Legend has it that the Richtersveld Halfmens derives its name from the ancestors of the Bushmen who were driven south by warlike tribes from the north. Some turned to look back across the Orange River and were turned into 'halfmens' (half people), forever gazing northwards.

Did you know?

The Richtersveld is the only place in the world where the halfmens plant can be found.

The mirage-like landscape of the Northern Cape hides one of nature's great gifts to the world: the Richtersveld National Park which contains South Africa's only mountainous desert. This remote, harsh environment is famous for its great diversity of succulent plants, which store water in their trunks or leaves and so can survive the long, dry periods common to this region. One of the most famous plants is the Noordpool (North Pole) or Halfmens plant (half-person).

The plant can be recognised by its distinctive rosette of leaves, resembling a green 'afro' set atop a narrow trunk that can grow to as tall as three metres. From a distance the plant is often said to resemble a small person, hence the name.

Most odd is that the crown of the Richtersveld Halfmens always leans slightly to the North, which is why some refer to the succulent as the Noordpool.

The Pachypodium namaquanum,as botanists call it, is extremely slow growing, gaining a modest 0.5 to 1.5 centimeters in height each year. Some of the bigger plants can age to more than a hundred years, reaching heights of 4 or 5 metres, although on average they tend to be about 2 metres tall, flowering from July to September.

The Halfmens contains poisonous alkaloids and its sap was traditionally used for arrow poison.

It is said that when the spines on the Halfmens' stem are stroked, the plant produces a series of clicking sounds that supposedly mimics the clicks of the Nama language (one of South Africa's earliest known people from the Northern Cape region of Namaqualand.

Visiting the Richtersveld with its abundant wildlife, desolate landscapes and enigmatic flora is a must for any nature enthusiast, and an encounter with the Halfmens is a definite highlight on any flora fundi's life list.

Travel tips & Planning info

Who to contact

Richtersveld Transfrontier Park
Tel: +27 (0)27 831 1506 (Park Manager and Reception)
Fax: +27 (0)27 831 1175

How to get here

Richtersveld Transfrontier Park is located in the far north-western region of the Northern Cape Province, and lies alongside the Orange River which forms the border between South Africa and Namibia.

Best time to visit

The park is open all year round.

Get around

The area is accessible by 4x4 or by paddling down the Orange River.

What will it cost

Standard Conservation Fee (foreign visitors): R96 per adult, per day R48 per child, per day.

Length of stay

It may take some time to locate these plants, so allow for half to a full day

What to pack

Insect repellent, binoculars and cameras, plastic refuse bags, cotton sheets help to keep insects at bay, a good supply of fresh water

Where to stay

The park has a camp site and chalets to rent