Did you know?
You can see beautiful rock engravings, the work of the San people, at Wildebeestkuil outside Kimberley.
The Northern Cape province is the largest, least-populated and one of the most scenic of South Africa's nine provinces, spanning the might Orange River and comprising mainly of a semi-desert landscape from the rocky plains of the Upper Karoo through to the red dunes of the Kalahari with a remote stretch of coastline on the cold Atlantic Ocean.
And it's the vast, remote, rugged nature of this landscape that keeps bringing the tourists back.
In August and September, the area of Namaqualand (also referred to as Namakwaland), is transformed into a brilliant carpet of wild flowers which draws botanists, photographers and other tourists from around the world.
The Upper Karoo is famous for its wide open plains and star-studded skies. Here, a trip to Sutherland, home to the Southern African Large Telescope, is a must for those interested in astronomy. And in the not-too-distant future, the town of Carnarvon will be the gateway to the Square Kilometre Array facility, a radio telescope that forms part of an international project to look deep into space right back to the Big Bang.
Heading northwards, you'll encounter the provincial capital of Kimberley, which grew up out of a diamond rush that was sparked by the discovery of the Eureka diamond clos to the Orange River in 1866. You can learn more about this history at the Big Hole Visitor's Centre in Kimberley where you can go on a guided tour, and also view the famous hoel that was excavated by hand during the diamond rush.
Even further north, around the town of Upington, you will encounter an area known as the Green Kalahari along the banks of the Orange River, improbably lined with lush, green vineyards on the edge of the desert, fed by the waters of the river that rises some 2000km to the east. Popular tourist activities here include multi-day paddling trips down the river allowing you to camp outdoors and enjoy the silence and majesty of the landscape in your own time. Also on the river is the Augrabies falls, the largest waterfall in South Africa best viewed at the end of summer after good rains.
A major drawcard in the Northern Cape is the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, one of the largest nature conservation areas in southern Africa and one of the largest protected natural ecosystems in the world, which has a wild population of lions, leopards and cheetah. The park, characterised by grassland and rolling red dunes, has a surface area of more than two-million hectares that spills over into neighbouring Botswana. Once you have experienced its sheer size, clear skies, flamboyant sunsets, brilliant starry nights and incredible silence, you will never forget it.
For an entirely different landscape visit the |Ai-|Ais/Richtersveld Transfrontier Park which is to be found in the north-west corner sharing a border with Namibia. Here the rocky, mountainous, lunar landscape is home to unique succulent vegetation that still sustains the semi-nomadic Nama people who have rights to graze their sheep and goats here. The Richtersveld is popular with 4x4 enthusiasts and nature lovers who truly want to get away from it all.
Travel tips & Planning info
Who to contact
How to get here
Best is to use Kimberley as a starting point to explore the Northern Cape. Kimberley has direct air links to Cape Town and Johannesburg.
Best time to visit
The Northern Cape is a semi-arid region with little rainfall in summer. The weather conditions are extremely cold in winter and extremely hot in summer. Factor this into your planning.
Around the area
Pella Mission is truly in the middle of nowhere. Approximately 150km from Springbok, Pella boasts a striking yellow cathedral that was built by French missionaries in the late 1880’s.
To explore the Northern Cape at your leisure, it is advisable to hire a car. Be prepared for long trips though: the Northern Cape is a vast area and it can take many hours to travel between destinations.
Length of stay
Given the distances that need to be covered exploring the Northern Cape, you’ll want at least a week to explore.
What to pack
Lots of sunscreen, a hat and, if you plan on driving yourself, take plenty of water along.