50 Tips for a Memorable Visit to the Richtersveld
By George Brits
We recently spend three weeks in the Richtersveld. We have written about our general impressions. We have also posted a photo essay on each of the roads in the park to give prospective visitors an idea of what they are in for, as well as an article on our photographer's truck setup.
The following is a list of things to consider when visiting the Richtersveld. We have tried to not fill up the list with generic do’s & don’ts but rather to offer ideas that are specific to the park. These ideas should be seen as complementary to whatever you normally do on camping / overnighting trips. In no specific order, then:
1. Fuel consumption. Our truck normally runs at about 12-13 litres/100km. It’s the same doing 120km/h on the open road as it is on an urban cycle. In the Richtersberg our consumption was 19litres/100km. Figure out how much driving you plan to do, what your consumption is likely to be and make sure you have enough fuel.
2. On the four occasions that we have been to the park over the years, the pumps at Sendelingsdrif were empty on three occasions, once going in, once coming out, or on one trip on both occasions. Its best to fill up at Alexander Bay to be on the safe side. In fact, fill up at Springbok, and then again at Alexander Bay. Factor the additional 90km trip to Alexander Bay into your fuel calculation. Phone ahead on the day you leave for the park to find out if the pumps are working. Their number is +27 27 831 1506.
3. The roads in the park are not particularly bad. Definitely not in the ‘advanced 4x4-only category’. The SANPARKS brochure says 4x4 vehicles only. But the sign posting at the bottom of Helskloof pass advises ‘Bakkies / SUV recommended’, which is probably more accurate. In essence, any vehicle that can handle rough terrain will be fine. Still, there are one or two stretches on some roads where 4x4 low range is desirable for the additional control it offers. The road between De Hoop and Richtersberg is the only road that SANPARKS has graded as ‘4x4 only’.
4. Stay on the official tracks. Those ‘look-ma-I-have-a-4x4’ runs into the veld, scar the desert floor for years afterwards. Camp management tell us that offenders are not only fined, but compelled to follow the ranger back to Sendelingsdrif where the fine is issued, just to make sure they get the message.
5. Specialist mapping apps like Tracks4Africa have all the routes in the park, and much more. Google also has the basic information. Just remember to download an offline map before you head into the park if you wanted to use Google Maps.
6. Sendelingsdrif has Vodacom and MTN reception, but once you are in the park, there is nothing.
7. The receptionist at Sendelingsdrif told us that the road along the Abiekwa river bed (R6 to R11) was closed. We were told to take the alternative down the Tatas river bed (R8 to R12) instead. The camp manager at Tatasberg told us the Abiekwa road is seldom travelled and if you get stuck, it may be a while before you are found. According to the camp manager at Ganakouriep, it was perfectly doable – you only had to take it slow.
In our view, this road is not materially different from many of the other roads down the river beds in the park. The main problem is a short section where it snakes through an outcrop of rock where you will almost certainly get hung up with a trailer. Take note. If you are towing a trailer, take the R8 to R12 instead.
8. On the SANPARKS map, two of the lookout points in the Tatasberg / Kokerboomkloof area have been placed right next to each other. The first one is the lookout point just to the north of the road to Kokerboomkloof, about halfway between the R9 junction and the Kloof (‘B’ on the map). The other is at the top of the road that leads up the valley above Tatasberg wilderness camp (‘A’ on the map). It creates the impression that this is one road and that the two lookout points are connected. They are in fact not connected. To get from Kokerboomkloof to Richtersberg, you have to take the R9-R8-R12.
9. In our view the road between De Hoop and Richtersberg is the most unpleasant in the park. It’s a choice between very loose, powdery sand close to the river, or a bone jarring rocky track on the lower slopes of the mountains. The sand is particularly problematic in summer. Also, the short section right outside De Hoop is very rocky. Note that this is the only road in the park where the sign posting says ‘4x4 vehicles only’. All the other roads are marked as ‘Bakkies / SUV recommended’.
10. Sandton crawlers are more than capable of doing the park. In fact, on our last trip, a Range Rover Evoque pulled in next to us at Tatasberg wilderness camp. However, if you do the park on low-profile 19-inch radials, you should probably also budget for one or two new tyres once you get back home. The soft side walls on these city tyres are bound to take some punishment and develop the dreaded little bubbles in their side walls.
