Did you know?
The Orange River roars down the Augrabies Falls,
a 56-metre drop into a granite canyon.
The most colourful, charismatic, macho lizards in South Africa live in constant danger of slipping off the edge of their world at Augrabies Falls National Park, down the smooth rocks beside the spectacular waterfall and into the tumultuous waters below. These lizards combine the strutty confidence of Chuck Norris with the dazzling colours of a Mardi Gras festival.
Once you have gazed your fill at the Augrabies Falls at the national park of the same name, look around at the rocks from the safety of the boardwalk. You can hardly miss the Augrabies flat lizards. On warm days they are visible at all the view points.
Often you’ll see them in small groups, the colourful males preening in the open and occasionally picking a fight with equally techni-colour rival males.
They gaudier the lizard, the more dominant a male he is, and the more likely to be aggressive towards a would-be rival. Before launching at one another, they seem to run through a checklist. How indigo is your throat? How orange are your flanks? How cadmium yellow are your arms?
The females (and young males) are far less noticeable. They’re an elegant coffee brown with neat creamy stripes down their backs.
The Augrabies flat lizards are more correctly called Broadley’s flat lizards, or Platysaurus broadleyi. They are endemic to South Africa, and in fact only occur in the remote and arid area between Augrabies and an area called Pella, to the west of Augrabies.
Like many lizard species, the Augrabies kind eat insects, gratifyingly focusing most of their appetite on irritating little black flies.
But they are also terribly fond of Namaqua figs. As soon as they detect that these indigenous figs have ripened because of the noisy attention of birds, the lizards race over the hot rocks to get at them.
They might seem aggressive towards each other, but at nightfall, they all cuddle in a tangle, sleeping in rocky crevasses and cracks.
The Augrabies Falls National Park showcases stark desert landscapes, enormous whale-backed rocks and quiver trees through which flows the Orange – South Africa’s largest river.
Travel tips & Planning info
Who to contact
Augrabies Falls National Park
Tel: +27 (0)54 452 9200
Fax: +27 (0)54 451 5003
How to get here
The closest large town is Upington, which is about eight or nine hours’ drive from Johannesburg or Cape Town. There are also connecting flights to Upington. From this bustling town on the Orange River, head westwards along the N14, passing the towns of Keimoes and Kakamas on the way. After about 100km, (10km after Kakamas), you’ll see a well-signposted road on your right that goes to the Augrabies Falls National Park.
Best time to visit
This region is at its best in the cooler months from April to October. But the Augrabies flat lizards are most active on warmer days.
Around the area
This is one of South Africa’s top table grape-growing regions, sprawling in a narrow green belt on either side of the Orange River. It’s worth taking a slow drive through the local roads and have a look at the canals and waterwheels of Kakamas.
Tours to do
In desert areas like this, most of the wildlife (mammal) action happens at night. You can book night drives at reception. These are well worth doing.
Near the falls, stick to the boardwalks. The rocks can be perilously slippery near the waterfall spray. You can drive, walk or cycle along the other designated roads.
What will it cost
You can choose to camp, or stay in a self-catering chalet or family cottage, depending on your requirements. Expect to pay between about R700 and R1000 per person per night for a chalet or cottage; camping is much less expensive. There is also a daily conservation fee for being in the park of R120 per adult per day and R60 per child per day. This is cheaper for South African and Southern African Development Community citizens.
Length of stay
Stay for two nights to capture the magic of this region.
What to pack
Take comfortable walking shoes, a hat and a camera with a zoom lens to capture lizard antics.
Where to stay
By far the best place to stay is at one of the Augrabies Falls National Park chalets, where you have access to views of the falls in the most photogenic dawn and late afternoon light. But there are also many guesthouses in the nearby towns of Kakamas and Keimoes.
What to eat
The boardwalks with viewpoints over the falls are close to a restaurant where you can order light meals.
The park boasts far more than just spectacular falls and crazy lizards. There are also rare Hartmann’s mountain zebras, giraffes, klipspringers, dassies and Verreaux's eagles.
Also, this is one of the few parks where mountain bikes are allowed. Bring your own, but stick to the park roads.
There is also a three-day hiking trail and a 5km signposted ramble.