The beauty of the Northern Cape lies in its sheer space – enormous skies, wide open landscapes and horizons that seem to stretch forever. For those who enjoy a sense of adventure as part of their holiday, the Northern Cape more than delivers.
While Gauteng was built on gold, the Northern Cape was built on diamonds. The capital, Kimberley, is a fascinating place filled with tall tales and legends of days gone by. The fabled Kimberley Big Hole and the Mine Museum are the most popular tourist attractions in the Northern Cape. You can also visit the historic Kimberley Club, once the regular haunt of characters like Cecil John Rhodes. The Belgravia Historic Walk in Kimberley gives insights into the layout of the town as you view the Victorian homes and heritage sites en route. You can also visit Sol Plaaitjes’ homestead on Angel Street. And that’s about it as far as urban development goes. Now you head out into the wilderness.
The vast landscape of the Karoo begs to be explored and the small towns of Colesberg, De Aar, Victoria West and Carnarvon have a unique architectural language of their own. Typical Karoo huisies stand proudly on an unforgiving lunar-like landscape. As barren as it may seem, this area is magnetically beautiful.
The Northern Cape also contains one of the most celebrated natural phenomena in South Africa. The Namaqua region is the place to head in springtime to experience it. This is when the famous Namaqualand daisies come to life and blanket vast swathes of land in a colourful floral explosion.
From there, head further north to the IAis IAis Richtersveld National Park in north-western Namaqualand. This unpredictable terrain combining mountains and desert is popular with 4x4 drivers and adventure seekers.
At the other extreme, Namaqualand is bordered by the cold Atlantic Ocean. Head to Hondeklip for some crayfish diving.
The town of Sutherland has a reputation for being one of the coldest towns in the country during the winter, but it has another claim to fame. It houses the South African Astronomical Observatory and SALT (Southern African Large Telescope) - the largest single telescope in the Southern Hemisphere. It goes without saying that stargazing safaris are a hit in this part of the world.
While you’re in the area, the Green Kalahari region is definitely worth the trek. It’s here that you can visit the Augrabies Falls National Park. The falls from which it takes its name have recorded waterfall volumes greater than any ever recorded at the Niagara Falls. You can also visit the vast Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, where you may be lucky enough to spot one of the famous black-maned lions of the Kalahari.
You’ll need a pit stop as you travel through the area, so head for the town of Upington. Here you can visit the Orange River Wine Cellars.
And then it’s off into the wild again. The Witsand Nature Reserve is where you’ll find the roaring sand dunes of the Kalahari, where game viewing, hiking and off-road routes are on offer. Other notable reserves in the Northern Cape include Tswalu Desert Reserve, Spitskop Nature Reserve and Goegap Nature Reserve.
When visiting the Kalahari region, a worthy stopover is the Eye of Kuruman, an abundant source of water for the parched desert landscape. You’ll also find the tiny towns of Kathu and Hotazel in this part of the world.
The Northern Cape has a rich cultural heritage where you will be able to learn about the ways of the San and Nama people. In places like the Richtersveld, you can spend time with local communities and get to know more about life in the desert.
There are also many incredible rock art sites and places like the Wonderwerk Cave (between Kuruman and Danielskuil) and the Gansfontein Palaeo-Surface outside Fraserberg. These date back hundreds of thousands of years.
The province is a bit offbeat and museums such as the Loeriesfontein Windmill Museum and the Hantam Huis Museum offer fun excursions. There are also a few historic mission stations worth visiting, including the Moffat Mission outside Kuruman and the historic town of Pella.
You need plenty of time to visit the Northern Cape; areas are vast and the landscape is relentless, but there is something very real and oddly compelling about this dusty desert landscape that has a magic all of its own.