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Richtersveld 4x4 Trails

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92km from Alexander Bay

-28.1285, 16.8941

200km, 4-5hrs

+27 27 831 1506 www.sanparks.org.za

Configuration: From Sendelingsdrift a network of roads criss-cross the reserve between the camping sites along the Orange River.

Terrain: Gravel roads, corrugations, sharp rocks and lots of sand.

This is a self-drive trail; no guiding is needed. The flowering season is between June and October. Extreme temperatures of up to 53°C have been recorded in mid-summer. Self-catering chalets are available at Sendelingsdrift Rest Camp and at the Tatasberg and Ganakouriep Wilderness Camps. Several campsites can be found along the Orange River banks and in the rest camps. There are no shops in the park, but fuel and cold drinks can be purchased at a small general store at Sendelingsdrift. There is also a swimming pool at Sendlingsdrift Camp. There is no official 4x4 route in the park; rather a network of off-road trails. Swimming in the Orange River or going on one of the guided hiking trails in the park will leave lasting memories.

About

The Richtersveld Park is situated in the north-west corner of the Northern Cape where South Africa rubs shoulders with the arid mountain ranges of southern Namibia. Hunkering down within the muddy embrace of the mighty Gariep River, the Richtersveld offers wilderness enthusiasts an unparalleled off-road experience.

At first glance the desert might come across as a minimalist tableau of rock and sand, but closer inspection will uncover a rich and diverse ecosystem.  Xerophytes and succulents eke out existences in the lee of rocks with gnarled quiver trees, tall aloes and quaint ‘half-mens’ keeping vigil over this inscrutable landscape. Patient reptiles wait for the !Huries Mist to roll in to lick the condensation from plants and rocks.

The park's internal roads are ‘farm tracks’ that are mainly suited to 4x4 vehicles, but vehicles with high clearances such as kombis and LDVs do travel in the park. Sedan vehicles are not permitted, however. Some of the graded roads are badly corrugated, but luckily you'll get off these deeper into the park as you reach the two-wheel tracks.

As you start climbing the passes, take care to avoid the razor sharp rocks that can cut and damage your sidewalls. A large number of the roads run in dry river beds, so you will be doing a lot of sand driving. This is especially true on the stretch to Tatasberg and Richtersburg. The road to Helskloof gate is absolutely beautiful and here you will find the most plant species and the most stunning views in the park.

There are two passes on your way to the gate. Do not attempt this road if you're not in a 4x4 with good ground clearance and low range as they will be essential going down Oomrogh Pass. Also check with the authorities whether the road is open before you set out.

The network of jeep tracks through the Richtersveld are sure to test your driving skills, offering a good mix of sand, rocky climbs, rutted tracks and ditches.  Just keep in mind how fragile the desert ecosystem is and stick to existing tracks at all times. Diesel, 97-octane and lead replacement petrol are available at Sendelingsdrif.

Note that the nearest supply of unleaded petrol is at Alexander Bay, so be sure to fill up and take at least one jerrycan of extra fuel. Two extra spare wheels, tools, enough food and extra water containers are essential. Plan on at least 5 litres of water per person per day for drinking and cooking alone. If you don't want to use the river water for washing and cleaning, take more. Fresh water is available at Sendelingsdrift.

Sendelingsdrift Rest Camp offers 10 self-catering chalets and a swimming pool. The Potjiespram Rest Camp and De Hoop and Richtersburg campsites offer basic ablutions with cold water showers. The Kokerboomkloof campsite has no water or electricity. There are small self-catering units at the Tatasberg and Ganakouriep Wilderness camps with showers, a 12V lighting system and gas fridges and stoves. Please note that the water at Ganakoeriep and Tatasberg is not suitable for drinking. One last golden rule: always take out what you take in!

The quickest way to get to the Sendelingsdrift entrance of the park from the N7 (RSA) and B1 (Namibia) is to turn off at Steinkopf and approach via Port Nolloth and Alexander Bay - with the last 80km being on a fairly good gravel road.

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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