Hitting the road in South Africa’s largest province: eight spectacular routes exploring the Northern Cape

There’s much to see and do in the Northern Cape, land of big skies, desert dunes, wild beaches and quirky little towns that are rich in history and culture.

By Northern Cape Tourism Authority
Published 4 Apr 2020, 15:00 BST
The Augrabies Falls in the Augrabies National Park is loosely translated as 'place of great noise'.
The Augrabies Falls in the Augrabies National Park is loosely translated as 'place of great noise'.
Photograph by Northern Cape Tourism Authority

The Northern Cape is South Africa’s largest province, yet it’s also the most sparsely populated, with hardly any cities or settlements to interrupt the horizon. It’s a region of sprawling deserts, verdant scrubland and majestic waterfalls. It’s also prime road-trip country, crisscrossed with long empty roads, perfect for those seeking a self-driving adventure. Navigating this huge expanse can take some getting used to and the Northern Cape’s bespoke routes are a good starting point.

1. Cape to Namibia Route

This route stretches over two South African provinces, the Western Cape and the Northern Cape, covering a distance of around 930 miles to Namibia’s capital, Windhoek. Cultural activities and outdoor adventures are on offer, including a ‘cultural camp’ in Paulshoek, which provides insights into the lives of the people who live in the area, as well as an assortment of watery escapades on the Orange River.

Don’t miss: River-rafting along the mighty Orange River is a bucket-list experience: drifting along in the golden African sunshine and watching the scenery unfold along the banks.

The fields of Namaqualand are transformed into carpets of blossoms every spring and can be explored on short or multi-day hikes.
Photograph by Northern Cape Tourism Authority

2. Namaqua Coastal Route

This picturesque coastal route offers opportunities to explore nature reserves, hidden coastal hamlets, and remote hiking and four-wheel-drive trails. Go succulent sleuthing with a botanical guide, explore ghostly shipwrecks, or go dolphin- and whale-watching along the Atlantic coast. Those interested in learning more about the region’s local culture can visit Namastat, a traditional ‘matjie hut’ village.

Don’t miss: Hiking through Namaqua National Park between August and September when blooming wildflowers turn the usually dusty plains into kaleidoscopic carpets of colour.

3. Richtersveld Route

The Richtersveld Route travels along rugged gravel roads through South Africa’s only mountain desert. It encompasses the Orange River, which offers river rafting and the best wilderness fly-fishing in the country, while the entire Richtersveld is a mountain biker’s dream.

Don’t miss: Follow in the footsteps of a traditional goat herder in the Richtersveld, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and learn about the lives of the nomadic Nama people.

The Augrabies Falls is the sixth highest waterfall in the world and attracts thousands of visitors each year.
Photograph by Northern Cape Tourism Authority

4. Quiver Tree Route

The quiver tree is named for the ancient San practice of hollowing out its tubular branches to create quivers for their arrows. These striking and venerable trees line the Quiver Tree Route, which undulates along the course of the Orange River. Irrigation schemes have stretched the river’s greenbelt into the desert, enabling vineyards to flourish, providing opportunities for wine and brandy tasting along this route. Its proximity to the Orange River offers opportunities for river-rafting, fly-fishing, kayaking and river cruises, as well as hiking and biking trails.

Don’t miss: A visit to the Augrabies National Park and the world’s sixth largest waterfall, the Augrabies Falls.

The Northern Cape offers outstanding stargazing opportunities and is home to one of only two International Dark Sky Sanctuaries in Africa.
Photograph by Northern Cape Tourism Authority

5. Kalahari Red Dune Route

Golden dunes, wide-open skies and flat-topped acacia trees characterise the Kalahari Red Dune Route, which stretches all the way from Upington to the Namibian border. Adventure-loving families and adrenalin-seekers can hike or surf across the red sand of the dunes, spot eagle-owls and visit a meerkat sanctuary.

Don’t miss: Visit the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park for possible sightings of magnificent oryx and Kalahari male lion amongst the dunes. It's one of only two International Dark Sky Sanctuaries in Africa, making it a prime spot for stargazing.

6. Go Ghaap Route

Explore famous archaeological sites, historic towns, amazing architecture, and a selection of nature and game reserves along this heritage route. Visitors are able to follow in the footsteps of early explorers such as David Livingston, Henry Stanley and Richard Moffat; wander key sites of the Anglo Tswana and Anglo-Boer Wars; explore the Wonderwerk Caves between Kuruman and Danielskuil; and learn about Khoisan history and culture in Wildebeest Kuil.

Don’t miss: The Eye of Kuruman is a beautiful natural spring delivering 20-million litres of clean, clear water daily to the town of Kuruman.

7. Karoo Oasis Route

This route is the backbone of the history of the Diamond Fields region. Visit Kimberley and take a vintage tram ride around the Big Hole — the largest hand-dug excavation in the world. The route also includes a number of nature reserves such as Mokala National Park where visitors can enjoy fly-fishing, kayaking, mountain biking, trail running and game drives.

Don’t miss: Karoo Gariep Nature Reserve is South Africa’s largest privately-owned Karoo nature reserve and offers world-class bird-watching.

The Southern African Large Telescope (SALT) telescope in Sutherland is the largest of its kind in the southern hemisphere.
Photograph by Northern Cape Tourism Authority

8. Karoo Highlands Route

Enjoy the peace and tranquillity of the Karoo’s wide-open plains along the Karoo Highlands Route. Walk around the otherworldly MeerKAT radio telescope array in Carnarvon, explore the torrid heritage of Anglo-Boer War sites and marvel at ancient San rock art. Combine all of these experiences with great Karoo hospitality and cuisine in towns such as Victoria West and Loxton, home to striking corbelled houses.

Don’t miss: Visit the Southern African Large Telescope (SALT) in the small Karoo town of Sutherland, the largest single optical telescope in the Southern Hemisphere, for some first-class stargazing.

Shipwrecks along the coast of the Northern Cape attest to the region's maritime history and provide opportunities for exploration.
Photograph by Northern Cape Tourism Authority

How to get there and around

Most major airlines have daily flights from London Heathrow to Johannesburg International Airport and/or Cape Town International Airport. There are daily connections from Johannesburg and Cape Town to Kimberley and Upington via SA Airlink and SAA Express.

All major car rental companies are available at the airports. The region’s roads are easy to navigate and all main arteries are in excellent condition.


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