South Africa Part III – Richtersveld


Wednesday 25 February 2015 marked our 20th night since we’ve left Pretoria, as well as my sister Hilge’s birthday. At least we were able to phone her and sing Happy birthday, which might not be the case for other loved ones during the coming year.

We slept in Springbok’s Municipal Caravan Park and were pleasantly surprised with the quality of the camp site, as well as the amount of visitors. A lot of people seem to overnight here on the way to and from Namibia and Cape Town. My sister-in-law told us to enjoy the very hot Springbok. Ha! She doesn’t know the West Coast. We had to wear jumpers! Something’s up with the weather. Again, on Thursday, we were late leaving. Surprise surprise! Probably got something to do with the weather?

We drove to Port Nolloth, the next big metropolis, which doesn’t even have a butcher (Tip – want to make money? Go open a butchery in Port Nolloth. They seriously need one.) and only a semi-decent Spar Supermarket. At least they had alcohol! In spite of its lack of a butchery, it is a beautiful little town  with friendly people. What is it with the Western Cape and all the friendly people? I think everyone in Gauteng should move here to learn some manners and get a few pointers on how to relax. But I guess I would also be relaxed and friendly if I lived here:

From Port Nolloth, we went to Alexander Bay, an even smaller town. This is also where we left tarred roads behind for a while. Late in the afternoon we reached one of Hugo’s bucket list places, the /Ai-/Ais/ Richtersveld Transfrontier Park (the “/” is a clicking sound in the local language). He has been wanting to go here for many years, and I’m happy for him that we’ve made it. We both feel that this is where our adventure really begins. Now we are too far from hardware shops and big outdoor and camping shops. We have what we have and we will have to make do. It will be back to basics, camping in the wild. The rest-camps only have cold showers but luckily (for Sophia, we still need to break her into the bush-wee-thing) flushing toilets.

The Richtersveld is a mountainous desert landscape characterised by rugged kloofs and high mountains, situated in the north-western corner of South Africa’s Northern Cape province. It is full of changing scenery from flat, sandy, coastal plains, to craggy sharp mountains of volcanic rock and the lushness of the Orange River, which forms the border with neighbouring Namibia. The area ranges in altitude from sea level, to 1,377 m (4,518 ft) at Cornellberg.

Located in South Africa’s northern Namaqualand, this arid area represents a harsh landscape where water is a great scarcity and only the hardiest of lifeforms survive. Despite this, the Richtersveld is regarded as the only Arid Biodiversity Hotspot on Earth, with an astonishing variety of plant, bird and animal life (much of which is endemic).

Part of the area is inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List due to its cultural values, but remains a favourite amongst nature travellers to South Africa, the landscape is sometimes described as “martian”. Though barren and desolate at first glance, closer examination reveals the area to be rich in desert lifeforms, with an array of unique species specially adapted for survival.

Temperatures are extreme, and in summer can reach over 50 °C (122 °F). Rain is a very rare event.

– Source: Wikipedia

We made it to reception at six in the evening. The friendly lady told us she’d already closed the shift for the day, but we could just go ahead to the nearest camp, Pootjiespram, and come back the next morning to pay. Pootjiespram is less than an hour’s drive from the gate, so we headed there. The next morning we went back to reception and booked three more nights, this time at De Hoop (The Hope). It is only about 40 kilometres away, but it takes three hours to get there.

So here the story of only friendly people ends. On the South African National Parks website it states that there is a little shop at the gate. So we planned around that, and we didn’t really stock up on groceries in the previous towns. When I went to the shop it was locked, but there was a number on the door, which I phoned. An extremely rude lady answered and shouted at me for bothering her. “Can’t I read? The shop opens later on off-weekends!” Huh?! That was not at all what I read. Well, the long and short of the story is that she doesn’t care about park visitors. It is a shop for the local community (mine workers) and she doesn’t care for my business. It is anyway not tourist season, so what am I doing there!? Her words, not mine.

I felt compelled to report it to the park’s people and they were very shocked. To anyone wanting to travel to the Richtersveld: the shop at Sendelingsdrift does not want our money. Make sure you stock up in Springbok or Port Nolloth. The next shop is in Rosh Pinah across the border.

The road to De Hoop is rocky, sometimes sandy, and crosses dry riverbeds and mountains. Often, the view takes your breath away, and at other times, it is quite ugly in my opinion – some mountains are just rocks. Not even a dry shrub in sight. It reminds us of our time in the United Arab Emirates. Sometimes it looks like mining heaps – really not beautiful. Unexpected flowers here and there bring some colour in a very bleak environment.

Our campsite in De Hoop was right on the banks of the Orange River.

The Orange River (Afrikaans/Dutch: Oranjerivier), Gariep River, Groote River or Senqu River is the longest river in South Africa. It rises in the Drakensberg Mountains in Lesotho, flowing westwards through South Africa to the Atlantic Ocean. The river forms part of the international borders between South Africa and Namibia and between South Africa and Lesotho, as well as several provincial borders within South Africa. Except for Upington, it does not pass through any major cities. The Orange River plays an important role in the South African economy by providing water for irrigation, as well as hydroelectric power. The river was named by Robert Jacob Gordon after the Dutch Royal House.

– Source: Wikipedia

From our camp, we had a spectacular view across the river to Namibia.

We got the fishing rods out and Gustav wanted to know where in the rules does it state that we are allowed to fish. Or did we ask the lady at reception? Are we sure we may fish?! It took some convincing, but after the little fish started biting, sometimes on empty hooks, he forgot all about his worries. I just love this photo of Sophia photobombing her brother’s first catch.

Gustav was even willing to put his own bait on and release the fish himself. And can he cast! Fishing must run in his blood. Often, they didn’t even cast; they just lowered their hooks into the water and immediately a small fish would bite.

After three days at De Hoop, we got up early for a change to pack and managed to leave yet again at ten o’clock! Not 10:10 or 9:50. Nope. On the dot! We really need to get some discipline going in this team.

We took the long way back to the gate. We went to another camp site first, as it has a beautiful name and we just had to go and have a look: Kokerboomkloof. (Quivertree ravine/gorge). These are a few of the trees that we saw there. Although these are dead, there were lots of living ones as well. It was refreshing to see some living things in the desert.

We made it just in time to reception and Border Control to have our passports stamped and to cross the Orange River with a pontoon. On the Namibian side, the officials had to be called back to reopen the office and stamp our passports. At least they were not too bothered and we could complete our first border crossing. Hallo Namibia!

2 responses to “South Africa Part III – Richtersveld

  1. Hi Hugo,

    We have been following your travels over the past couple months, AWESOME! We have been threatening to do a similar (although not as large scale and long-term) trip as yours for years now. We are reading your blog posts to our kids as you make them and it is really great, hope you guys are enjoying the adventure and I am sure fabulous family time!


    David and the rest of the Buist clan!

  2. Hi David,

    Glad you are enjoying! Dorette is working hard on it! You need to do these things when the opportunity presents itself, albeit within limits of current reality. Two small babies will certainly make his type of trip a challenge but your opportunity will come later.

    We have been blessed to be able to live a dream we both had for a long time.

    All the best!



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