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Namaqua Caracal 4x4 Trail

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22km from Kamieskroon

-30.1659, 17.7979

176km, 6-8hrs, Grade 1-3

+27 27 672 1948 www.sanparks.org.za

Configuration: This is a one-way route from Skilpad to Groenriviersmond with extra detours possible. You can also do it in reverse if you want.

Terrain: Gravel roads, rocks, steep climbs, dongas and lots of sand.

This is a self-drive trail; no guiding is needed. The most beautiful period is in spring during the flower season from July to October. However, this is also the rainy season and some sections might be closed. Self-catering accommodation is available at the Skilpad Rest Camp and the Luiperdskloof Guest Cottage. There are also several coastal campsites to choose from. There is only one 4x4 route. Lovely nature trails will allow you to stretch your legs.

About

This is where you come to if you want to feel like Aladdin on a magic carpet. During early August and September, seemingly overnight, the dusty valleys of Namaqualand are transformed into a wonderland. The valleys are filled with bright Namaqualand daisies and other pulsatingly coloured spring flowers. The beauty of this trail is that you get to feast your eyes while satisfying your 4x4 lust for adventure in this vigorous climate and rugged landscape. Quiver trees and enormous granite outcrops lead to the icy Atlantic and its spectacular coastline between Hondeklipbaai and Groenriviersmond.

The route starts at the world-famous Skilpad Wildflower Reserve before descending the Kamiesberg Mountains via the Soebatsfontein Pass. Keep an eye on the Swartlintjies River as it may be impossible to cross after heavy rains. Take the detour via the Wildeperdehoek pass, if you have the time. Then head off to the Namakwa Coastal section of the park. 

After you have crossed the Hondeklip Bay road you will enter the Groen-Spoeg coastal section of the park. The tracks south to Groen River split continuously before joining up again. Remember that strictly no driving is allowed on closed tracks or on any of the beaches. Rocky shores and white sandy beaches seem to continue forever, with countless beautiful little bays along this whole coast. On this part of the trail you will also cross the Bitter River dunes (a sand movement corridor). The trail ends at the Groen River estuary, which is one of the saltiest on the South African coast. It is often visited by pelicans and flamingos.

There are “Caracal” signs en route to keep you on the right track, but it is essential to obtain a booklet and map at the Skilpad offices. The booklet also contains grid reference points. Remember to add another 2 hours from Groen River back to Skilpad if you are a chalet resident.

There are two four-sleeper, self-catering chalets at Skilpad Rest Camp. The Luiperdskloof Guest Cottage on the trail can sleep six in three bedrooms. The Luiperdskloof Cottage can only be reached with a 4x4 vehicle and there is no electricity. There are eight rustic camp sites along the coast. The sites have no water or ablutions, and only some have Enviro-loos. The roads to most sites are poor, with stretches of soft sand. There is also no cellphone reception, so you need to be fully self-sufficient. Several short nature trails will allow you to explore sections of the park on foot. There is a seasonal visitor information centre at Skilpad for more information.

The best route to Skilpad is through Kamieskroon. When you get to Kamieskroon, turn off the N7 and then left onto a gravel road that will pass under the N7 a bit further on. Now follow this road for about 20km to the Namaqualand National Park and Skilpad office.

Namaqualand

Northern Cape

About

Three hours north of Cape Town, along the N7, lies Namaqualand, an area well known for its spectacular wild-flower displays in spring. However, it also encompasses the sublime mountain desert of the Richtersveld in the far north, and the wild and undeveloped coastline on to which the Atlantic Ocean breaks. To the east, from the heights of the Bokkeveld and Kamiesberg Mountains, the vast expanse of Bushmanland rolls, unbroken, to the horizon. 

Because of the region’s striking floral displays it is often referred to as the ‘fields of dreams’. This description of Namaqualand may seem a tad optimistic during summer when the barren earth slumbers, waterless, beneath a sizzling sun. But come spring, the turnaround is nothing short of miraculous.

What makes this natural display stand out above any other is that Namaqualand is essentially a desert (50 - 400mm annual rainfall). However, unlike the paucity associated with most arid areas, Namaqualand boasts an abundance of more than 4 000 plant species, and no other desert in the world puts on a spring spectacle like this one.

