The Northern Cape is a land of many diverse cultures, of frontier history and brave missionaries. It also has countless challenges for the adrenaline junkies, hikers, hunters and 4×4 adventurers.
It has impressive parks with endless game and one of the most unique flora in the world. And yet many would-be-travelers to this province ask what can we do, what can we see?
This quick guide to the most unique or worth seeing and doing things in the 5 regions of the Northern Cape will help you to find some of its most worthwhile treasures.
Diamond Fields Region, Karoo Region, Namakwa Region, Green Kalahari Region, Kalahari Region,
Take rugged mountains, endless flatlands and undulating dunes. Add to this diverse scenery, stunning plantlife and plentiful game and you have a recipe that will please all 4×4 eco-adventurers. But what really separates the trails of the Northern Cape from the rest is the seemingly infinite open spaces, mostly devoid of people.
Egerton Trail Travel vast open plains and absorb the unique rugged beauty of the Northern Cape by exploring 50km of sand, rocky hills and dongas.
Nossob 4×4 Route (Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park), a circular 200km long trail in the park offering exhilarating dune driving and scenic views. Witsand Has two routes over dunes and mountains.
Namaqua Trail Probably the longest 4×4 trail in South Africa. Richtersveld Route (|Ai-|Ais/Richtersveld Transfrontier Park) Breathtakingly beautiful with a new scene meeting the eye at every turn.
Riemvasmaak Trails Three routes covering approximately 160km of deep sand to steep and very rough tracks, deep dongas and rocky plateaus.
Augrabies Park Takes trailists through surrealistic moonscapes. .
Khamkirri Has trails of varying difficulty.
Banksgate Trail Offers 6 trails varying in distance between 10km and 66km.
De Postjes Trail A challenging route, preferably for experienced drivers, situated in the Nuweveld Mountains.
Kalahari Trail In the Mier area.
Diamond Coast Trail On the West Coast explores dunes, shipwrecks and diamond mines.
Cobussegat Trail In the Namakwa District.
Toekoms Trail In the Namakwa District.
For further information or to obtain a brochure on 4×4 trails in the Northern Cape, contact the Northern Cape Tourism Authority, tel + 27 (0) 53 832 2657 or the respective National Park.
Cultural Experiences – Faithful Missions
The early missionaries who travelled to the interior became adventurers in their own right. Not only did one require a considerable amount of courage and faith, but an immense will to survive in a land where little was known of the area or the indigenous people.
Through incredible sacrifice, these intrepid believers did much to ‘open up’ this thirsty land. With the aid of enthusiastic work parties, they built homes, churches and schools. Following this came the task of conversion of the Nama people from the age-old practices such as polygamy, ancestral worship and life spirits to those of Christianity.
Today, there are still a number of mission stations operating in Namakwa. Settlements such as Pella, with its cathedral surrounded by date palms, Leliefontein, Komaggas, Matjieskloof, Concordia and Steinkopf, each with their own unique history of endurance, love and perseverance, still thrive. The mission stations are however, not only restricted to Namakwa, with the Moffat Mission Station in Kuruman being one of the most visited and historically significant in the Northern Cape.
Routes – Anglo Boer War Route
The war between Great Britain and the Boer Republics of Transvaal and the Orange Free State broke out on 11 October 1899 and those living in the Northern Cape region of the Cape Colony were plunged into three years of unimaginable hardship, with accompanying loss of liberty and even life.
The Northern Cape was to play a decisive role in the war, the major battles of the Western Campaign taking place within 120 kilometres of Kimberley. Within hours of the war’s beginning, Boer commandos moved into Natal and the Cape Colony on three fronts. With Cecil Rhodes, the former Cape Premier, ensconced in Kimberley, the town was a prime target for the Boers and, by 14 October, Kimberley, under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Robert Kekewich, was besieged.
The details of the siege, including the victories and setbacks suffered by the Relief Column under Lieutenant-General Lord Methuen, can be relived at the Magersfontein and McGregor Museums. Included among these are the Battles from Orange River Station, including Modder River, Magersfontein, Belmont, Graspan and the eventual Relief by General French and his cavalry.
The decisive victory by the Boers over the Highland Brigade at Magersfontein on 11 December 1899 was a crushing blow to the British army and to the besieged folk of Kimberley who had expected relief before Christmas. They had to endure many more days of deprivation and danger, including shelling from a Boer Long Tom, before relief came on 15 February 1900.
