Northern Cape, South Africa
The Northern Cape is by far the largest and most sparsely populated of South Africa’s nine provinces. Starting where the Western Province ends, it stretches upwards to the borders of Namibia and Botswana and ranges from the Atlantic Ocean in the west to the Swartberg mountain range in the south. Excepting the fertile and lush Orange River Valley which lies along its northern border, the landscape is for the most part an arid and inhospitable one, challenging the senses and abilities of nature-lovers and adventurers alike.
Following winter rainfall, the western sections of the usually barren Northern Cape are, however, transformed and come August, the infamous flowers of Namakwaland provide visitors with a glorious and breathtaking display of colour. The more than 4000 species of flowers than bloom between August and September, enchanting the pilgrims that travel to see them, are without a doubt one of South Africa’s most beautiful natural displays. Needless to say, should you visit the Northern Cape in spring, you have to visit the Namakwa National Park which came into being with the specific purpose of protecting and promoting this spectacular demonstration of nature’s bounty.
If the unique flora of South Africa is what interests you, the Richtersveld National Park is another important stop. Located on the most northern border of Namakwaland where South Africa meets Namibia, this World Heritage Site covers the harsh and desert-like region that has been home to the Nama people for the last two millennia. Here you might get a glimpse of the extremely rare succulents that grow in this area as well as the outlandish quiver tree and the even stranger “halfmens” (half-human), a plant as grounded in local myth and legend as it is in the scorched soil.
While in this region, you might also wish to visit what is popularly referred to as the Diamond Coast. Stretching from Hondeklip Bay to the north of Alexander Bay, the greatest part of this coast is, however, restricted and prior arrangements for permits are necessary to avoid disappointment. In speaking of diamonds, one must naturally also mention Kimberley, the capital of the Northern Cape and a city with an extraordinarily rich history with regards to the discovery of diamonds. Kimberly is a worthwhile place to visit for any traveller and one of the many cultural and historical attractions it has to offer is the Kimberley Mine Museum at the site of the notorious Big Hole. As the largest manmade hole in the world, this gigantic crater was excavated by the sheer willpower as well as the picks and shovels of 19th century diamond hunters.
In between Namakwaland and Kimberly, which is located at the very southern border of the Northern Cape, one enters the outer reaches of the infamous Kalahari Desert that stretches over Namibia, Botswana and South Africa. Here you’ll find regions aptly named as Boesmanland, Kaiingveld and Knersvlakte, all names evocative of the isolation, heat and hardship that define this area. It is, however, through this seemingly barren landscape that the Orange River carves its way, leaving fertile farmlands in its wake. In itself a major source of adventure and activities, the Orange River is also responsible for the attraction that is the Augrabies Fall National Park, home to the world’s sixth largest waterfall. This remarkable natural wonder is created as the mighty Orange Rivers carves its way through granite walls, plummeting an impressive 56 meters into the ravine below. Like most other parts of the Northern Cape, the park is an ideal space for all kinds of eco-adventures, including game viewing.
Higher up, where the borders of the three Kalahari nations meet, one will also find the first of Africa’s unfenced freedom parks, the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. This cross-border wildlife sanctuary covers 3,6 million hectares and unites what used to be South Africa’s National Kalahari Gemsbok Park and Botswana’s Gemsbok National Park. Annually many nature-lovers and 4×4 enthusiasts make the trek to the Kgalagadi purely for the dual pleasure of taking on its dunes and taking in its unspoiled and esoteric natural beauty.
As such an enormous province, stretching across so many different regions, the Northern Cape has an unlimited cache of places to see and explore. Ideally it is a place for long range tanks and off-road vehicles, but as long you pack your binoculars, your hiking boots and most importantly your water bottle, less challenging trips will also be worth your while.