The Northern Cape is the largest and most sparsely populated province of South Africa. The Northern Cape was one of three provinces carved out of the Cape Province in 1994, the others being Western Cape to the south and Eastern Cape to the southeast. The precolonial history of the Northern Cape is reflected in a rich, mainly Stone Age, archaeological heritage, and it is the home of over 1,000 San who immigrated from Namibia following the independence of the country.
The province’s capital is Kimberly, and it includes the Kalahari Gemsbok National Park, part of the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, an international park shared with Botswana. It also includes the Augrabies Falls and the diamond mining regions in Kimberley and Alexander Bay.
The Northern Cape is a land of many diverse cultures, and of frontier history and brave missionaries. It offers countless challenges for adrenaline junkies, hikers and 4×4 adventurers. It has impressive parks with endless game and some of the most unique flora in the world.
Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, a large wildlife preserve and conservation area, is located largely in the Southern Kalahari Desert. The terrain consists of red sand dunes, sparse vegetation, occasional trees, and the dry riverbeds of the Nossob and Auob Rivers. The park has abundant wildlife and is home to large mammalian predators such as lion, cheetahs, leopards, and hyenas. Migratory herds of large herbivores such as blue wildebeest, springbok, eland, and red hartebeest also live and move seasonally within the park. More than 200 species of bird can be found in the park, including vultures.
The Augrabies is a waterfall on the Orange River, South Africa, within the Augrabies Falls National Park. The Khoi people called the Augrabies Falls ‘Aukoerebis’, the place of the Great Noise, referring to the Orange River thundering its way downwards for 60 metres in a spectacular waterfall. The gorge at the Augrabies Falls is 240 metres (800 ft) deep and 18 kilometres (10 mi) long, and is an impressive example of granite erosion.
The 28 000 hectares on both the northern and southern sides of the Orange River provide sanctuary to a diversity of species, from the very smallest succulents, birds and reptiles to springbok, gemsbok and the endangered black rhino.
The Namaqualand Flower Route in the Northern Cape, about 5 hours from Cape Town, is a phenomenon of spring wild flowers that never ceases to amaze and delight! What at first glance appears to be a wilderness of semi-desert – arid, dusty plains that stretch before one, dramatic mountains in the background, with little by way of colour or animation – is suddenly transformed, as if by a painter with a manic palette, into a pageant of flowers.
The flowers do not have to be approached by car alone. There are hiking and cycling routes that allow close scrutiny of the flower route’s indigenous flora, such as those in the Goegap Nature Reserve that also provide picnic spots and overnight facilities. Included in the wild flower route are the Richtersveld National Park, Goegap Nature Reserve, and Skilpad Wild Flower Reserve.
Richtersveld is a unique mountain desert wilderness of great beauty, tucked in the far north-western corner of the Northern Cape in South Africa. Within this wilderness lies the incredible Richtersveld National Park. Proclaimed in 1991 after 18 years of negotiation between the National Park Board and the local Nama people, Richtersveld National Park is now managed jointly by the local Nama people and the South African Parks. The Nama people, who lease the land to the board, continue to live and graze their livestock in the area.
It has a certain esoteric beauty, but why should such a barren place be worthy of World Heritage status? The Richtersveld has both natural and cultural criteria that make it unique. In other words, there’s more to the Richtersvled than first meets the eye. The Richtersveld National Park is home to grey rhebok, Duiker, steenbok, klipspringer, kudu, Hartman’s mountain zebra, baboon, vervet monkey, caracal and leopard. Birdlife is prolific, and 650 plant species have been recorded.
As if the Northern Cape wasn’t thrilling enough, there is the Orange River – the longest river in South Africa. It rises in the Drakensberg mountains in Lesotho, flowing westwards through South Africa to the Atlantic Ocean. The river forms part of the international borders between South Africa and Namibia.
And then there is the star gazing… The vast expanse of a star-studded galaxy has been fascinating the human race throughout the ages and still creates a sense of awe and wonder, and the Northern Cape unarguably offers the best stargazing in the world. The lack of light and air pollution has made South Africa’s largest province a mecca for stargazers and scientists.