greater Namibia area on display.

Before heading out on our field trip, Gisela provided us with a thorough overview of the geology of the area, information on the mining techniques and history of Rosh Pinah and some insight into her background as former geologist for the Rosh Pinah mine. And soon we were heading out along the newly graded C13 River Road to visit the first of the abandoned alluvial diamond mines.

The Rosh Pinah Geo Center

Schorl on feldspar, Erongo. (40x34x24 cm?)  Large specimen

Large specimen of Orange River quartz (24x21x15 cm)

Rare skorpionite on tarbuttite from the skorpion mine,
and other specimens on display

Large specimen of smoky quartz and fluorite from the
Erongo area (56x42x24 cm)

Along the way, we stopped at a very interesting road cutting at the ‘dropstone’ deposit, where there was clear evidence of major geomorphological changes to the rocks and substrates of the area, no doubt contributing millions of years ago to the formation of such a rich and diverse variety of minerals found in the area today. Here we saw striations in the rock face, bands of conglomerate rock which under tremendous pressure at some point in the history of earth buckled and bent into sweeping waves of layered rock, massive brooding solitary boulders eroded from the softer surrounding material which have been the centre of dissension amongst the experts as to whether they could have been carried into the area as part of glacial deposits.

About to enter the old diggings

As we tumbled out the vehicle at the first alluvial diamond site, we hardly stopped to appreciate the view, as our eyes were already turning and tuning into the abandoned diggings in the naive hope that we would stumble across “one” waiting all these years for us to arrive. Of course, our minds knew better, and it was still very interesting to dig against the wall of the pit for other material which duly revealed itself, such as agate, carnelian and exquisitely fragile more recently grown gypsum crystals.

Our next stop took us to the historic Lorelei Copper Mine where we spent a fair amount of time wandering through the deserted buildings, absorbing the nostalgic essence of the site, letting our imagination roll back the years to the sweat, manual labour and extreme exertion that the old miners endured. We marvelled at the tenacity of the old timers and the enormity of the challenges they faced and overcame. The mine tunnel itself has been filled up for safety reasons, but there is still evidence of the workings and the old track which used to ferry the rocks from the mine to the leeching dams.

Gisela explains how the copper is extracted

Len examines a copper-bearing rock outside the filled-up adit of the mine

The old leeching dams

After a quick stop to search for Orange River Quartz at one of the quartz outcrops, we headed down to see the historic Sendelingsdrift Pontoon which has been in operation for 43 years; a curious but novel border post into Namibia. The peaceful scene of the pont waiting sedately to ferry cars across the Orange River belies a bit of a chequered history of smugglers and black market traders, disastrous crossings resulting in a watery grave for many vehicles, and several wash-aways during the 1980s and as recently as 1998 when a flood took the pont exploring further down the canyon. Thankfully the current-day design and operation seems reliable enough with a newly designed shallow draft vessel capable of carrying 6 metric tonnes.

The pontoon waits on the South African side of the Border to ferry vehicles across the Orange River

Having Gisela on board from a geology perspective and pointing out fascinating rock formations and how they came about, made all the difference between just appreciating the landscape and an actual learning experience. While having a wealth of knowledge about the area, Gisela hasn’t lost her sense of fun and adventure, making the trip thoroughly enjoyable with ample time spent on the dig.