It’s been almost a year since Covid-19 flipped our world upside down. Months of restrictions (some might call it house arrest) have left those of us with wanderlust desperate to break out. People just can’t wait to hit the road and escape to the real world.
Irish rock band, U2 hit the nail on the head with Where the Streets have no Name. The opening track from their 1987 album The Joshua Tree couldn’t put it more clearly,
“I want to run, I want to hide I wanna tear down the walls that hold me inside“
I wanna feel sunlight on my face I see that dust cloud disappear without a trace
A shot of adrenalin followed by quiet starlit nights without your cell phone is just what the doctor ordered. After all, there’s going to be very little reception there.
Aptly known as the province of extremes, the Northern Cape seamlessly blends expansive desert landscapes, wildlife, and gemstones. It also boasts some of our planet’s most spectacular seasonal flower displays.
With it comes vast stretches of clean, uncrowded beaches, and a myriad of 4×4, mountain biking and hiking trails. There’s also dune boarding and a unique cultural experience from a forgotten time.
Furthermore, it features two World Heritage Sites: The ‡Khomani Cultural Landscape and the Richtersveld Cultural and Botanical Landscape.
It doesn’t get much more extreme than the summer highs and winter lows of the Northern Cape’s desert climate. Temperature ranges from scorching 40s in summer to sub-zero winters, including snow.
In other words, plan your trip.
In this two-part article, we have curated two world-class route options for you. So go ahead and disappear off the radar and become a watchless wanderer.
If you are longing for seclusion, quiet open spaces, and unspoiled nature, this guide is definitely for you.
And the best thing about it all? Zero commercial trappings.
Route 1: Hiking, biking, 4×4, wildlife and two World Heritage sites
We start our east-west journey about 160 km east of Upington in the Witsand Kalahari Nature Reserve.
Renowned for the fact that there are no restrictions on where visitors can go on foot, this is freedom epitomised.
Hire a couple of dune boards and feel the wind in your hair as you zip down flowing white dunes. You can also hire a bicycle and look for gemsbok, red hatebeest, springbok, duiker, steenbok and kudu.
This hidden desert gem is also regarded as one of the finest areas for star gazing. With contrasting white dunes and blue skies, it’s absolutely a photographer’s paradise.
From Upington, you can either head north to the red dunes of the Kgalagadi Trans-Frontier Park (option 1) or west to Kakamas. From there, you can visit the Riemvasmaak hot springs and the majestic Augrabies waterfall (option 2). Whichever direction you go first, we highly recommend including both in your trip.
Option 1 – North towards Kgalagadi
When heading north, you will pass through the first World Heritage Site along this route; The ‡Khomani Cultural Landscape.
This is where the ‡Khomani San community have survived extreme desert conditions through their knowledge of nature.
Direct descendants of an ancient population that existed in Southern Africa about 150 000 years ago, the ‡Khomani San are considered the ancestors of the entire human race.
Covering 38 000 km2 of the Kalahari Desert region of South Africa and Botswana and bordering Namibia to the west, is the Kgalagadi Trans-Frontier Park.
This conservation area offers a truly unique game viewing experience. Here, the night sky turns jet-black, making the moon and every star in the Milky Way pop.
Characterised by red dunes and dry rivers, this magical place is the polar opposite of the lush green Kruger National Park. It features sparse vegetation and animals concentrated in and around dry river beds. These make the Kgalagadi prime real estate for game viewing and wildlife photography.
Here you will find predators like the distinctive black-maned Kalahari lions, cheetah, leopard and brown and spotted hyena. You will also find migrating herds of wildebeest, along with springbok, gemsbok, and red hartebeest.
There are also ground squirrels and meerkats (suricate). If you look carefully, you may even spot a honey badger, pangolin or family of bat-eared foxes.
It also comes with no less than three traditional rest camps, six wilderness camps and a luxury safari lodge to stay at. With all of these, you can really stretch out your stay.
Option 2 – West towards Riemvasmaak and Augrabies
Leaving Kakamas and heading towards Riemvasmaak and Augrabies, taking a couple of selfies at Die Pink Padstal is a must! This popular tourist landmark just outside Kakamas is the ideal place to buy some padkos. Don’t forget to get some biltong, dried fruit, jams, locally produced chutney, snacks and drinks.
Surrounded by 80 m high soaring cliff faces, the therapeutic waters of the Riemvasmaak hot springs dissolves the last bit of city life stress. The warm waters of this breathtaking beauty can surely do wonders.
An in-flood Orange River sends hundreds of cubic meters of water per second thundering down the two drops of the 56 m high Augrabies Waterfall. This, in turn, plunges into the 18 km abyss of the Orange River Gorge.
If you were fortunate enough to witness it, this breathtaking spectacle will surely leave an indelible impression on you.
It is obvious to see why the Khoi people called it Aukoerebis, or “place of great noise”.
Back on track
The next little dorpie is Pofadder which offers an exhilarating sandy 4×4 experience in Bushmanland. A trip here is characterised by red dunes, rocky outcrops and grassy plains.
The road through Springbok takes you onwards to the laid back coastal town of Port Nolloth. Here, you’ll find solace in clean beaches and calm but cold seas.
Buy a fishing license from the local post office and try your hand at fishing for snoek or yellowtail. Have a local restaurant fillet your catch for you. You can also savour some fresh crayfish while you’re at it. Then freeze what you don’t finish for the next stop: the Richtersveld Transfrontier Park. This is the second World Heritage Site on this route.
Life seems incomprehensible in this barren, harsh landscape. However, careful observation reveals untold natural riches.
Within this desert flora paradise, you will find the halfmens succulent. It is an iconic feature of the park and one of the world’s botanical wonders.
Also visit the Hand of God rock formation and keep your eyes peeled for the Jackal Buzzard. This bird of prey is named for its call that sounds similar to that of a black-back jackal (phonetically rendered weeh ka-ka-ka).
As the Richtersveld is an isolated and ruthless environment, it goes without saying that 4×4 is essential. Visitors are also strongly advised to always have enough extra water containers and food. Don’t forget to pack an extra spare wheel, spare parts and tools as well.
In these remote areas, you will need to preserve food for a couple of days. You will also need to find a way to keep the beers ice-cold.
SnoMaster camping fridge/freezers can handle anything that off-roading on the African continent can throw at it. Even more, they come with a seven-year warranty on the compressors and a three-year warranty on the unit. With this, you’ll be sure to spend a long time hitting the road together.
Keep an eye out next week for part 2 of our journey through the Northern Cape. In the next post, we will explore the Namaqualand and plan the trip of a lifetime to see the spectacular flower explosion in spring.