When we think of the Northern Cape, we think of the Richtersveld or the Kalahari. We can’t help it – we’re overlanders. Even on our road trip to this beautiful province last year, the sights along the way were a bonus, and not part of the destination. But what happens when you skip the big attractions and simply focus on the province’s secret gems? Erik Brits from Nightjar Travel did just that, discovering that the province really does have more to offer than the two great parks.
By Erik Brits
One of the perks of having researched a local destination guide is that you have to do a fair bit of legwork. In any other profession, that would be a drag, but for Nightjar this essentially means going on holiday. The most memorable trip of the last year or two was our Northern Cape ‘safari’ (title earned by virtue of having seen a giraffe).
South Africa holds a diversity of geography that few other countries boast, but the northern end of the Northern Cape is by far the most arresting. It is as if an incredibly talented sculptor ran out of raw materials and decided to craft something beautiful nonetheless, using only rock, rock and more rock. This area is accessible in a vehicle with decent ground clearance and tires suitable to long distances on gravel (i.e. not runflats) but to get the full experience a 4×4 is recommended, because there are some magnificent sleep-out trails all over the province. Below is the outline of our trip, although there are infinite possibilities. As a final tip, don’t assume that just because the landscape is so barren, wildlife does not occur here.
Witsand Nature Reserve – Upington – Keimoes – Riemvasmaak – Augrabies Falls National Park.
This trip starts in the Witsand Nature Reserve and takes the first two or three days off to explore the reserve and the 4×4 trails around it. Witsand has tremendous variation to offer, amongst others, surprisingly, a body of permanent water. Make sure you do the evening walk with one of their rangers (it was free of charge when we did it). The frogs are fascinating, and once the ultra violet light is on, you will be amazed at the numbers of scorpions around you. No wonder they insist on closed shoes and long trousers for the walk.
The trip then heads off to the Augrabies Falls National Park, via Riemvasmaak. Riemvasmaak has a hot spring set in a cathedral of cliffs, and is worth a one week trip in its own right. From the spring, which offers accommodation in a few rustic chalets, you have a choice of three 4×4 trails. On one of them, you can camp out on the banks of the Orange River. There are a few other designated camp sites, but they have fallen into disrepair.
This is very dramatic countryside. If you don’t have the time to stay over in the Riemvasmaak are, at least try and fit in the detour. Allow at least 4 hours for it, because you will be spending more time our of your car taking photos that in your car driving.
In the Augrabies Falls National Park, we spent two days exploring the park on foot, by car and on the river. You definitely need more time to properly settle into this beautiful desert environment. And with a plethora of rafting, hiking and mountain biking options, you could probably spend another whole week here, if you were so inclined.
About the rafting; the Orange River offers a range of possibilities. Closer to the Richtersveld Park the river is very placid, so much so that the commercial trips here are done in Canadian Canoes and not the usual crocs. Below the falls, the section at the Gorge near Verloorsdrif features wilder rapids and is rated up to 4. Perhaps only for the more experienced. For groups of mixed experience, the section in the Augrabies Falls National Park is a good compromise.
We suspect that most people just rush through this part of the world on their way to the Richtersveld or the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. It’s a mistake. We would not recommend trying to connect this trip with either of these two. It would be too ambitious, unless you have a lot of time on hand. We think it deserves a good week to ten days in its own right.