Once you have been to the Kalahari, that magical and mystical place with a legendary name to match, you have to return. There will always remain a strange longing that you cannot explain. A gentle tug that pulls your mind to far away sand dunes, sunsets and open vistas.
The Northern Cape is not just about the Kalahari (although it was our main destination and first on the list). Here is what is we found:
1. The Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park
We spent five nights in the park with four of those in the Mabuasehube section, Botswana. Do tell your wife the drive in is a long and bumpy one (closed borders necessitated the drive from Nossob Rest Camp on the South African side).
Our days were mostly lazy and slow. We did not come for the prolific wildlife sightings, but for the experience of camping unfenced as a family in one of Africa's finest wildernesses. The days were filled with reading, brewing coffee, kicking a rugby ball around, staring at the camp fire and having fun with the local bird club. Karlien decided it was a good idea for Richter to learn how to catch a bird. They devised a trap from an ammo box and ratchet strap and against all odds managed to trap a young and most inexperienced spur fowl (it helped that they already spent a lot of time around the campsite). On another occasion a yellow-billed hornbill surrendered its temporary freedom before flying away to regather its lost pride in the nearest Camelthorn tree.
We did have two nocturnal visits from an inquisitive hyena but were well prepared and packed everything away at night, unlike some fellow campers who lost their potjie pot to a scavenging hyena. Other highlights included three cheetah sightings, one where a male coalition pair scent marked a play tree, as well as a brown hyena.
The alternative to wild camping on the Botswana side is of course the much easier South African side. Either way, I was content and very happy with digging my feet deep into the Kalahari sand next to a campfire far away from online pollution and cancelled sporting events.
2. The Orange/Gariep River
We approached the Northern Cape from the South. The Orange or Gariep River, although not as intimidating as the Okavango or Zambezi further North, is an impressive river. Crossing it adds to the excitement on any journey and provides that "now we are travelling"-moment. Being Karoo kids we had to test the water and rented a canoe for a late afternoon father-and-son trip on the Orange topped of with a swim in the ice cold pool.
On previous occasions we indulged in a full river rafting trip in the Richtersveld region and can highly recommend it. The isolation and stark beauty of a mountainous desert terrain while rowing down the Gariep is exceptional.
As you can imagine, the Gariep River is the lifeblood of the region as it travels thousands of kilometres to its ultimate meeting with the Atlantic Ocean. Through its winding course the river exposes ancient rocks along the way, but nowhere more prominent and impressive than at the Augrabies Falls.
3. Augrabies Falls
Wow! We were once again really impressed by the magnitude of not only the falls, but also the sheer cliffs of the canyon down stream. Not to mention the friendly staff of the Augrabies Falls National Park and the clean and organised rest camp.
The walk ways are user-friendly and offers brilliant views of the Aukoerebis or "Place of Great Noise". A sunrise walk to Arrow Point turned out to be a magical experience as did a later walk up Moon Rock with Richter. It was the 11th national park that he has visited and we would love to return and spend more time there.
No trip is complete without an unexpected detour. We never intended to travel all the way to the Namaqualand. The road from Augrabies to Springbok leads through a variety of desert landscapes and it was hard to ignore the road signs heading north to hamlets on the Gariep River, bordering Namibia.
The area around Springbok received good rain four days prior to our arrival. The world-famous desert flowers were just starting to make an appearance, but would take another week to carpet the desert with colours. The reason for our visit was to see friends of ours that has made a farm outside Springbok their home. Their appreciation for their new home was humbling to experience.
The bedrock formations and enigmatic quiver trees is what makes this region attractive even without the annual flower show. And of course it is so much better when sharing the beauty with friends and family.
5. Solitude and silence
Nothing beats an off the grid holiday. And no destination is better at it than the Northern Cape. We only really started to relax and enjoy each others' company as a family when we lost mobile phone reception. It is only then that one can truly appreciate the value of spending uninterrupted time together.
Building a camp fire, boiling a cup of coffee on it and later using it to prepare dinner. Enjoying the sunrise from the inside of a tent. Quiet sunsets and nights filled with stargazing. These are the priceless blessings of a camping trip in the Kgalagadi (according to me compulsory on any trip).
Exploration never stops. What about these to add to the list of Northern Cape adventures:
- Richtersveld National Park and Orange River rafting trip;
- Riemvasmaak Hot Springs;
- Kimberley's Big Hole;
- Mokala National Park;
- The West Coast;
- Small-town living in Calvinia, Nieuwoudtville and Kakamas
Dawid de Wet.