True gems of experience await the traveller who ventures into this arid, sparsely populated hinterland where donkey carts the means of transport for many families. The Hardeveld lies north of the Knersvlakte; it comprises Bitterfontein as its commercial centre and the settlements of Molsvlei, Stofkraal, Nuwerus, Rietpoort and Putsekloof.

Bitterfontein’s name is derived from a brackish fountain near the town. Today the town’s 1200 inhabitants get their filtered borehole water from a desalination plant that can be visited by appointment.

In 1927 the railway line from Cape Town was extended as far as Bitterfontein to transport the green granite that is quarried in the area. A famous diamond heist took place in Bitterfontein in 1931 when Kleinzee’s monthly production diamonds was stolen out of the postmaster’s office before it could be railed to Cape Town. The diamonds were valued at over £80 000. The case was never solved.

Rietpoort, Molsvlei, Putsekloof and Stofkraal are isolated settlements on a gravel road west of Bitterfontein. Rietpoort is the largest with a population of about 800, and Stofkraal the smallest with a population of less than 300.

Farming is mostly limited to raising goats and sheep.

Rietpoort was founded as a Roman Catholic mission station in 1913. According to legend, Father Van’t Westeinde lived in a nearby cave while the church was under construction. Its clock originally hung in a Dutch town called Roosendal in Holland, and was donated after the church was bombed in WW1.

Nuwerus was once an important outspan called Erdvarkgat and before motorised transport, a halfway station between Vanrhynsdorp and Garies. The hamlet has a population of less than 600 people. Boreholes in the area are brackish and residents get their drinking water from a desalination plant here too.

Bitterfontein is situated on the N7 and lies about 80 km north of Vanrhynsdorp. Nuwerus is about 20 km south of Bitterfontein.