The region is sparsely populated and its towns are small and spread out. Springbok, on the N7, is the biggest town in the region and is regarded as Namaqualand’s capital. It is a busy town and an important flower-viewing centre in spring, with the Goegap Nature Reserve nearby. Just south is the more laid back Kamieskroon and the increasingly popular Namaqua National Park. Along the coast, where diamonds are still mined in the sand and on the ocean floor, lie Port Nolloth, Kleinzee and Hondeklipbaai. This coastline is known as the Diamond Coast. Moving inland to the plateau above the Bokkeveld Mountains, Nieuwoudtville boasts more species of bulb plants than anywhere else on earth, and the area around Calvinia is rich in floral diversity. 

Further east, Sutherland perches atop the Roggeveld Mountains and is well known as the coldest town in the country. It is home to the South African Astronomical Observatory and SALT (Southern African large telescope). In the far east of the region near Fraserburg the Gansfontein Palaeosurface takes visitors way back in time. 

The landscape is characterised by granite domes and mountain ranges, long lonely roads and winding passes. In the Richtersveld and the Kamiesberg Mountains the Nama people follow a cultural way of life little influenced by modernity. Here their traditional matjieshuis (reed hut) and perhaps even the kokerboomhuis (quiver tree houses) can be seen. 

Look out for

Flower viewing - during spring, flower viewing opportunities are diverse.

The Richtersveld in the far north contains the highest botanical diversity and rates of endemic species of any arid region on earth and supports more succulent flora than anywhere else in the world. 

The Coast has many places where flowers grow literally onto the beaches of the rugged, unspoilt shore. The best displays are seen while driving along the coastal plain (called the strandveld) south of the diamond-mining town of Kleinzee, and around Hondeklipbaai. 

Along the N7 gravel backroads loop into the mountains and farmlands providing plenty of day-drive opportunities. Near Springbok the Goegap Nature Reserve is often blanketed with petals. Further south near Kamieskroon is the Namaqua National Park with a large flower section, in what was formerly called the Skilpad Nature Reserve. 

The Bokkeveld plateau - Nieuwoudtville and the surrounding area have more species of bulb plants than anywhere else on earth, adding another dimension to the flower spectacle. Further east along R27, Calvinia stands at the foot of the Hantam Mountains and its Akkerendam Nature Reserve is good for a drive or a walk. 

Namaqua National Park - 22km from Kamieskroon is a developing park, which has grown to a present extent of 141 000ha including a stretch of coast between the Spoeg and Groen Rivers. The peak visitor season in the park is during the spring flower displays but any time of year is good for a drive around to see re-introduced game, take up the 4x4 challenge, or just enjoy the scenery. The park has few facilities, but they do have four fully equipped self-catering chalets for overnight visitors, all with electricity, indoor fireplace, and outdoor braai. Hikers can undertake two trails of 2 and 3 hours respectively.

The Ai-Ais/Richtersveld Transfrontier Park in the far north of Namaqualand is recommended for those who enjoy the bumps and grinds of off-road driving. The mountain desert scenery is sublime in its starkness and there are views that really leave one breathless. It is joined to the Namibian side by a pont over the Orange River at Sendelingsdrift. There are two wilderness camps and a number of campsites with very basic facilities.

The Richtersveld Community Conservancy - Adjoining the Ai-Ais/Richtersveld Transfrontier Park to the south is the Richtersveld Community Conservancy, a designated World Heritage Site. This incorporates the Nama settlements of Lekkersing, Eksteenfontein, Kuboes, and Sanddrift. It is one of only 34 biodiversity hotspots worldwide as recognised by Conservation International, and one of only two existing in a desert.

Tankwa Karoo National Park - This desert park is accessed off the R355, which runs south from Calvinia towards Ceres. It straddles the boundary between the Northern Cape and Western Cape and incorporates some of the Roggeveld Mountains and the arid low-lying areas to the south. At 130 000ha it covers a vast area of the succulent Karoo. Accommodation is in original farmhouses, purpose-built cottages and bush campsites that have no facilities.

Observatory - Outside Sutherland the South African Astronomical Observatory is home to a number of big telescopes. Guided day and night tours can be undertaken to the facility.

Palaeo surface - 5km from Fraserburg there are impressively clear trackways of large, four-footed, five-toed mammalian reptiles in the fossilised mud. The prints are of a Bradysaurus that passed that way approximately 190-million years ago.

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