Much of the Northern Cape is taken up with the Kgalagadi and the Richtersveld with their harsh, dry conditions but some significant oases make it one of the most alluring regions of South Africa for touring. In the north, the Orange River has been tortured into a latticework of canals, particularly ...
Much of the Northern Cape is taken up with the Kgalagadi and the Richtersveld with their harsh, dry conditions but some significant oases make it one of the most alluring regions of South Africa for touring.
In the north, the Orange River has been tortured into a latticework of canals, particularly around Upington, Keimoes and Kakamas, making them major centres for the growing of grapes and other fruits for drying. Downstream from there, in the Augrabies National Park, the river throws itself down a narrow gorge and then over a 56m drop into the ravine below. Augrabies means 'place of great noise' in the Khoekhoen language. And it is apt.
Small groups of Khoekhoen-speaking peoples, often known as the San, still inhabit this area and the region to the west where South Africa’s Richtersveld National Park has recently been merged with the Ai-Ais National Park in Namibia to form a Transfrontier Park.
Right at the northern tip, the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park was the first such venture, jointly operated by Botswana and South Africa since 2000. The only two major roads in the park run along dry riverbeds strung with boreholes, allowing excellent viewing of desert species, such as gemsbok and springbok, both of which gather at the boreholes at sunset. And the infamous black-maned Kalahari lion offers the best lion photography opportunities anywhere.
The capital of the Northern Cape is Kimberley, founded by the diamond rush in 1871 and still a significant commercial centre. The first diamond was actually unearthed in the evocatively named settlement of Hopetown but it was the discovery by the De Beers brothers of diamonds on their family farm that led the establishment of the settlement of New Rush, which would become the Big Hole around which Kimberley now stands, and also to De Beers’s ongoing domination of the diamond industry.
Further south in the province stands Colesberg, a sheep-farming centre and home to some of the country’s best stud farms. Orania (Pop. 760) is a small village on the Orange River between Hopetown and Colesberg, settled in December 1990 by 40 families under the leadership of the son-in-law of former president Hendrik Verwoerd, the architect of apartheid. The aim was to form an Afrikaner settlement which would adhere to traditional Afrikaner values. The ultimate aim of the community is self-government and the concept is under discussion at provincial level in the Northern Cape. Bless them!
The Sociable Weaver Bird (Philetairus socius) is a friendly little fellow as the name would suggest. He lives in the long nests that hang from trees and telegraph poles the length and breadth of the Kgalagadi. The nests are the largest built by any bird and some can house over a hundred pairs. The outer chambers provide cool shade in the day and there is warmth at the centre at night. A pair can produce four broods in a breeding cycle. One has been recorded as producing nine broods in a cycle in response to predatory attacks. By unsociable weavers, maybe?
River rafting on the Orange – solitude and riverbank camping in the Richtersveld. www.orangeriverrafting.com
National Parks – Augrabies National Park is home not only to the falls but to spectacular rock formations and numerous fascinating desert plants including the quiver tree.
Richtersveld 4x4 trails – the most remote and exciting overnight 4x4 trails in the country.
Augrabies Falls highest recorded flow of 7 200 cubic metres per second is higher than the Niagara Falls all-time record
The Pans of Bushmanland – take to the back roads west of Brandvlei. Under some of the pans, the water lies 2m below the surface leaving vast salt deposits. Try Verneukvlei, where Donald Campbell made his 1929 attempt on the world speed record. www.bushmanland.co.za
The Big Hole – arguably the biggest man-made dent in the planet - 214 metre-deep and made with picks and shovels in search of diamonds. Between 1871 and 1914 it yielded 2 722 kg of them. www.thebighole.co.za
Magersfontein (as opposed to Matjiesfontein) – Black Week battlefield, near Kimberley, in the Second Anglo-Boer War. 210 British dead, 22 of them officers, including General Wauchope, whose remains, due to a confusion, were disinterred and carried all the way from here to faraway Matjiesfontein to be reburied. www.saboerwar.com
Orania – settlement of would-be Afrikaner separatists on the banks of the Orange River. www.orania.co.za
Cannon Island, Upington – the largest island settlement in the country was once settled by Koranna river pirates who defended themselves from police raids with a cannon made from an aloe stem. It exploded only to kill six of the Koranna and none of the attacking policemen.
Sutherland – the coldest place in South Africa and home to the largest telescope in the Southern Hemisphere. www.sutherlandinfo.co.za
McGregor Museum, Kimberley – where Cecil Rhodes sat out the Siege of Kimberley. Now a battlefields museum of note. www.museumsnc.co.za
The Apollo Theatre, Victoria-West – SA’s last remaining art deco cinema is in the middle of the Karoo. Well, why not? www.apollotheatre.co.za
The Eye and the Moffat Mission, Kuruman – The Eye is a natural spring pumping out 20 million litres of water per day from the doloritic dykes of the dry Kgalagadi. Kuruman was also the 'fountain of Christianity' where Robert Moffat set up his mission and translated the Bible into seTswana, before losing his daughter in marriage to David Livingstone.
Hantam Vleisfees (August) Calvinia – a parade through the town on quad bikes and tractors. And a celebration of all things meaty.
Gariep Kunstefees (Sept) Kimberley – local film-makers and child theatre
Features, creatures & Flower power
Kalahari Thirstland Liqueur is made from local bulbs, plants and herbs and comes in a distinctly phallic pottery gourd.
Learn to speak a Khoekoen language – the most challenging language to western tongues contain numerous consonant clicks, breaths and glottal stops represented by the symbols (exclamation), (vertical bar) and (slash)(slash).
Namaqualand flowers – a carpet of colour in August and September and a world-renowned phenomenon. Millions upon millions of brightly coloured flowers erupt over the dusty veld from Garies to the Orange River. Book early or get a tent
Nieuwoudtville – the bulb capital of the world. Visit the Glenlyon Wild Flower Reserve, home to 500 000 Bulbinella
HALFWAY HOUSE, Kimberley – a drive-in pub where they will still serve you drinks in your car, courtesy of Rhodes. The only such place in the world, apparently! 053 831 6324
GEORGE AND DRAGON, Kimberley – a pub in the old English tradition 053 833 2075