Open Africa

The Northern Cape is calling: 7 reasons you should go

12 Mar 2017

As South Africa's largest province, the Northern Cape is all vast spaces and stark desert beauty. It's open roads and wide blue skies. It's smiling hospitality, of the ear-to-ear kind, and late-night braais under the stars. It's wild river rafting and laid-back donkey cart rides. It's spinning yarns with locals and capturing surreal photos to share with those at home.  

In short, the Northern Cape is a dream come true for any adventurous heart and destination that will never run out of back roads, nooks and bends in the river to explore.

But, if we had to distill all the wonder down to just seven top experiences, these would be our picks:

Augrabies Falls at sunset. Photo: Heiko Wolf

Augrabies Falls at sunset. Photo: Heiko Wolf

Marvelling at the majestic Augrabies Falls

Originally named 'Ankoerebis' - place of the great noise - by the Khoikhoi who first called this part of the world home, the thundering falls are formed by the Orange River plunging approximately 56m over century-long smoothed rocks. This majestic site now forms the focal point of the Augrabies National Park and can be admired from various viewing points along a highly accessible boardwalk. 

Island hopping and rafting in the Orange River

Flowing through the very heart of the Northern Cape, the mighty Orange River can certainly be considered one of this otherwise arid province's defining natural features. Apart from giving rise to enchanting greenery - including vineyards and various orchards - on its fertile banks, it also offers much in the way of adventure. 

White water rafting is a well-established and hugely popular activity, which offers you the opportunity to get to know the river rather personally - either at a leisurely pace over a few days or during a short and sweet interlude for just a few hours. While you're at it, take some time to explore a few of the small islands dotted along the course of the river. Although none may be inhabited, you're guaranteed to make some fascinating finds (if you just keep an open mind).

Sharing a meal (and stories) with locals

If you consider yourself a sucker for 'once upon a time', we'll let you in on a little secret: there are few places in the world with better storytellers than those you will find while travelling through the Northern Cape. From the farmers leaving dust trails in the wake of their bakkies' wheels to the cheerful children of the Nama community in Kuboes, everyone has a tale to share that will remain with you for a long time to come. And what better way for stories to unfold than over plates piled high with wholesome food and glasses brimming with locally-produced brandy and wine? 

Riding the red Kalahari dunes

Whether it's in a 4x4 or on a sandboard, the dunes of the Kalahari Desert are a natural playground of note for anyone who enjoys the feeling of riding waves on dry land. And what makes these experiences even more epic, is the fact that they play out in scenery of such surreal saturation - rich red dunes and deep blue sky - that it may feel like you're on another planet altogether. 

Pic: Heiko Wolf

Pic: Heiko Wolf

Recharging in the Richtersveld 

In need of a digital detox? There's no better place to unplug and recharge simultaneously than in the mountainous desert landscape of the Richtersveld. This 160 000ha World Heritage Site is made up of three biomes - desert, succulent Karoo and Fynbos - and sustains the semi-nomadic pastoral livelihood of the Nama people. It is the only area in South Africa where this group still construct portable rush-mat houses and migrate to new grazing grounds seasonally. 

Highlights of stay in the Richtersveld include viewing the rock engravings at Vioolsdrift (thought to be of either San or Strandloper origin), admiring the otherworldy Halfmens trees at the Rooiberg picnic area and learning more about Nama culture at Kuboes village

Pic: Dijon Pinard

Pic: Dijon Pinard

Visit the Bushmen Living Museum

Historically, the San (Bushmen) used to roam widely in the arid and semi-arid regions of Southern Africa - from the northern reaches of Namibia and Botswana to the southern parts of the Kalahari desert in South Africa. As colonial rule gripped the continent, the San were all but dispossessed of their land and the imposition of modern borders curtailed their movements as hunter-gatherers.

Fortunately, after lodging a claim for restitution of land within the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park in 1995, the Khomani San (the southernmost tribe and last remaining remnant of this once populous people) were awarded 40 000ha in and around the park. This has become one of the few places in Southern Africa that serves as a sanctuary of orts where the San are able to pursue their traditional way of life. The Bushmen Living Museum is located within Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park and offers visitors an open air learning experience about San culture, traditions and their fragile future.

Pic: Heiko Wolf

Pic: Heiko Wolf

Stock up on snacks at Die Pienk Padstal

Located just outside the little town of Kakamas, Die Pienk Padstal is an almost strangely soft and sweet landmark in the otherwise rustic surrounds. Apart from offering fragrant cups of freshly-brewed coffee, hearty home-made treats and a wide variety of truly Northern Cape style snacks for the road, the stall is a proud purveyor of local arts and crafts. Expect to find anything from handbags and hats to fridge magnets and ragdolls.

So, there you have it: if you haven't explored the Northern Cape just yet, it's time you went! And if you have - what would you add to this list?    


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