Part 2: Escape to the Northern Cape; a Treasure Chest of Hidden Gems

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Still frothing from last week’s thrilling excursion through the province of extremes? Then, strap yourselves in for the experience of a lifetime. This week, we will continue discovering more magical paradoxes throughout the Northern Cape.

We continue our great escape to the real world. Together, we’ll feast our eyes on the mind-blowing spectacle of the Namaqualand wild flower. The softer side of this arid region will make for a great prelude before delving into its antithesis, the Diamond Coast.

Join us as we unearth the hidden gems of the rugged and wild Diamond Coast. This wild and hard-wearing road less travelled will awaken the spirit of adventure. And take note, this was only opened to public travel five years ago!

Hike or bike the Namaqualand floral extravaganza

No photograph could ever do justice to the grandeur of the Namaqualand wildflowers in spring. Unmediated experience is a must! But, be sure to book well in advance. These tours are extremely popular. Unsurprisingly, accommodation fills up months in advance.

Ever tried bikepacking (backpacking with a bicycle)? If not, we highly recommend you give it a go. A sensory explosion rapidly materialises as you coast down a mountain bike (or hiking) trail. Prepare to be hit by waves of colours and fragrances. This, while being serenaded by sound of bugs frolicking around millions of blossoms.

Nature reserves and farms throughout the area offer a variety of hiking and mountain-biking trails. Each allows you to immerse yourself deep into the spectacular floral shows.

The vast Namaqualand landscape covers a total area of 440 000 square kilometres. It further extends along 1000 kilometres of the South African and Namibian west coast. Given its scale, we decided to focus on only a “small” section of it. This covers a 467 kilometres route along the N7 between Nieuwoudtville and Port Nolloth.

Experts say the flowers follow the sun. Because of this, it’s best to drive as far north as you wish to go. You can then slowly make your way south, towards Cape Town. But we have a special grand finale in mind so we’re starting our adventure in Nieuwoudville. It will then centre around the one-of-a-kind towns of Garies, Kamieskroon, Springbok and Port Nolloth.

Nieuwoudville – Hantam National Botanical Garden

Kiver Tree - Kokerboom Forest, Nieuwoudtville, Namaqualand, Northern Cape province, South Africa, Africa

The 6,200-hectare Hantam National Botanical Garden is known as the bulb capital of the world. Located just outside Nieuwoudtville, it is a must-see stop. It hosts an incredible 1,350 recorded plant species. About a third of these are threatened by extinction. Some say a single shovel of soil can yield about 100 bulbs!

Here, you can see some of the most spectacular geophytes (bulbs). Expect to see in this seasonal “Garden of Eden” the dark purple-blue Geissorhiza splendidissima. This has been nicknamed by farmers as “the blue pride of Nieuwoudtville.” Along with them are Sparaxis elegans (Cape buttercup) and Sparaxis pillansii (twisted satin flower).

The Namaqualand wild flowers can only be viewed in late winter and early spring. This covers the months of August to October, depending on rainfall. However, the Hantam National Botanical Garden also offers a mesmerising flower display in autumn. This spans from the months of March to April. After a few summer showers, cooler autumn temperatures will set it. This will signal the Amaryllidaceae species (lilly-like amaryllis family of flowers) to open up and throw a grand show.

A mountain biker’s Elysian Fields

A web of inter-connected dirt roads crisscrosses a sea of spring flowers around Garies and Kamieskroon. These mark a mountain biker’s spring-time Elysian Fields. Here, different organisations run a variety of MTB trails. Each route offers various type and level of difficulty.

The Namaqualand MTB trail is situated east of Kamieskroon. It offers four vastly different intermediate level routes across the Kamiesberg. Another organisation called Day Trippers offer a 3-5 day route from Agama to Skilpad Camp. This, however, is only run by arrangement.

Namaqualand Mountain Bike Trail

The Bikamino project offers a 12-day bikepacking route through the Namaqua coastal region. This includes dorpies such as O’Kiep, Nigramoep, Naries, Houthoop, Leliefontein, Hondeklipbaai and Koringkorrelbaai.

