Arid National Parks & Nature Reserves
of the Northern Cape
The contrast of vividly coloured wild flowers and stark desert landscapes, emerald green river beds and arid rocklands; towering giraffes and minute pygmy mice; flightless ostriches and graceful soaring eagles – these are powerful contrasts that leave one with a sense of awe and wonder, as these Arid Places do.
The Arid Parks is a collective term describing the cluster of five extraordinary National and Transfrontier Parks (Kgalagadi, Augrabies Falls, |Ai|Ais-Richtersveld, Namaqua and Mokala) as well as Tankwa Karoo that are all situated within the borders of the arid and least populated province of South Africa, the Northern Cape.
Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park
The Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park is a place of raw, unrefined beauty. A place of harsh contrast, crushing reality and of freedom. Freedom.
An almost unfathomable amount of space and a place for the soul to rest in silence. A place of waiting, of patience. A place where the potency of life and death unfold before you.
At 38 000 km2 it is larger than many countries and one of the largest National Parks in the world. The park stradles the border of Botswana and South Africa with the Nossob River forming a seam uniting the two countries.
Three Kalahari eco-types are found here. The south-western part comprises duneveld, with its unique semi-desert vegetation; the northeastern part, Kalahari plains thornveld and then there are also salt pans which play an important role in the grazing and life patterns of the game.
The large mammals, especially the predators, are always a major drawcard at Kgalagadi. These include: the powerful black-maned Kalahari lions, solitary leopard, cheetah, spottted and brown hyena and the skulking black-backed jackal. Majestic gemsbok, massive herds of wildebeest, giraffe, foxes, springbok and many other creatures make this wilderness their home.
Smaller animals, such as the mischievous suricates, ground squirrels with built-in sun shades, whistling rats, luminous blue-headed ground agama and barking geckos abound within the Park too.
The magnificent bird life must not be forgotten, including thousands of sociable weavers with colossal thatched ‘apartments’, lappetfaced and whitebacked vultures, the acrobatic bateleur, the tiny pygmy falcon and the large swooping martial eagle. Put all of these wonderful creatures in amongst endless waves of red dunes , dry riverbeds and resplendent camelthorn and shepherd trees and you have the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park.
Augrabies Falls National Park
This is where the mighty Orange River is at its most impressive as it thunders its way through a ravine and cascades down into a pool walled by sheer granite, 56m below. Few sights are as awesome or sound as deafening as water thundering down the Augrabies Waterfall when the Orange River is in full flood.
The Falls derived their name from the Khoi word ‘Aukoerebis’ meaning ‘place of great noise’. This Park is essentially a scenic park where Klipspringer and quiver trees (kokerbome) stand starkly silhouetted against the African sky, silent sentinels in a strangely unique environment where only those that are able to adapt, survive.
Awesome and strikingly beautiful it offers the visitor over 50 000ha of unique riverine eco-systems to explore, with viewpoints from which to survey the dramatic landcape that unfolds below.
The 56 metre high main falls that cascade into the granite abyss of the Orange River Gorge are unmistakably the top attraction here. Easily accessed through an extensive network of boardwalks (some are wheelchair friendly) the falls are also illuminated at night.
Although not prolific, giraffe, klipspringer and Hartmann’s mountain zebra can be seen scattered across the Park.
Take time to explore the rest of the Park by driving to scenic viewpoints with descriptive names of this rocky region like MOON ROCK, ARARAT and ECHO CORNER.
Evening activities include night drives to discover the secretive activities of nocturnal creatures under a star-studded sky.
/Ai /Ais-Richtersveld Transfrontier Park
The /Ai /Ais-Richtersveld Transfrontier Park is the rugged lunar-like landscape intersected by the life giving Orange River. Despite its apparent barreness, the Richtersveld holds many small treasures in the form of a diverse array of succulent plant species and spectacular birdlife and in its ruggedness lies its attraction.
