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Geology off the beaten track - exploring South Africa's hidden treasures

NormanThe very title of this book will induce euphoria in the hearts of many geoscientists: isn’t this drive to explore the 'outback' areas of the world the very thing that first drew us to Earth science?  The book does not disappoint. Basically a traveller’s guide to the huge range of  geological features to be  found along South Africa’s more minor roads, this is a profusely and carefully illustrated volume that will delight both visitor and resident alike.

It is a follow-up to an earlier book covering the main roads (where opportunities to linger and explore are more limited). The point about this book is that it leads the reader to explore the countryside and brings them to outcrops they would be unlikely to find otherwise. The book describes 13 tours in various areas across the country with good geological maps (the legend cunningly provided on a fold-out flap to the back cover) and reasonable driving details using the road kilometre markings and GPS positions. The scope runs throughout the country from the Namibian border, round the Cape and up to the Mozambique border. The user will need a good road map and, here is just one small gripe, a little detective work to place each tour on the very small scale regional map of the frontispiece, since no key is given.

There is a concise introduction to geological principles and the shaping of southern Africa, complimented by a comprehensive glossary, before we are led into a kaleidoscope of geological phenomena from the Quaternary (including a little archaeology) through to some of the oldest rocks on the planet in the Barberton greenstone belt, all explained in lay-man’s terms, but by no means patronising to the professional geoscientist. Indeed many of us have become so specialised in our careers, that a re-introduction to terrains or environments we may not habitually meet can be very stimulating.  

The photographs alone are good enough to make this an excellent armchair voyage and the cartography, provided by De Beers, is clear and consistent. But hopefully this book will lead us from the arm-chair and stimulate many to plan geoscience into their travel and holiday schedules; what better way to introduce family, children or friends to the wonder of our science in such a beautiful and tourist oriented country?  Since several of the routes cross wine growing areas, it would be possible to combine two interests, albeit that this might involve testing Francis Pettijohn’s maxim about the sobering effect of outcrops.

Reviewed by Nigel Press

GEOLOGY OFF THE BEATEN TRACK; EXPLORING SOUTH AFRICA’S HIDDEN TREASURES by NICK NORMAN, 2013.  Published by; Struik Nature 256pp (sbk) ISBN:9781431700820 List Price: 300 Rand. W: