In the north-west corner of South Africa, the sun points the way to a place of clear skies, overwhelming quiet and wide open spaces … where one can stand under starlit skies and feel at one with the universe … where the scent of herbs is carried on the breeze … and where one can travel the desert and unexpectedly hear the call of the sea. This is the Northern Cape, South Africa’s largest province, and it calls to us quietly, inviting us to come and discover its treasures.
By day, the open desert plains, tinted in the golden shades of the sun, seem to hold no secrets, but over the ages, many explorers have found otherwise. The land keeps its treasures in plain sight and, like a trusting child, gladly reveals itself to those who pay it the attention it deserves.
By night, the heavenly ceiling is decorated with brilliant stars and many people agree that nowhere else can one see so many stars so clearly. The quiet black night forms a cocoon against the pressures of the world and the wind whispers of peace and harmony and the joy of simple pleasures. The Milky Way is laid bare, inviting us to contemplate our place in the universe and the Southern Cross benignly gives us direction.
Reminiscent of the discoverers of old, their sense of adventure uncurbed, modern-day adventurers are becoming more and more entranced with the Northern Cape. Hikers, 4×4 enthusiasts, river rafters, hunters and divers seize at the opportunity to explore the unspoilt desert and dunes, river and sea.
They do not come here to get lost in the crowds, but rather to find themselves, to hear again their own thoughts and to rediscover their connection with Nature. They harness all their senses to truly experience the Northern Cape and are well rewarded for the effort.
This is an old land that has many stories to tell. For many centuries, beings have imprinted a record of their existence on this land, leaving behind a treasure trove of information. Signs of early life include dinosaur footprints and fossils that can be found at archaeological and palaeontological sites throughout the province.
The intrepid San people, small tribes of hunter-gatherers, were among the first humans to explore this land and make it their home. Their account of their lives and beliefs has been left in the form of rock art all over the province.
Every region and every season bring its own surprises.
There are no prizes for guessing which treasure can be found in the Diamond Fields region. The diamond rush that was sparked by a chance discovery of a shiny pebble in the year 1866 brought treasure hunters from all over the world, hungry for the riches they thought were theirs for the taking.
The Karoo region offers silent testimony to the fact that life always finds a way. After the first rains, many species of succulents find their way to the surface and appear among the short grasses that feed the merino sheep which have become synonymous with the region.
The first spring rains ignite a natural celebration of life in the dry winter landscape of Namakwa, one of the most diverse regions in the province. A multicoloured wild-flower carpet grows almost overnight, enticing thousands of people to visit the area and share in the bounty of Mother Nature. In the Richtersveld, the halfmens (“half human”) stands guard over the flowers, with its head always turned north. As you follow the setting sun to the west, you hear the call of the Atlantic Ocean. Just over the next dune, the clear blue waters shimmer in the last light of day and the West Coast stretches for miles.
To those who have heard of the Kalahari Desert, the name “Green Kalahari” may appear to be a misnomer, but this region is only another bonus for the visitor. A flourishing green valley marks the path that the Orange River cuts through the Northern Cape where farmers and in particular, winemakers, have learnt to use every precious drop of water wisely.
The Raptor Route leads to the Kalahari, an area of never-ending horizons where raptors, soaring high in the cloudless sky, sometimes cast the only shadows on the red sands. Under the sands lie incredible mineral riches and another, even more precious treasure – water, which bursts forth joyously from the earth in clear cool springs.
The rugged countryside, the open skies and the strong presence of undisturbed Nature give rise to such feelings of peace, tranquillity and belonging that visitors often return to the Northern Cape. The road may stretch far ahead, but the journey is well worthwhile. And, despite the size and ruggedness of the land, the people who live here do their best to make visitors welcome in their land.
A well-developed transportation and road network, modern telecommunication facilities and sophisticated shops offer visitors every convenience they may need. Combine this with the services of experienced tour guides, the comfort of pleasant accommodation facilities and mapped-out and guided adventure routes, and the Northern Cape is an easy place to visit and to fall in love with.
The Northern Cape is a dry region with fluctuating temperatures and differing topographies. Its weather is typically that of desert and semi-desert areas.
In South Africa summer is from December to February and in January temperatures in the Northern Cape usually vary from 33 and 36 degrees Celsius. Although this is rare, summer temperatures in the Northern Cape have been known to exceed 40 degrees Celsius.
During winter (June to August), day temperatures are mild (22 degrees Celsius), but the evenings can be cold (freezing point), after dew and frost have cooled down the earth. In winter, snow can often be seen on the mountains surrounding Sutherland, one of the coldest towns in Southern Africa.
The annual rainfall is never high (50 to 400 mm) and it is always lower than the rate of evaporation. The western areas of the province, which include the Namakwa region and small sections of the Green Kalahari, receive rainfall during the winter months. These rains bring to life the glorious displays of wild flowers that decorate these regions from late August until the end of September.
The central and eastern parts of the province get their rain during the summer months (December to February). These summer rains are often accompanied by heavy thunderstorms.