11. Park management recommend tyre pressure of 1.8bar. It is only on the De Hoop to Richtersberg section that you will need to deflate your tyres more, and only if you choose the sand tracks rather than the rocky track further away from the river. If this is what you want, you probably need a compressor to reflate your tyres afterward. Also, don’t forget the pressure gauge.
12. A second spare tyre is often recommended for the park. The continuously changing vistas in the Richtersveld compels one to take it easy. Our average speed on our most recent 3-week trip was 14km/h. We checked the tyres afterwards, and there were no signs of damage. If you already own a second spare, you’d be silly to leave it behind. If you don’t, just drive cautiously.
13. Basic recovery gear, and a decent tool bag are recommended. With all the shaking, something is bound to come loose if you keep at it for long enough.
14. Keep your eyes on the road if you are the driver. Even the most pleasant of roads can surprise you with a sudden obstacle that will have you bouncing all over the place.
15. On speed, it is a good idea to arrive at Sendelingsdrif in good time if you are staying at one of the further camps. If you are going to get there late, the accommodation at Sendelingsdrif is decent. The only problem is that you can hear the rumble of the nearby mining activities throughout the night. It’s not loud. Some folk won’t even hear it. But in the quiet of a desert environment it is still an unwelcome intrusion – and once your brain has locked into the sound, you are toast.
16. If you are geared for camping, Potjiespram is only about half an hour from reception, and a better bet than Sendelingsdrif itself. However, the mining operations on the Namibian bank at Potjiespram more than spoils the wilderness effect.
17. Check in is a Sendelingsdrif. If you are planning to take the Helskloof road into the park, you will still have to drive the 20km to reception, then 20km back to the turnoff to Helskloof. The gate close to the Helskloof turn-off is just that – a gate.
18. When doing scenic drives, try and keep the sun on your back. That way, you will have the sun on the landscape, instead of in your eyes. It makes all the difference to the quality of the scenery.
19. A 24-70mm lens is probably the most useful lens to have in the park.
20. Kokerboomkloof is the ideal place to try the night-time trick where you leave your shutter open for a minute or two to track the movement of the stars, and then flash your torch briefly at the focus point (a quiver tree, for example) to light it up in the image. Kokerboomkloof is made for this kind of thing.
21. On the topic of Kokerboomkloof, try and make time for a visit. It is picturesque, but already a shadow of its former self, as the many Quiver Tree stubs attest. As these beautiful trees continue to take strain, it looks ominously as if there will come a time when the Kokerbome of Kokerboomkloof will cease to exist altogether.
22. For panoramas, step out of your truck and walk around a bit to find the best vantage point from which to take the shot. More than any landscape we have travelled though, the abundance and variety of foreground objects against the backdrop of the mountains provide an almost infinite array of possibilities. Don’t just lift your lens and shoot. Look for the very best shot first. You will be amazed at how many of them there are. To illustrate: The images immediately above and below this paragraph were taken 8 metres apart. Not satisfied with the first image, we went back the next day only to discover that we had left the best shot behind the day before.
23. Make sure you have a facility to charge your camera’s batteries, or bring one or two fully charged batteries with you.
24. The wilderness camps have large solar panels and are adequately supplied with electrical power.
25. The Richtersveld is a desert, so dust is everywhere. It creeps into the smallest of cracks. After many attempts to dustproof our truck’s canopy, we now simply toss a large bedsheet over everything before we close up the flaps. It’s not perfect, but it keeps 90% of the dust off our kit.
26. If you are coming for an extended stay and think the dust and general lack of facilitates will get to you, it’s a good idea to mix-and-match camping with the wilderness camps. The huts at the wilderness camps are more expensive, but can help restore a sense of balance. This comment probably applies more to tent-campers than trailer-campers.
27. Leave your game guide at home – the only game you are likely to see are the goats of local farmers. Fauna does not occur in large numbers in the park. The best approach is to take the time to sit quietly in a good spot and let the smaller creatures come to you.
28. Bring a bird book. There aren’t many birds in the park, and most are concentrated along the river. We did see a black stork on our last trip, which was quite special.