Hauntingly beautiful and seared by a blistering sun, lava mountains and sandy plains form southern Africa’s largest Mountain Desert Park. In August 2003 an international treaty was signed between the Presidents of South Africa and Namibia to form the /Ai /Ais-Richtersveld Transfrontier Park. This has opened the way for border crossings within the Park between South Africa and Namibia, where a pont takes you across the Orange River at Sendelingsdrift.
Though surrealistically harsh (this is the driest area in the Northern Cape), the rugged Richtersveld side of the Park nurtures some 30% of all South Africa’s succulent plant species. With less than 50mm of rain each year, it is home to leopards, lizards and adventurers. Paradoxically beautiful, it is a land for those keen to ‘rough it’. You can explore it from the comfort of your 4x4 or paddle the river, taking in the awe-inspiring, seldom-seen purity of a mountain desert wilderness. This is a harsh and unpredictable land where water is scarce and life-sustaining moisture comes in the form of early morning fog – called ‘Ihuries’ or ‘Malmokkies’ by the local people – which rolls in from the cold waters of the Atlantic Ocean, sustaining a remarkable range of small reptiles, birds and mammals. A staggering assortment of plant life, some species occurring nowhere else, is to be found here, with gnarled quiver trees, tall aloes and quaint ‘half-mens’ keeping vigil over this inscrutable landscape.
The rugged landscape and diversity of arid plant species are undoubtably the biggest attractions of the Richtersveld. Additionally, there is the challenge of the 'OFFROAD DRIVING', the seclusion of the wilderness camps and the contrast between the Orange River and its surrounds. FLY-FISHING and BAIT FISHING are very popular and with the exception of carp (which is an alien invasive species) all fish caught within the Park must be released. RIVER RAFTING and CANOEING down the Orange River is also a must.
Namaqua National Park
Namaqua National Park is known for its vivid display of spring flowers each year. The greater Namaqualand area is home to the richest bulb flora of any arid region in the world and more than 1 000 of its estimated 3 500 plant species are found nowhere else on earth. Although hugely popular during the spring, Namaqua has lots to offer its visitors throughout the year.
Situated in the heart of the Succulent Karoo the Park has grown enormously and stretches from the well-known Skilpad section, near Kamieskroon, on the escarpment westwards to the coast. The recently added ‘Groen-Spoeg’ coastal section is the only significant remaining untouched section of the Namaqualand coast.
The gradient from the escarpment to the coast is important from an
upland-lowland and rainfall perspective and contributes to the richness of species within the Park.
With its winter rainfall, Namaqualand is home to the richest bulb flora of any arid region in the world and more than 1 000 of its estimated 3 500 plant species are found nowhere else on earth.
Amphibians and reptiles are also well represented, with a number of endemic species. The mammals that have adapted to these harsh conditions include gemsbok, springbok, red hartebeest, klipspringer, aardvark, baboon, steenbok, duiker, porcupine, black-backed jackal and leopard. Birds are typical of the dry arid western regions of the country.
The Park is also home to the Anatolian Shepherd Dog Project, a conservation initiative that was succesfully used in Namibia before South Africa. The dogs are bred and then donated to local lifestock farmers (often subsistence farmers) to use instead of traps in protect their livestock. From a conservation perspective, using the dog instead of traps increases the chance of survival of small mammals on private land. This is good for the genetic pool of Park wildlife, as the animals interbreed across land borders. Finally, fewer small mammals, entering and leaving the Namaqua Park, will be killed by traps and this benefits the whole of the Succulent Karoo Biodiversity Hotspot.
The 188km CARACAL 4x4 ECO ROUTE takes visitors through some of the most spectacular scenery in Namaqua, from the Kamiesberg with unending vistas, through the inland dunes and along 50km of breathtaking West Coast. The hand-constructed Wildeperdehoek Pass; historic caves; estuaries rich in birdlife, flowers (in season), various game and even dolphin and whales can be spotted along this trail.
Mokala National Park
80km south west of Kimberley, Mokala is South Africa's newest proclaimed Park. Mokala is the Setswana name for a Camelthorn tree (Kameeldoring) (Acacia erioloba), and you’ll find magnificent specimens of these picturesquely gnarled and twisted trees dotted throughout the Park. They vary from small spiny shrubs barely 2m high, to 16m high trees with wide, spreading crowns.
