Did you know?
The ǀAi-ǀAis/Richtersveld Transfrontier Park, which falls partly in South Africa and partly in Namibia, contains the Fish River Canyon, the world’s second-largest canyon after the Grand Canyon in the United States of America.
It’s dawn in the Richtersveld and we’re on a donkey cart slowly trundling through the village of Eksteenfontein.
There’s a special kind of richness to the light out here, a freshness in the air. The Northern Cape skies are clear as we drive out to a stock post within the boundary of the Richtersveld World Heritage Site.
The Joseph family, Oom (Uncle) Kous and Tannie (Auntie) Sarah, are busy with the first chore of the morning: milking the goats. Then, after a quick tea break, Oom Kous follows his flock out into the veld. Just as the Joseph clan has been doing for many generations.
Back in Eksteenfontein, the children dance the Nama Stap for us. All the dancers are dressed in their Sunday best as they perform an intricate series of movements that resemble the old quadrille that courting couples used to do in the old days in the deep south of the United States.
The rest of our day in Eksteenfontein is spent listening to the storytellers relating the history of this hardy group of people who were moved here and who survived in this very harsh environment. We are invited to dinner in one of their homes and stay over at the local guest house.
The next morning, we are off to another Richtersveld village. This one bears the magical name of Lekkersing – to sing with enjoyment. Some say it’s named after the gurgling of a spring in the area, others claim that the residents have lovely singing voices.
We visit a nearby hill, which is the site of a quartzite mine that produces fantastically patterned slate-like slabs that shine with a light copper hue. These crystallised shapes in the stone make the quartzite a prized export item.
We also visit the people from the Protea Elderly Club Food Garden. They’re doing an amazing job of food production out here in the dry wilderness, supplying herbs, vegetables and fruit to the village.
After lunch, we drive about 80km north to Kuboes, in the land of the quiver tree. Here it’s all about the legends of the Richtersveld: the water snake, the wonder hole, the north-gazing trees and the Mother River, the Gariep. Local guides show us how the matjieshuise (matted huts) are made. In springtime (late August to October), you can take a drive out into the semi-desert and admire the carpets of seasonal flowers.
We stay over at the Kuboes Guest House and order a home-cooked meal. After supper, one of the local choral groups sings to us in true Nama style.
The next morning we’re up bright and early and heading for the ǀAi-ǀAis/Richtersveld Transfrontier Park. Now we understand why we hired a sturdy vehicle with off-road capabilities, as we tour this part of the Succulent Karoo biome. This park is a stark moonscape with delicious surprises in the form of its flora and geological formations.
And as we sit within sight of the Orange (Gariep) River with our sundowners in front of our park chalet, we toast the dry country and plan the next day’s adventures up here on the northern frontier.
Travel tips & Planning info
Who to contact
How to get here
Eksteenfontein lies approx. 700km north of Cape Town (a drive of at least about eight hours). Drive up the N7 to Steinkopf, turn west towards Port Nolloth and follow the signs to Eksteenfontein.
Best time to visit
The Richtersveld is best in spring (late August to October) and autumn (April to May).
Around the area
Visit Port Nolloth and McDougal’s Bay while you’re in the area.
Tours to do
There are many Richtersveld tours available – see the listed websites for details.
Self-drive is your best option, unless you choose one of the many Richtersveld guided tours.
What will it cost
Accommodation costs on the trip should not exceed about R250 per person per night for bed and breakfast, while the national park charges run from R800 per chalet.
Length of stay
Set aside at least three days and two nights for this trip; longer in the area (up to a week or two) in the area if you can.
What to pack
Pack good hiking gear, sturdy boots, something warm for the evenings and light clothes for the daytime, no matter the time of year.
Where to stay
Eksteenfontein, Lekkersing and Kuboes all have overnight accommodation available – check listed websites for details.
What to eat
Good, hearty Nama home-cooking is what you want to dine on up here in the Richtersveld.
Port Nolloth stages a Festival of Lights in mid-December.
Buy local crafts and textiles in Eksteenfontein.