These trails get a little busier during spring. However, you are unlikely to come across any other riders outside of flower season. This makes it an ideal getaway for switching off and de-cluttering the mind.

Get shacked off your pip at Hondeklipbaai

While in the area, don’t forget to take your surfboard. The Atlantic seawater can get up to an icy 8 degrees here. Therefore, make sure you bring your warm wetsuit as well. This is a good opportunity to catch a few waves at Hondeklipbaai reef. The wave here is hollow, fast and powerful – barrels for days!

This wave is also extremely consistent, firing around 150 days per year. On a good day, it runs an epic 150-300 metres! The wave breaks left and right (but favours right) over a reef bottom with some sand. It only starts working on 3-5ft swell. However, it can hold up to 8ft. It’s definitely suited to experienced surfers. This spot doesn’t like wind. Best you head off at the crack of dawn for this one.

Garies: Skilpad Wild Flower Reserve

The 1000-hectare Skilpad Wild Flower Reserve near Garies is in close proximity to the coast. Thanks to this, it has a slightly higher precipitation level. This makes it a celebrated hotspot for viewing the Namaqualand spring flower spectacular. Experience the warm and friendly, easy-going hospitality of the Namaqua culture. While there, spend a couple of nights in any bed and breakfast in Garies. The reserve is open daily from 8 am to 5 pm.

Springbok: Goegap Nature Reserve

A Springbok ram

Eight kilometres east of Springbok in the 7000-hectare lies the Goegap Nature Reserve. Here, a wealth of fauna and flora awaits.

Granite domes and peaks with contrasting sandy plains are home to 600 different indigenous plant species. It’s also home to 45 mammal species. Included in these are the springbok, gemsbok and Hantam’s zebra. Also inhabiting this reserve are 94 bird species. The park is open daily from 8 am to 4.30 pm. The area also offers 4×4 routes to explore surrounding landscapes.

The route continues to be littered with brightly coloured spring flowers. This spans up to and beyond Port Nolloth, and into the Diamond Coast.

Dramatic Diamond Coast: shipwreck trails and fortune hunters’ tales

A large aggregate of gem quality diamonds are still buried deep under the Diamond Coast’s desert sands. Because of this, the route was access restricted for many years by diamond mining operations in the Alexander Bay area. It was only opened five years ago. Now, the route offers intrepid adventurers an thrilling new road less traveled.

Shipwrecks scatter along the far north-western coast between Port Nolloth and the Orange River mouth. Together, they paint a dramatic landscape with excellent photographic opportunities. There is rich plant life endemic to the area. Of special mention are the wild flowers in spring. All add vivid splashes of colour to the white unspoilt beaches and icy blue ocean.

Port Nolloth in South Africa's Atlantic coast
Blue ship stranded on beach near Port Nolloth in South Africa’s Atlantic coast

The shipwreck trail can be explored through organised hiking tours. You can also arrange for a more adrenaline pumping 4×4 trail across the coastal dunes.

Local museums in Port Nolloth provide an introduction to the history and fascinating legends of the area. Fortune seekers and adventurers called it home during the tumultuous diamond rush era.

It is believed that diamonds found on the sea bed originated from the diamond fields of Barkley West. Located on the Vall River, some of the diamonds were carried downstream. Afterward, it coursed into the Orange River at the merging point in Douglas. From there, the precious stones continued the journey to the Orange River mouth. It then went to the Atlantic Ocean where divers continue to mine the seabed today.

Gear up!

Considering all these, it’s easy to see why Namaqualand is sometimes referred to as South Africa’s Outback. Exploring it can be a lot more comfortable with the right camping and outdoor equipment.

Camping fridges, portable solar panels, portable pressure washers are some of the key pieces of equipment we recommend to add more glamp to your camp. Throwing in a compact ice maker for tall drinks on boiling days is not so bad either.

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