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South Africa Safari

The Northern Cape - Tourist Information & Activities

Northern Cape Province, South Africa

Namaqualand ladies Flower Fields with Namaqualand Daisies near Kamieskroon Augrabies Falls National Park Lion, Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park
Return to Northern Cape Accommodation            Images © South African Tourism

Home to the ancient San people, the Northern Cape is about wide-open spaces, an utterly beautiful coastline and a number of unique national parks offering the tourist a very different experience of the South African landscape. This province boasts a colourful history and a variety of cultural tourist attractions and is particularly well known for its incredible annual floral display that takes place in Namaqualand.

The Northern Cape lies to the south of the mighty Orange River and comprises mostly desert and semi-desert. The landscape is characterised by vast arid plains with outcroppings of haphazard rock piles. The cold Atlantic Ocean forms the western boundary. This region covers the largest area of all the provinces in South Africa yet has the smallest population. The last remaining true San (Bushman) people live in the Kalahari area of the Northern Cape. The whole area, especially along the Orange and Vaal rivers, is rich in San rock engravings. The province is also rich in fossils.

The first people of the Northern Cape were the San, who were gradually pushed out of the area by the arrival of Europeans, and other African tribes.  The Dutch came to the area to mine for copper under the famous Cape governor Simon van der Stel.  Mining has always defined the history in this part of the world and, when diamonds were discovered in Kimberley, unprecedented growth took place in the province under the leadership of men such as Barney Barnato and Cecil John Rhodes.  In 1899, the Northern province was the scene of the Anglo-Boer War, where Kimberley was one of the first towns to be besieged by the Boers.

Apart from a narrow strip of winter-rainfall area along the coast, the Northern Cape is a semi-arid region with little rainfall in summer. The weather conditions are extreme cold and frosty in winter, and extremely high temperatures in summer. Sutherland, in the Hantam Karoo, is one of the coldest towns in southern Africa with an average winter minimum is -6º Celsius.  In winter, snow often blankets its surrounding mountains.

The Northern Cape’s sheer size, clear skies, flamboyant sunsets, brilliant starry nights and incredible silence is powerfully intoxicating. This is the kind of place you want to take in slowly.

Major attractions in the area:
• Richtersveld National Park
Created in 1991, the Richtersveld National Park is situated in northwestern Namaqualand. Here, the landscape is rough and unforgiving. Some of the more rugged landscapes have been given names such as Skeleton Gorge, Devil’s Tooth and Helskloof (hell’s gorge). This area is home to the fascinating Nama people – who are mainly sheep or goat-herders and live a simple life in these harsh surroundings. The Richtersveld is popular with 4x4 enthusiasts and nature lovers.

• Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park
The Kalahari Gemsbok National Park, together with the Gemsbok National Park in Botswana, is Africa's first transfrontier game park, known as the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. It is one of the largest nature conservation areas in southern Africa, and one of the largest remaining protected natural ecosystems in the world. The Park provides unfenced access to a variety of game between South Africa and Botswana, and has a surface area of more than two million hectares.

• Augrabies Falls National Park
One of the lesser-known game parks in the country, it is here, on the Orange River, that Africa’s second largest waterfall thunders down into a granite gorge in a spectacular display. Adventure activities are par for the course at this attraction, including rafting, hiking and cycling as well as canoe trails.

• Flowers, Flowers Everywhere
During August and September, the area of Namaqualand is transformed into a brilliant carpet of wild flowers. The area is world-famous for its transformed landscape and floral beauty – and photographic safaris to the area are very popular with both local and international tourists. Nowadays, it can be said that the Namaqualand experiences something of a `gold rush’ during peak season.

• Rock Art
The province is rich in San rock art paintings that date back to time immemorial. The San were hunter-gatherers who lived off the desert, and their rich heritage has been preserved in numerous paintings found in caves all over the Northern Cape region.

• Diamond Digging Country
Kimberley boasts an excellent museum called the Kimberley Mine Museum. Part of the museum includes the viewing decks into the Big Hole, as well as a number of historic buildings. The old shops, bars, restaurants, churches and banks appear almost exactly as they were during the diamond digging days. Known as a `living museum’, a visit here is like stepping back in time to the days when Barney Barnato and Cecil John Rhodes were kings; and diamonds were there for the picking.

• The Big Hole at Kimberley
The famous five-hundred-metre wide cavity that sits at a depth of around 240m was dug manually by pick and shovel by diamond miners, and is known to be the largest man-made excavation sight in the world. This hole remains the major attraction for visitors to this part of the world.

• Trains and Trams
The capital city's railway station is in Florence Street, close to the city centre. South Africa’s famous and luxurious Blue Train stops over in Kimberley, en route to Cape Town or Johannesburg and passengers can board or disembark at Kimberley’s quaint station. The Kimberley Tram Service - a vintage tram dating back to the turn of the century, carries passengers from the City Hall to the Mine Museum, daily.

• Moffat Mission Station
Missionaries, Robert Moffat and his wife Mary arrived in the Kuruman area in 1820. Their aim was to convert the local people to Christianity, and Moffat was the first person to attempt translating the Holy Bible into Tswana, one of the indigenous languages. They built a mission station, which has now been revived as an educational centre and retreat.

• Wonderwerk Cave
Not too far from Kuruman, lies the Wonderwerk Cave.  A keen stomping ground for archaeologists and the like, the site is said to be home to human life dating back nearly a million years. The area also includes precious artefacts, fossils and San Rock art.

• The Kalahari Desert
The Kalahari is home to endless spaces and huge African skies. This arid wasteland gets its name from the San word `kglagagadi’, which means ‘thirsty land’. The almost lunar landscape boasts a wide variety of unique flora and fauna.

• Small-town delights
The Northern Province is littered with small towns that are fast growing in popularity with the arty set. Places such as Nieuwoudtville, Calvinia, Poffadder and Springbok are definitely worth a visit, especially for their warm-hearted local hospitality.

• Orange River Adventures
For adventure-junkies, canoeing down the Orange River is one way to get an adrenalin rush in this part of the world. Not quite `white river rafting’, the Orange does offer a number of aggressive rapids to add to the roughing-it ambience. Trips down the river can last anything from two to six days and are organised by a number of accredited operators.

• Pella Mission
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. The cathedral is still in use, today, and a central focus for the religious community in the area.

Information courtesy of South African Tourism (www.southafrica.net)

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