Mokala National Park’s 28 151ha landscape varies between koppieveld (hills) and large open plains with the isolated dolerite hills giving the place a feeling of calm seclusion that contrasts with the large open sandy plains in the north and west of the Park. Drainage lines from the hills form little tributaries that run into the plains that drain into the Riet River on the Park’s northern border.
Mokala is an important area for the regeneration of valuable species and is home to, amongst other species, disease free Buffalo, Tsessebe, Roan Antelope, Sable Antelope, Giraffe, Gemsbok, Eland, Zebra, Red Hartebeest, Blue Wildebeest, Black Wildebeest, Kudu, Ostrich, Steenbok, Duiker and Springbok.
Situated in the transition zone between the Nama-Karoo and Savanna biome, Mokala’s thornveld savanna, dolerite outcrops and riverine vegetation attract a prolific number of bird species, including: the black-chested prinia, blacksmith lapwing, melodious lark, cinnamon-breasted bunting, freckled nightjar, short-toed rock thrush, pygmy falcon and northern black korhaan.
Dine under the outstretched boughs of a Camelthorn tree at dusk. Our OUTDOOR CATERED BRAAIS give visitors a chance to relax and enjoy the approaching nightfall in nature’s embrace with a crackling fire and the tantalising smell of sizzling meat wafting through the air. The BUSH BREAKFAST consists of a fully catered, cooked breakfast that is enjoyed out in the open African savannah.
Day- and night GUIDED GAME DRIVES in open vehicles are available with our experienced guides. FLY-FISHING (on a catch-and-release basis) on the Riet River near Lilydale. View fascinating SAN ROCK ENGRAVINGS made by the original inhabitants of the Park, thousands of years ago.
Relax in the BIRD-HIDE and view some of the many species that frequent the Park. Birds such as African Fish Eagle, Hamerkop, Red-billed Oxpecker, Violet-eared and Black-faced Waxbills, Green-winged Pytilia and many others come to drink water or feed in or at the water side. Large birds like Kori Bustard and Secretary birds may be seen wandering in the open spaces in search of food. Raptors such as the Southern Pale Chanting Goshawk and Gabar Goshawk are found throughout the Park, while the smallest raptor, the Pygmy Falcon breed in the Sociable Weavers’ nest at Mosu Lodge. Some of the rare visitors to the Park include Marabou Stork, Bronze-winged Courser and Burchell’s Sandgrouse.
Tankwa Karoo National Park
Dropping down from the Roggeberg Escarpemt is a dramatic landscape of undulating hills and typical Karoo koppies . The terrain stretches on and becomes the flat baked earth of the Tankwa Desert, with distant mountains encircling it. At night the sky is resplendent with shimmering stars.
Situated on the southern boundary of the Northern Cape, with the Roggeveld Escarpment in the east, Cederberg in the west and Klein Roggeveld Mountains in the south, a four hour drive from Cape Town brings you to this truly spectacular National Park. Within the Succulent Karoo Biome, the unique features of the vegetation are combined with awe-inspiring landscapes – from the sheer cliffs of the Roggeveld Escarpment to the moonscapes of the Tankwa Desert.
Tankwa Karoo National Park has a multitude of small mammal species including duiker, steenbok, porcupine and black-backed jackal. Leopards also naturally roam the area and large game species such as Cape mountain zebra, red hartebeest, gemsbok, eland and springbok, that were historically found within the area, have been reintroduced to join the existing kudu. Tankwa is the ideal destination for those seeking the brightest stars in Africa, a once in a lifetime glimpse of a rare endemic bird or, perhaps, nothing more than a silence that reaches deep into the soul.
Tankwa Karoo National Park is still in a developmental and land consolidation phase and the Park does not have any formally mapped hiking or other trails or game drive activities, apart from self-drive game viewing. However, there are some 4x4 TRAILS and visitors can CYCLE or walk on roads adjacent to their accommodation facilities.