This did not mean the end of the war, but the end of the conventional stages and, until May 1902, Boer guerrilla forces roamed the entire Northern Cape region, with skirmishes between Boer and Brit being regular occurrences. By visiting the many battlefields and talking to the local inhabitants, a visitor is able to picture that distant war and bring it to life, recapturing the trials and tribulations of all who, in any capacity, were concerned in the war.
Natural Phenomenon – Much More than Flowers
Between July and September Namakwa sheds its drab facade and showers the world with flowers of every hue. Nature sheds any pretence at barren aridity and runs riot with tones and rainbow hues of rich and splendid brilliance.
Infusing the air with fantasy and delight, she takes our senses and sends them soaring on flights of floral fancy before returning us gently to earth at the onset of summer.
Too soon the show is over and the freshly-spilled seeds hide, once again, beneath the soil, awaiting the onset of the first rains of a new and far-off spring. The splendour of the flowers depends heavily on a good rainfall.
Strangely, the explosion of spring brilliance almost hides the province’s greater floral wealth, a seemingly infinite collection of fleshy-branched, small-leafed and wax-covered succulents with roots delving deep for water. The San drew latex for their poison arrows from the Euphorbia virosa, a member of the euphorbia family, spiky ornaments of the veld. The rare, haunting halfmens (‘half-person’ or Pachypodium namaquanum) is peculiar to northern Namakwa.
Tall, slender prehistoric plants capped by rosettes of small leaves, the legend is told that the Nama, fleeing from the north, crossed the Orange River and longingly looked back on their homeland. Pitying them, God transformed them into these succulents so that they could look at the land of their origin forever.
Namakwa, as part of the Succulent Karoo, is a biodiversity hotspot and as such is the only arid hotspot in the world. It contains more than 6 000 plant species, 250 species of birds, 78 species of mammals, 132 species of reptiles and amphibians and an unknown number of insects, making it the world’s most diverse, arid environment. More than 40% of these species are found nowhere else on Earth.
The world’s largest forests of quiver trees or kokerbome (Aloe dichotoma) lie outside Loeriesfontein, Kenhardt and Onseepkans. Owing its name to the San, who used the trunk, branches and its bark to make quivers, the aloe grows to four metres, stores water in its trunk, resists drought and lives for up to 400 years. Often the only trees for miles, their spiky branches are popular nesting places for sociable weavers, builders of the most intricate nesting systems in the world.
The sterboom or star-tree (Cliffortia arborea) grows nowhere else but the southern sides of high ridges of the Nuweveld mountain where it finds shelter from the blazing sun. The parks and nature reserve are amongst the best places to view this floral wonderland.
The 103 000 ha Namaqua National Park, 22km north-west of Kamieskroon, is open to the public throughout the year, but a conservation fee is charged during flower season. An upgraded circular drive lets visitors experience a wide floral display.
15km southeast of Springbok is Goegap Nature Reserve, 15 000ha of typically rocky granitic, rocky hills and sandy flats. It supports 600 indigenous flower species, 45 mammal species and 94 bird species.
The Hester Malan Wild Flower Garden showcases a spectacular number of indigenous succulants. Limited accommodation is available.
The incredible Richtersveld mountain desert is a must for anybody who enjoys spectacular scenery mixed with a variety of rare plantlife.
Adventure can be different things to different people. The dictionary states that it is the encountering of risks; hazardous and striking enterprise; a bold undertaking, in which hazards are to be encountered; a daring feat; a remarkable occurrence; a striking event; a stirring incident; as in the adventures of one’s life.
The Northern Cape’s vastness is an everlasting challenge to eco-adventurers who are keen to explore. Climatic and topographic extremes dominate a vast land of stark and varying contrasts. From its endless, flower-carpeted flatlands and scrub-covered plains to the jagged edges and convoluted folds of molten mountains, it is a land of haunting natural beauty. After scaling dizzying heights in searing temperatures with sweat-burned eyes, you feel mystery and wonder imbuing your every sense while gazing down on the broad, cooling waters snaking their way through the seemingly impregnable mountain moonscape.
