12 August 2014 by Dianne Tipping-Woods

Amazed by Augrabies

A brief visit to see the Augrabies Falls illustrated just why you shouldn’t underestimate the beautiful national park in which the falls lie.

An Augrabies landscape. All images by Dianne Tipping-Woods

As the sun set at a point in Augrabies Falls National Park called Ararat, the world around me changed colour, bathed in a palette of purples and oranges according to the reach and angle of the sun’s rays.

I had never seen anything like that combination of light and landscape.

I had never seen anything like that combination of light and landscape.

The boulders and cliffs stood out with the luminous drama of a Pierneef painting as they plunged down into a huge canyon below. Contours were etched in shadow to the west of me and rocks in the east were brilliantly illuminated.

Late afternoon at Ararat

As the shadows lengthened and the light faded from the sky, I knew this scene was one that would stay with me after I left.

I was visiting the park en route to the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. I presumed I’d enjoy seeing the park's famous 56m-high Augrabies Falls, which have a reputation for being particularly impressive when the Orange River is in full flood. It was also a good opportunity to visit a new national park (my 19th).

I hadn’t anticipated the drama and beauty of the Augrabies landscapes, though, or the fact that I’d be longing to return, not having given myself enough time on this trip to explore the spectacular, 18km gorge that the river runs through, let alone the surrounding landscape.

An Augrabies landscape

The bits that I saw sometimes resembled a moonscape (but vegetated and animated with birdsong) and sometimes reminded me of Mordor from Lord of the Rings (but prettier and not at all ominous). The colours in the changing light were incredible.

The falls were also awesome to see, particularly thanks to the walkways and viewing decks constructed by SANParks. These afford visitors some really striking vantage points, while allowing them to feel perfectly safe. The granite landscape around the falls is also home to colourful reptiles like the spectacularly coloured endemic Augrabies flat lizard. These perform acrobatic leaps to catch black flies from the air in summer (while they themselves are prey for rock kestrels).

An Augrabies flat lizard

At night, the falls are floodlit for a few hours and I visited them for a second time during my short stay under a crescent moon, with a sky full of stars. Even in mid-winter, with the river relatively low, the air was full of their thundering sound. In fact, according to the SANParks website, the name Augrabies is derived from the Nama word 'Aukoerebis', meaning the 'Place of Great Noise', the name the Khoi people originally gave this place.

Visitors can explore bits of the Augrabies' 55 383ha while completing a long loop through the park, stopping at a number of viewing points along the way, such as Echo Corner (another stunningly beautiful spot). Over the course of 94km, you’ll pass through boulder-strewn valleys, expanses of Orange River-broken veld, and a forest of quiver trees (kokerbooms). While this distinctive type of aloe may be the park’s most characteristic plant, there are about 70 different species of grass, shrubs, herbs and trees that shelter and sustain a wide variety of bird and animal life.

Quiver trees (kokerbooms)

We saw dozens of rock hyraxes, klipspringers and giraffes, along with baboons and yellow mongooses. There are also other antelope like eland, steenbok, springbok, kudu and gemsbok. The animals are uniquely adapted to the temperature fluctuations in the park and can survive in extreme high and low temperatures. On night drives, you may encounter African wild cats, bat-eared foxes, free-tailed bats, aardwolves, small spotted genets and, if you’re very lucky, leopards.

The birdlife was also abundant for the time of year; we saw Karoo long-billed larks, pale-winged starlings (very common in the camp), Orange River white-eyes, lanner falcons, rock kestrels, pygmy falcons, pale chanting goshawks and fish-eagles. Hearing them call from within the gorge was thrilling.

There are also a number of hikes in the park, none of which I had time to do on this trip. I was amazed by Augrabies Falls National Park, though, and look forward to going back.

An Augrabies landscape

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