29. Bring an insect book. A UV torch will help you find the scorpions when they are out and about in the summer months.
30. Bring a star gazing book. Better still, get an app like ‘StarWalk’. It allows you to type in the name of any astrological object and then helps you find it with little arrows on your screen.
31. The Richtersveld is a relatively new structure in geological terms. Read up a little on the geology. It will make the trip that much more enjoyable. Two good reference guides are: The Story of Earth & Life: A Southern African Perspective on a 4.6-billion-year Journey by Terence McCarthy and Bruce Rubidge, and 50 Must-See Geological Sites in South Africa by Gavin Whitfield.
32. Bring your walking boots or trainers and a hiking pole for balance – and go hike. The half an hour climb to the lookout point at the head of the secret valley above Tatasberg wilderness camp is particularly rewarding. But do it before mid-afternoon for the best sun on the landscape.
33. Some of the best fly fishing in South Africa is found in the park. For details on basic setup and technique, have a look at yellowfish.co.za/catching-first-yellowfish-fly.
34. If you have the space, pack an inflatable boat.
35. Bring a beach umbrella and take it along on your drives. There is little shade in the park. An umbrella to hide under can make all the difference to a lunch break on a mercilessly hot day.
36. Take your camping chairs with you on your scenic drives. It makes the lunch breaks that much more pleasant.
37. It is not unusual to be out and about for hours on your scenic drives, or hikes. Take the necessary to answer calls of nature if the need arises. But be sure to either remove or burn your paper afterwards. It you think it is unpleasant to deal with somebody else’s paperwork at the office, it is even more unpleasant when you are out in the veld.
38. The gnats and mosquitoes can be relentless. The flies are also problematic, especially in areas where goats are frequently kept. This includes places where you get out of your car, not just the campsites or wilderness camps. Come prepared to deal with them. As an aside, citronella soap does not bother the gnats at all.
39. Irrespective of what plans you make to deal with them, bring StopItch (or a similar ointment) to deal with the inevitable bites.
40. Richtersberg camp is listed as having six sites. But after the last floods, some of these were lost. As things stand, you’d be lucky to squeeze three into what remains. But the ‘system’ is still happy to book out six sites. Bear this in mind, particularly over busy times like school holidays.
THE QUIET ZONE
41. Be quiet. We have never come across noisy groups in the Richtersveld. Folk that come exploring here are almost obsessively quiet.
42. Enjoy the solitude – there is plenty of it. Away from the routes along the river, you can go for days without seeing anybody else on your travels, or foot or by car.
43. If you are heading to the Richtersveld for the solitude, try and time your trip outside the school holidays if possible, when the park is appreciably less busy. On our last trip, we visited Kokerboomkloof twice. The first time we had the Kloof to ourselves for the whole afternoon. We returned two weeks later, about a week into the school holidays, and counted twelve other trucks in the kloof over the course of the afternoon.
44. The quiet and solitude are some of the main attractions of the Richtersveld. On a practical note, the huts at Ganakouriep and Tatasberg have canvas roof coverings, which can make annoying flapping noises when there is a breeze blowing. There is nothing you can do about it. It’s best to bring a supply of sleeping tablets if this sort of thing keeps you awake at night.
45. The last place to pick up fresh provisions is at Springbok. It has a large, and well managed Spar, amongst others. Port Nolloth also has a decent Spar.
46. On water consumption, our run rate is about 4l per person per day. That includes water for drinking, cooking, beverages, and sanitation. It excludes water for showers and general kitchen use. One could probably make to with a little less than that, but don’t underestimate your consumption. If you do – you could always drive back to Sendelingsdrif to top up your water containers. All the campsites and wilderness camps have water for general ablutions. The water a Ganakouriep / Hakkiesdoring is the most brackish we have ever come across, on par with the brine in which Feta cheese is kept.
47. Leave some of your water and provisions in the back of your truck for the unlikely event that you get stuck on one of your scenic drives.
48. There is very little wood in the park, and it is illegal to collect anyway. Bring your own braai wood or briquettes.
49. The huts at the wilderness camps have decent fridge/freezers. Obviously, if you are camping, you are on your own.
50. Depending on how fussy you are, bring your own kitchen utensils and a Teflon frying pan. Duct tape, cable ties and a Leatherman are particularly useful to have close to hand.