Visitors are rewarded with experiences that press on their minds. The open, often unpopulated spaces of the Northern Cape call them back time and again to hike its rugged trails, shoot its turbulent rapids, fish its living rivers, sail its sapphire skies, explore its many back-roads, view its splendid game, revel in its unusual flora and explore the brooding chambers of its worked-out mines.
The Northern Cape’s Orange and Vaal Rivers are ideal for canoeing and rafting, with the 2 340km long Orange being the favourite. With long stretches of open flat water punctuated by rapids and, to top it all, the water is warm and the weather near perfect all year round. Tour operators such as Wildthing and Bushwhacked take you through the breathtaking arid Richtersveld scenery under the guidance of experienced guides where you can enjoy a 4-day adventure not easily matched. Overnight under the starlit African sky with raging campfires, good food and great company. Further up river, just below the Augrabies Falls, adventure operator Khamkirri will guide you through the rapids on inflatable crocs (rafts) on anything from half day to 5 day trips.
4×4 Trails and Challenges
Take rugged mountains, endless flatlands and undulating dunes. Add to this diverse scenery, stunning plantlife and plentiful game and you have a recipe that will please all 4×4 eco-adventurers.
Many of the same reasons that make The Northern Cape an ideal 4×4 destination also make it ideal for adventure motorcycling. Also known as dual sport motorcycling, the concept is to offer riders scenery, history and challenge in a non-competitive, on-road / off-road riding experience. All of the regions in the province have extensive dirt-roads, of varying condition to ride on. Add to this plenty of sunshine, little rain and numerous old mines, quarries and open space and you have the ideal terrain for adventure motorcycle touring.
Thermals soar from the baking earth to the cooler cobalt skies supplying an ideal lift for paragliders and on good days you can fly for ever. Many of the world’s records have been set in De Aar and Kuruman where flights of up to 350km have been recorded. The Fly De Aar aerodrome site launches predominantly by winch.
The lower Vaal and Riet Rivers at Kimberley are renowned as the unrivalled destination for stable fly fishing populations yielding world class catches of largemouth and small mouth yellowfish in pristine surrounds. In the past several years the popularity of yellowfish has increased steadily and so too the demand for protected waters.
With rugged scenery, abundant wildlife and real freedom, the local Northern Cape waters ensure a memorable fly fishing and African experience.
Countless game lodges and farms, mostly in the western regions, from the Kalahari to the Karoo, offer accommodation from rudimentary, to opulent, fly-in, superbly appointed and equipped lodges. Most offer guides and trackers, skinning, cutting, cooling and taxidermy services and the camaraderie you need to unwind.
Whether you’re trophy hunting, scouting venison for the pot, in search of biltong (a traditional, dried-and-spiced meat), or seeking a brace of guinea-fowl or francolin, you will the find the game to suit your talent and your taste. If your love is gamewatching or fishing, many game farms will accommodate your every wish.
The Weather A Sun For All Seasons
Though we live in a semidesert, don’t let it fool you into thinking we’ve no plant life. The western areas of the Northern Cape, which includes most of Namakwa, and a small section of the Green Kalahari fall into the winter rainfall area, ie April to September. These two subregions give you breathtakingly beautiful and flamboyantly explosive displays of wild flowers from late July to November.
Not to be outshone by floral splendour, the central and eastern summer rainfall areas unleash majestic, rolling thunderstorms. Booming across the wide plains, they threaten to shred the sky’s dark curtain, their mighty bolts of lightning mercilessly stabbing the earth. Fading swiftly, they melt back into a quiet, cobalt sky. The Northern Cape’s weather is typical of desert and semidesert areas. We live in a large, dry region of fluctuating temperatures and varying topographies.
Our scant annual rainfall (50-400mm) is unreliable and very much lower than evaporation and, in January, afternoon temperatures are usually between 33-36° Celsius. In 1939, at Goodhouse on the Orange River, an all-time high of 47.8° was recorded! Though somewhat unusual, summer temperatures do sometimes top the 40° mark. Winter days are warm – the onset of night bringing dew and frost to supplement our low rainfall. Sutherland, in the Hantam Karoo, is one of the coldest towns in southern Africa. Its average minimum is -6°! In winter, snow often blankets its surrounding mountains. In general, though, take it that you’ll enjoy hot summer days, warm company and chilly nights.