There are plenty of opportunities to go game watching in the Northern Cape. Probably the best place for this is the 3.6-million-hectare Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park – which comprises two adjoining national parks: the Kalahari Gemsbok National Park in South Africa and the Gemsbok National Park in Botswana. The Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park is big enough to support large-scale migration of game, and is the home of the famous black-maned lion, as well as cheetah, hyena, leopard and birds of prey, among many other wildlife attractions.
The Augrabies Falls National Park, with its thundering Augrabies waterfalls, is home to the rare black rhino and animals like mongoose, rock hyrax (small mammals that South Africans call dassies) and the Cape clawless otter.
The early morning fog that rolls in over the |Ai-|Ais/Richtersveld Transfrontier Park from the Atlantic Ocean sustains a remarkable range of small reptiles, birds and mammals. Be on the lookout for the rare Hartmann’s mountain zebra, ground squirrel, rock hyrax and the jackal buzzard.
These are three of the larger parks, but there are a number of other reserves worth exploring, including the Tankwa Karoo National Park, revered for its beautiful landscape; the Goegap Nature Reserve, renowned for its flowers and home to the smallest tortoise in the world, the speckled padloper (‘road walker’ in Afrikaans); the Mokala National Park, which is well-known for its conservation of endangered animals, including tsessebe, black rhino and roan antelope; and the Tswalu Kalahari game reserve, South Africa’s largest private game reserve.
From August to October, the Namaqualand region of the Northern Cape bursts into colour when millions of wildflowers come into bloom, forming one of the most amazing natural spectacles in the world.
The quiver tree (Aloe dichotoma) forest in Gannabos, to the west of the province, should also be on any itinerary. The collection of other-wordly trees makes it the largest aloe forest in the world. These trees are up to 400 years old and feature prominently in Khoisan culture.
The Northern Cape is also home to the Green Kalahari, an oasis of green in this desert region. Referred to as South Africa’s green desert, it extends for hundreds of kilometres along the Gariep (Orange) River. It is region of natural wonder, and supports much wildlife. The magnificent Augrabies Falls form part of the green oasis.
While in the Northern Cape, visitors should make a point of visiting the hot springs of Riemvasmaak, a 75 000ha desert wilderness that lies to the far north of the province. The springs are the result of volcanic eruptions and are made up of two pools that lie in a deep ravine and are surrounded by high granite cliffs.
The Gariep (Orange) River, which flows through the province, is the longest river in South Africa, with a total length of 2 200km.