A desolate place

In Adventures, Articles by Glyn DemmerLeave a Comment

In our article about the Blood Moon and the Quiver Tree Forest, we touched on a spot called Verneukpan where we had a puncture. I felt that I had not adequately covered this spot as a good deal has happened there over time.

The pan is a wide dry salt pan south of Kenhardt where we stayed, we left early to get good light and to be back at the hotel in time for breakfast. During the summer rains when the pan contains water birds flock to it. It is one of the numerous dry pans in the Northern Cape area. If you go onto Google Earth you will see how many there are. Verneukpan for many years hosted Speedweek where car and speed enthusiasts used to congregate. Speedweek has now moved to Hakskeen Pan closer to Upington.

Verneukpan is flat and is roughly 55 Kilometres in length and 11 kilometres in width.

It is really famous as it was the place where Sir Donald Cambell attempted to set a new land speed record in his famous Blue Bird car in 1929. The attempt was not without hazards, his plane crashed en route near Calvinia but luckily he was unhurt. The had to be swept regularly and the area was riddled with puff adders and scorpions, the temperature in the shade in summer often exceeded 42 Degrees Celsius. The heat also caused “tricks” in the form of “mirages” – hence the name derived from Afrikaans –  verneuk meaning trick.

The track was 26 Km long into the heart of the pan. Stones covered a good deal of the surface which left holes when removed. The target of 322 km/h was raised to 372 km/h although Cambell wanted to break 483 km/h. He failed to achieve a new record due to the damage the surface had done to his tyres. He did reach 340 and 341 km/h and vowed to come back. However, he never returned and eventually exceeded 483 km/h at Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah and became the first person to exceed 483 km/h on land.

Andy Green of the Bloodhound Project also visited Verneukpan as he believed it would suit his record-breaking attempt but the removal of stones and track maintenance led him to relocate his attempt to Haakskeen Pan near Upington where there are more infrastructure, an airstrip and suchlike.

Other attempts were a 1952 world motorcycle record attempt which saw Vic Proctor crashing his Vincent at 160km/h and more recently in 2006 Johan Jacobs the South African land speed record holder fatally crashed in his car known as the Edge at approximately 500 km/h.

To find out more about the Bloodhound project visit www.bloodhoundssc.com

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