The Northern Cape

The Northern Cape province is one of the most untouched parts of South Africa. Despite being the largest province in the country, it has the least inhabitants. The region’s wide-open savannas and unforgiving deserts make it hauntingly beautiful – a place where you’ll discover solitude and barren beauty at its best. Consider this South Africa’s answer to the outback. 

The Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park is a remote wildlife reserve located within the Kalahari Desert. The park has a distinctive landscape of arid plains, red dunes and dry riverbeds. But it’s not just the landscape that makes this park so special, the Kgalagadi is where unique species, namely the black-maned Kalahari lion and the meerkat live. It’s a challenging environment for animals to survive in, so wildlife is not as abundant as other national parks, but when you come across a rare sighting it’s certainly more rewarding. Those who are keen to ride a quad bike over the spectacular red dunes can do so in the greater Kalahari area. Hour-long or day trips are available, as are overnight biking safaris. Further south of the park, lies a private game reserve, Tswalu Kalahari. This five-star offering is one of the few in the area with over 11,000 hectares of grassy savannas and mountains. 

If you haven’t reached your quota of arid plains and dry landscapes, the Richtersveld, a UNESCO World Heritage site, lies in the northwestern corner of the Northern Cape. Here, any sign of life is hard to come by, except for the Orange River – the life force that runs through it. Made up of kloofs (gorges) and koppies (small mountaintops), this moon-like region, with its rugged terrain, is completely unique. 

Don’t miss the opportunity to white water raft or canoe down South Africa’s longest river, the Orange River. The scenery is absolutely breathtaking, as is sleeping under the stars on a river expedition. The overnight expeditions are extremely basic, where you sleep in tents and eat food made over a campfire, but waking up in this isolated wilderness is enchanting and unmissable. If white water rafting isn’t your activity of choice, another great way to see the Orange River is from above. The Northern Cape is a vast province with an incredibly diverse landscape. Taking a helicopter flight will enable you to get a great view of the changing terrain. Fly over the Molopo Canyon, Quiver Tree Forest and Augrabies Falls. 

The Augrabies Falls is another highlight of the area and draws many local tourists. This is probably the only place in the whole region where you’re going to see an abundance of water as it crashes into deep ponds below. Walk to the top of moonrock, a small summit and viewpoint, where you can see the falls cascade down 56 metres into the Orange River below. 

The Northern Cape province isn’t only about  pretty landscapes and adventure-filled activities, it also has some significant historic sites. For thousands of years, the region was inhabited by the San people, who left countless artworks and engravings on sites around the area. At the Wonderwerk cave in Kuruman and Wildebeest Kuil Rock Art Centre, which lies a few kilometres outside Kimberly, you’ll find hundreds of engravings by the Xun and Khwe San people. Owned by the San and Mier communities, !Xaus Lodge  offers spoor (animal trace) tracking excursions where guests will learn the San bushmen ways of identifying edible plants and finding water. 

Where to stay

Tswalu Kalahari is one of the few places with two separate luxury accommodation offerings, and the Luxe for Less option, The Motse, is an oasis in the desert, with luxury suites, inviting swimming pools and private sun decks. Rates at The Motse start from R13,000 (about A$1177) per person for a Motse Suite. Rates are inclusive of  a private guide, vehicle and tracker, walking safaris, horseback safaris, all beverages and a gourmet pantry. 

For an eco lodge experience !Xaus Lodge in Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park is the perfect option. Guests can stay in one of twelve individual chalets with a private deck overlooking an immense saltpan and waterhole. Rates start at R1995 (about A$190) per person, twin share. Rates are inclusive of all meals, game drives, wilderness walks, night sky star gazing, a visit to the Bushman craft village and return transfer to the Kamqua picnic site.

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