Namaqua National Park – What a Revelation!
By George Brits
My wife grew up in the lush sub-tropics of northern KZN, and I spent most of my youthful days traversing the escarpment of the Drakensberg. That’s where our soft spots still lie. In the perpetual tussle between mountains and oceans, the arid west coast has never held much appeal.
The countryside is just too harsh, its many scars too much of a blight on the landscape. And then there is the coastal pollution. In a landscape that is this marginal, even small amounts of littoral plastic dumps are enough to destroy the experience.
The west coast has not taken our bad-mouthing lightly though. On the few occasions that we have managed to make our way out there, it has taken its revenge – whether by raining most of the time (!), or by hiding its flowers from us. Four flower trips, and we have yet to see anything more than a road verge with a few lost African daisies.
Still, despite our prejudice, SANPark’s persistent propaganda about the Namaqua National Park eventually piqued our curiosity.
We’ve made it as far as Hondeklipbaai to photograph the shipwreck of the Aristea on one or two of our previous trips and knew what the interior of the park looked like (sans flowers). But the coastal section of the park was completely unknown to us.
Information on this section is scant. SANPark’s website just says that ‘the camps are all rustic and aim to maintain the wilderness character of this coastline’. There are enviro loos, but there is no water or any other ablutions. In other words, you have to be completely self-sufficient. We carried 75l of water for drinking and cooking for a party of three for five days, and another 50l for showering.
There are longs stretches of soft sand on the coastal road, and only 4x4 vehicles are allowed on most of the roads. As an aside, although the rest of the park is great for mountain biking, it’s best to leave it at home, unless you have an affinity for pushing your bike through miles of thick sand.
There are nine campsites in the park, each with between two and twelve stands. Accurate co-ordinates for all of them can be found on SANParks’ website.
Boulder Baai is furthest north, and the only campsite north of the Spoeg River. Both it and the next campsite, Skuinsbaai Noord, can be reached in a high clearance vehicle from the Hondeklip Bay road gate.
The southernmost campsite, Delwerskamp, is only 1km from the Groen River gate and can be reached in a high clearance vehicle. The next campsite up, Groen River, is just a short hop from Groen River reception and can be reached in a regular sedan vehicle.
A 4x4 is needed for the remaining five campsites between Groen River and Skuinsbaai Noord. Remember, if you don’t have a 4x4, most of your exploring of the park will have to be on foot if you stay at one of the more accessible campsites.
We stayed at Kwass for three nights, but all the campsites are positioned on the water, and each has something special going for it.
South of the Park
In addition to the 40km of coastal road in the park, there is another 100km of coastal road south of the park. If information on the coastal section of the Namaqualand park is meagre, then information on this stretch of land is all but non-existent. It definitely feels uncomfortable to think that you are heading out into no-man’s land, with no cell phone reception, uncertain of where you may camp and whether you’d have a clear run through to the park or might end up in tracks that fizzle out into nothingness or encounter other insurmountable obstacles. Browsing forums like 4x4community.co.za provided some useful information.
Although you’d get a lot more detail from a specialist map provider like tracks4africa, we found that every single one of the little coastal tracks were on our TomTom, as well as on Google Maps. If you want to use the latter, please make sure you download an off-line map while you still have signal. We were on Vodacom and had no signal for the whole trip.
Fortunately, our worries proved to be unwarranted, and we had a great time traversing this section of land. A word of caution though: don’t even think about doing this track in anything but a 4x4 and let down your tyre pressure for sand driving. The track is not particularly onerous, but there are sections of thick sand and you will almost certainly get stuck in any other vehicle. The high clearance of a 4x4 also helps with the (few) places where the ‘middelmannetjie’ is a little on the high side. For the same reason, think long and hard about towing a caravan or even a bush trailer, and preferably only do so when travelling in a convoy.
We approached the park from the south and took the dirt road from Lutzville to join the coastal track at Brand se Baai 63km south of the park. Unfortunately, the Tronox Namaqua Sands mining operation is also based here, and somewhat spoils the sense of wilderness. That said, this is the last piece of development you will encounter for the next 100km.
If you followed the track further south, it eventually runs into a dead end on the banks of the Olifants River. The southernmost point to sensibly join the track is about 38km south of Brand se Baai.
The track south of the park runs through a mix of private and municipal land. Apart from a few short sections that are clearly marked, you can camp where you like, as long as you observe a few rules of common decency. Don’t be a nuisance. Don’t create more scars on the landscape but keep to the existing tracks and clearings. Take all your rubbish out with you. We were very surprised by how clean this stretch of coast was, only to be told by the SANPark staff at Groen River reception that they had just completed a clean-up operation and carted away 30 tonnes of rubbish! Apparently, they do this every year!
There are a number of really great looking campsites along the way, each looking more seductive than the one before. We kept pushing on for the ‘next one’ until we finally called it a day about 30km south of the park.
We camped here for two nights. We chose a site that was some distance from the main track, but still felt cheated when we saw two cars drive past us in the distance the next day. On day two, we were suddenly descended upon by no less than three vehicles. In their defence, our camp was hidden behind a small dune. Fortunately, they moved on to find their own piece of tranquillity and we never saw them again.
Chewing the Fat
On an exploratory trip like this it is almost inevitable that things will go wrong. Our biggest problem was that we underestimated the weather. According to SANPark’s website, ‘average winter temperatures vary between 7°C and 19°C, while summer temperatures vary between 20°C and 4°C.
We were there in late October, expecting mild to hot weather. What we did not appreciate was how the slightest breeze over the ice cold Atlantic would send a chill up your spine every time the sun disappeared behind a thin layer of cloud. Also, the little rainfall that the west coast gets is meant to fall in June to August. But we were properly soaked on two of the five nights. Not a bad deal, unless you leave one of the tent’s flysheets at home!