Did you know?
Namaqualand is most famous for its carpets of flowers that bloom each spring. The most prolific orange and yellow Namaqualand daisies grow best in land that has been ploughed or disturbed.
The Caracal Eco Route in the Northern Cape provides a grand old adventure: the mountains are grand; the ocean is grand; and the grassy plains, silent expanses and beautiful spreads of thousands of different species of flowers are grand.
As you journey along this 4x4 mountain-to-ocean adventure, which is offered by the Namaqua National Park in the remote and sparsely populated western side of the country in the Northern Cape province, you may be lucky enough to come across the world’s smallest tortoise – the Namaqua speckled padloper – crossing the path in front of your vehicle. (Padloper means 'road walker' in Afrikaans, the predominant language of this area.)
And that’s when you realise that grand comes in large and small packages – for this unobtrusive creature has made its way through the centuries, surviving the harsh, arid conditions in its stoical way.
The complete route takes six to eight hours; longer if you take your time and book into the accommodation offered by the park, such as the Luiperdskloof Guest Cottage or a choice of on-the-beach camping sites along the 50km West Coast stretch that comprises the coastal section of the Namaqua National Park.
Wildlife-wise, you’re in for a diverse, arid feast, from the long, straight-horned antelope known as the oryx (or gemsbok as it is called in South Africa), to the succulent plant species known as the 'vygie' with its neon-bright flowers, to the seabirds circling the waves.
The route is named after the caracal, a medium-sized cat species (much bigger than a domestic cat, but smaller than the big cats such as lions and leopards) that thrives in arid mountainous terrain. Hopefully you'll spot one along the way, although they're shy and mostly nocturnal. You can be sure, though, that more than one has spotted you as you make your way up the Soebatsfontein or Wildeperdehoek passes, and down into the grassy plains.