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TThe Richtersveld World Heritage Site is massive, sprawling over 162 000 hectares – but there are times when you can hardly move a metre without reaching for your camera.
A tiny pelargonium in a little hollow, a group of indomitable yellow flowers, a few weirdly shaped butter trees, luminous pink mesembs or a sudden burst of yellow oxalis – all demand to be photographed when they bloom exuberantly in spring.
Strange little plants will intrigue you: leaves that look like coins, or stems; plants that move your soul because despite the harsh climate they seem so courageous, tenacious and carefree.
Shepherd’s trees frame the view. You may find the famous plant called the ‘halfmens’ (half-human) with its frilly mop of leaves on top, some with a spiky furze of red flowers in spring – always bending to the north.
Over it all is the buzzing of pollinators, and the plaintive call of birds, against a backdrop of majestic mountains that seem to change colour all the time.
Every now and then, you’ll come across friendly nomadic farmers with goats and sheep. This tradition of moving herds to different seasonal grazing grounds, called transhumance, is centuries old, and is considered a more sustainable way to farm livestock in arid areas.
This is the Richtersveld Community Conservancy, and it has so much to recommend it in terms of human traditions and plant life, that it became World Heritage Site in 2007, based on both its cultural and botanical importance.
But the path towards this recognition started with theft.
In the 1990s, the Richtersvelders started to see more tourists coming to visit their remote piece of flower-rich desert.
But they were troubled to see some going offroad into sensitive areas. There were even more perturbed when a few vehicles were seen carrying out loads of indigenous plants.
The destruction alerted the Richtersvelders to how precious and vulnerable their botanical heritage was. In 1997 and 1998, plans for a community conservancy were slowly drawn up. It gave the community control and management options.
Every Richtersveld stakeholder had input – farmers, tourism hosts, provincial and municipal authorities, South African National Parks, small diamond miners, and the councils and representatives from every town.
Turning this 162 000-hectare community conservancy into a World Heritage Site put the crown on a massive conservation effort, and today, the Richtersveld’s glorious ecosystem is protected to delight future generations.
TTravel tips & Planning info
Who to contact
Tel: +27 (0)12 428 9111
Best time to visit
In spring (September to November), you'll see wonderful flowering plants and the weather is temperate. Summers (December to February) can be witheringly hot.
Around the area
Alexander Bay and Port Nolloth are interesting places to visit – diamond divers off the coast in these towns still hunt for the precious stones washed out to sea by the Orange River from diamond fields more than 900km away. Springbok is a good place for provisions, and the Springbok Lodge and Restaurant has a great bookshop with books on the region.
Not far away is the Richtersveld Transfrontier Park, where you can cross into the adjoining Ai-Ais Hot Springs National Park in Namibia.
Tours to do
Ask at the Eksteenfontein Tourism Information Centre about guides who can show you around the area, guide you to the flowers, and even organise a visit to a livestock outpost.
The roads are rocky and require a vehicle with high clearance – or preferably a 4-wheel drive.
Length of stay
At least 2 nights – more if you can spare the time, especially if you’re a plant fanatic.
What to pack
Take your own food and plenty of water.
Where to stay
There are guesthouses and camping places of varying standards at the little towns of Khuboes, Lekkersing and Eksteenfontein – the last of which has the most tourism facilities.
What to eat
Ask about traditional foods, like melkkluitjies: dumplings cooked in goat’s milk.