The Northern Cape – A Birds Eye View

The Northern Cape, which stretched from the lonely Atlantic coast on the west to the 19th Century Diamond rush town of Kimberley, and borders the Free State on its eastern end, is South Africa’s largest province covering one-third of the landmass. It is also the least populated and sadly the least visited of all nine provinces. Which in reality is nonsensical (in my opinion anyway)! If time is something which you have to trade, a drive through the Northern Cape is nothing short of mesmerising. It is a place where your mind could wander in perfect perpetuity if you let it.

It offers up a sparse but intoxicating interior, with wide open horizons, switchback mountain passes, shrubby vegetation and outlying dorpies (small towns in Afrikaans).

The Northern Cape is much like a Martian landscape where seemingly neverending abandoned roads have only quiver trees, saltpans, sand dunes and rocky hillsides for their company. The local people say that once you’ve felt the red sand of the Kalahari between your toes, your heart will always return here.

But there is life here. Brought by the Great Gariep River (Orange River) which flows and winds its way along a two-thousand-kilometre course turning an otherwise arid world into an oasis. This culmination of a journey ends at Augrabies Falls National Park (best visited March to May). Aukoerabis, meaning “the place of great noise” as the Khoikhoi have named it, is set amongst kokerboome (quiver trees), camelthorn and Namaqua fig, and is an epic a sight with the desert setting sun and marine blue skies as a backdrop.

On the western side of the province, the short winter rains give way to one of nature’s truly spectacular transformations when in August and September the Namaqualand, is carpeted by a dazzling display of wildflowers. A similar show of blossoming succulents can also be seen at the lesser-visited Richtersveld Transfrontier Park which is tucked around a loop in the Orange River either side of the Namibian border. Here amongst the fauna names like Hellskloof, Skeleton Gorge, Devil’s Tooth and Gorgon’s Head have one understand the environment of this fierce and rugged mountain desert landscape.


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Then there’s the Dune Route. As its namesake, the Dune Route is one for the books! This route embraces the small towns and settlements along the way. Places like Keimoes, Kanoneiland, Kenhardt, Augrabies, Upington and Marchand are on full display. Awesome little farmstalls like Die Pienk Padstal and Heksie se Huisie Padstal are dotted along the way too. For the adventurous, there’s dune-boarding, camel riding (yes) and 4×4 trailing. There’s also game drives, guided walks, birding expeditions and other eco-orientated activities for the general nature-lover. For those with a love of culture and history, there is a unique opportunity to explore the regional customs and folklore, including that of the, norths very own Robin Hood, sample traditional cuisine, and meet the warm and welcoming people ancient peoples of the San hunter-gatherers and Khoi herders (or Bushmen) who once lived and thrived here, and who are now reviving an almost lost custom in many ways thanks to and the legend that was Oupa Dawid Kruiper.

Reaching the capital town of Upington, the Dune Route opens up to a prize! The gateway to the majestic Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park; Africa’s first official transfrontier park. So-called from Tswana for ‘waterless place’. Here the roar of the black-maned Kalahari lion echoes below what seems to be an endless starry night sky.

Accommodation choices are as varied as the landscape and option include anything from camping or glamping, cosy bed and breakfasts to luxury lodges. All in all, the Northern Cape and the Kalahari Red Dune Route has something for everyone.

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