Richtersveld Photo Essay
By George Brits
For the many of us who have not been to the Richtersveld yet, it can sound somewhat intimidating. There are no services for miles around; and one has to bring along all provisions, including drinking water. Most of the roads are only accessible by sturdy vehicles. The sign post at the start of Helskloof says ‘Bakkies / SUV recommended’, but there are many roads deeper into the park where it is much better to have a 4x4 . The section between De Hoop and Richtersveld is strictly 4x4 only. Still, it would be wrong to think it’s only for advanced 4x4 drivers. A good dose of common sense will be all you’ll need in almost all circumstances.
We recently spend three weeks in the park and cover our impressions in a previous article. A further article provides 50 tips for a memorable visit to the Richtersveld. This blog is just a photographic essay on the park – meant to give prospective travellers a sense of what they are in for. It provides two photographs for each of the individual road sections in the park. It may sound a little excessive. But one of the main attractions of the park is the enormous variation across its valleys, riverbeds, dunes and mountain scenery.
We spent days, camera in hand, staring in awe at its beauty and diversity – and could happily have spent another three weeks in the park if given half a chance. As an aside, when deciding on a route for the day, 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.
For ease of reference, we have used SANPARK’s junction reference points as the basis for our map. Starting at Sendelingsdrif, we follow the roads around the park in a roughly clockwise direction.
To give you a sense of the distances involved, De Hoop is about one and a half hours from reception. Gannakouriep / Hakkiesdoring are about two hours from reception. Richtersberg / Tatasberg are three to four hours away depending on the route you choose.
SENDELINGSDRIF RECEPTION TO R2 (HAND OF GOD)
This first section into the park is shared with a mining operation that lies beyond the R2 junction. The road is wide and heavily rutted. It isn’t particularly interesting either. It’s best to cover it as quickly as the speed limit will allow. The turn-off to Potjiespram campsite is on this stretch of road.
R1 TO POTJIESPRAM
Many people use Potjiespram as a base from which to move on to their final destination – particularly when arriving at the park late in the afternoon. The road has become really compacted over the years and is plain sailing – definitely not the slippery sandy track it used to be. It is a viable option to camp here if your vehicle is not up to the rest of the park – as long as you don’t mind the mine dumps on the opposite bank of the river. One of them is clearly visible in the first image below.
R2 TO R4 OVER THE PENKOP & AKKEDIS PASSES
One enters the park proper after the R2 junction. From this point it is time to slow down and enjoy the view. Both the Penkop and Akkedis passes have short steep sections where the road has been badly worn and will reduce you down to a crawl. Once over the last hump, the view leads down the wide dry bed of the Kooks river. The road is wide and rutted, but not as badly as the entrance section.
R4 TO DE HOOP CAMPSITE VIA THE KOOKS RIVER BED
This road starts of wide and flat as it continues to follow the Kooks river bed, but soon gets squeezed in by mountains on either side. In the lowest section, the canyon steepens considerably. At one point, the road drops down to the river bed off the shoulder of the mountain – shown in the first image below. It is not nearly as intimidating as it looks – but still makes for few moments of high excitement. Certainly, one of the more fun bits in the park.
DE HOOP TO RICHTERSBERG AND TATASBERG HUTS ALONG THE BANKS OF THE ORANGE RIVER
The road snakes along the banks of the Orange river and regularly branches off in multiple directions. The lower forks keep you in the sand, whereas the higher forks lead you over rocky terrain. We picked the sandy sections a few times. The sand is very fine - almost powdery, and just waiting to entrap careless drivers. Apparently, it is even worse in summer. We ended up on the rocky section most of the time. Here the ride is miserable, with the truck bouncing around incessantly. The thick riparian vegetation obscures the river for almost the entire length of the road, offering little by way of consolation for the bouncy ride. Not our favourite road in the park.
R4 TO R6 OVER THE MAERPOORT PASS
The first image below was taken from the top of Maerpoort pass, facing south. It is one of the most iconic images of the park, and for good reason. Best of all, you can take the image from right next to the car. Maerpoort pass is one of the least intimidating passes in the park.
R6 TO R11 ALONG THE ABIEKWA RIVER BED
The receptionist at Sendelingsdrif told us this road was closed, and that we should take the R8 to R12 road which winds down the Tatas river bed instead. The manager at Tatasberg camp told us it is seldom travelled, and if you get stuck, it may be a while before you are found. According to the camp manager at Gannakouriep, it was perfectly doable – you only had to take it slow. With such a primer, we obviously had to do it. In truth, we found it not that different from its sibling one valley over (Tatas river bed). The main difference was a short section that snakes through a large outcrop of rock where you will almost certainly get hung up with a trailer. Take note!
THE TATASBERG RIVER BED ABOVE TATASBERG WILDERNESS CAMP
The camp manager at Tatasberg called this his ‘secret valley’, referring to the valley directly south of Tatasberg wilderness camp. But the road into the valley is on the map, so it is not really a secret. We suspect he called it that because most visitors to Tatasberg wilderness camp focus on the river and not the valleys. What a mistake! The whole valley, from about a third of the way up, consists entirely of boulders – in all sides and shapes. Whole mountains of it. In our view, it is one of the most interesting of all the valleys in the park.
VIEWPOINT AT THE TOP OF THE TATASBERG RIVER BED
Once you get to the top of the ‘secret valley’, you have to scramble up the hill for about twenty minutes. But the view to the west is one of the most spectacular in the park. Better than the view from the top of Maerpoort pass, in our view. If you decide to do this climb, go early. From mid-afternoon onwards, you will have the sun in your lens, which is not ideal.
R8 ALONG THE TATAS RIVER BED TO R12 (RICHTERSBERG)
This is the route that that reception at Sendelingsdrif recommends if you are headed for the Richtersberg campsite or Tatasberg wilderness camp, instead of driving down the Abiekwa river bed (R6 to R11). It is as beautiful as its sibling, but without the narrow boulder section. From a scenic point of view, it is hard to choose between the two.
THE R8 TO R9 SECTION
This road connects the ‘middle’ section of the park to the Kokerboomkloof valley. It is flat and unpleasantly rutted in places. Our advice is to take it slow, and enjoy the scenery, instead of shaking your molars loose in a mad dash to get to the other end.
R9 TO KOKERBOOMKLOOF ALONG THE SPRINGBOKVLAKTE
The first section of the road runs across the flat sand bed of the Springbokvlakte. After about four kilometres it starts climbing the hill towards a viewpoint that looks out across the valley of the Tatas river to the west. This is shown in the next section. A short distance on, there is another viewpoint, this time over the Springbokvlakte to the south.
VIEWPOINT OFF R9 TO KOKERBOOMKLOOF ROAD, LOOKING WEST
This viewpoint lies a short distance off the R9 to Kokerboomkloof road. It is clearly sign posted. It offers a similar view to the one at the top of the ‘secret valley’ described earlier. The main difference is that it does not involve a twenty-minute scramble up a mountain.
R9 TO R10 OVER THE SPRINGBOKVLAKTE
This is actually a utility road that connects the park to a diamond prospecting area to the east of the R10 junction. There is little reason to take it – all the best views are on the shorter, more direct road between Kokerboomkloof and the R9 junction. Still, if you a keen to explore it, do the loop in an anti-clockwise direction. Otherwise you will spend the majority of the time on the four kilometre stretch down to R10 looking at the shiny tin roofs of the settlement at Aussenkehr.
The road down to Kokerboomkloof is and easy drive on hard packed sand. The kloof is strikingly picturesque, but hard to capture photographically due to its steep slope and the spectacular, but unphotogenic outcrop called ‘Die Toon’ (the toe) in its middle. Unfortunately, the quiver trees from which the valley draws its name are dying in their droves due to a combination of climate change and a number of years of extreme drought. It another few years, we will probably refer to it as ‘Boulder kloof’.
THE R8 TO R19 SECTION
This road connects the Gannakouriep section of the park to Kokerboomkloof and the riverine camps. Its scenery is stunning. But the road is short. Take the time to get out of you truck and enjoy it, lest it be over before you’ve had a chance to take it in.
R18 TO R19 ALONG THE GANNAKOURIEP RIVER BED
This road runs along a dry river bed. But the sand has been compacted hard, making for an enjoyable drive. There is pleasant structure along the route, but you will have to get out of your truck to make the most of it. Because the Gannakouriep section of the park is less visited than other sections, you are more than likely to have this valley all to yourself.
GANNAKOURIEP CAMP ENVIRONMENT
Without the benefit of the river, the starkness of the desert truly comes to the fore in the Gannakouriep section of the Richtersveld. Roads are less travelled, and the dreaded ruts not as abundant.
R18 AND INTO THE HAKKIESDORING VALLEY
The road into the Hakkiesdoring valley is Gannakouriep’s equivalent to the road up the ‘secret valley’ of the Tatasberg river bed. It meanders pleasantly into the valley for three kilometres before you reluctantly have to turn back. It is worth spending a half day exploring it.
R6 TO R7 ALONG THE TOP END OF THE ABIEKWA RIVER BED
This road connects the top end of the park to the lower sections. It runs along the higher reaches of the Abiekwa river. Here the mountains are perhaps not as steep as in the lower reaches (R6 to R11). It also makes the road less steep and bumpy. But it is still one of the most delightful roads in the park.
R6 TO R7 THE LONG WAY AROUND
Instead of tracking the Abiekwa river bed between R6 and R7, this road takes a longer detour as it meanders through the mountains along a gentle sand bed. The road is hard and compacted with rutting in places. It is hard to say which is the more scenic of the two. Best to drive both.
THE R16 TO R17 SECTION
This is the last section of the main route to the Gannakouriep wilderness camp. It is flat and hard, with rutting in places – and has a beautiful view over the mountains that form the southern rim of the Richtersveld park.
THE R7 TO R19 SECTION
This is the road you will take if you wanted to get to Gannakouriep wilderness camp or Hakkiesdoring via the Gannakouriep river bed when approaching from the north-west. It is easy and scenic, with a few ruts in places. Its final section has breathtaking views over and area sculpted out of back stone hills and sandy sweeps.
THE R14 TO R16 SECTION
This section lies at the end of the Helskloof road and leads down to Gannakouriep in a long slow sweep. The road surface is hard packed sand, with rutting in places. The views are gentle and scenic.
R13 TO R14 OVER THE DOMOROGH PASS
When entering (or exiting) the park, you are most likely to do so via the Maerpoort or Helskloof passes. But if at all possible, make a plan to traverse the Domorogh pass. It offers breathtaking views over the interior of the park, from where much of the structure deeper into the park can be identified. It is a rough road in places, but nothing that can’t be handled with a bit of caution.
R14 TO THE FIRST GATE OVER HELSKLOOF PASS
Helskloof pass is best known for its large stands of Aloe Pearsonii. In fact, you won’t find them in larger numbers anywhere in the country (or anywhere else on the planet as David Attenborough would say). The pass is not as intimidating as Domorogh, but not as easy as some of the simpler passes like Swartpoort or Halfmens.
FINALLY, THE ROAD BACK HOME
The road back home starts with the dirt road to Alexander Bay. There is just no way to sugar coat it – this is a terrible road, dull and terribly rutted. But if you are lucky, you may have one final grand vista over the mountains of the Richtersveld as you leave.