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Northern Cape Travel Guide | South Africa

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The Northern Cape at a Glance

National Parks and Reserves - The Northern Cape is South Africa’s largest province. It also has the lowest population, allowing plenty of room for its 12 National Parks and Reserves. Parks include the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park (shared with Botswana) and Ai Ais/Richtersveld Transfrontier Park (shared with Namibia).

Wild Flowers – Each year, the arid landscape of the Northern Cape erupts with color as a carpet of wild flowers covers the sandy soil. The exact timing is determined by the amount of winter rainfall, but the flowers can bloom from mid-winter through spring (July to September).

Rock Art – Khoisan rock art is found in various locations. Some (e.g. Nieuwoudtville in the Namakwa region) show that the artists used color – red, yellow, grey and black ochres. Many of the engravings and paintings are found on private land and permission to view them is granted only on request.

Read More: Highlights of the Northern Cape | Activities, Attractions, Accommodation

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Spotlight on Gauteng Province Info - Gauteng Province
Gauteng - gateway to South Africa and destination for business travellers and visitors to international conventions.
Spotlight on Eastern Cape Province Info on Eastern Cape Province
Addo Elephant National Park, malaria-free game reserves, adventure activities and Xhosa cultural experiences.
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The Cradle of Mankind, malaria free Madikwe Game Reserve, Pilanesberg National Park, Lost City and Sun City.

Northern Cape location within South Africa

 

 

 

 

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Food & Wine
4x4 Trails
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Other Special Interest Activities

Highlights of the Northern Cape

Quiver Tree Forests – The exotic Quiver tree grows to 4m (13 feet) in height and can live for 400 years. Quiver tree forests are scattered across the province. They are actually large succulents that belong to the Aloe family and are indigenous to Southern Africa. The San Bushmen used the plant to fashion quivers to hold their arrows when hunting

Battlefields – Many battles were fought between the Boers (Dutch farmers) and the British. Many heroes emerged but also many lives were lost. A number of grave sites, cemeteries, blockhouses, military museums and battlefield tours tell the story of how Settlers, British, Nama, Khoisan and Griqua people all fought for their respective right to live in the Northern Cape

Mining Museums – Almost every little town in the province has a story to tell about its mining history, be it diamond, manganese, iron ore or copper. Most towns have a well preserved and documented museum to contribute to the stories of bravery and endurance by explorers and treasure seekers.

Mission Stations – 'Newcomers’ or missionaries forged forward into unknown territories to convert the Nama people to Christianity. Their determination and bravery is evident in the history of many towns that were founded by these folk, usually around a church or even a tree that acted as a gathering place. Many excellent architectural examples of art deco or neo gothic style churches and synagogues are found in even the smallest towns, many built as early as the mid 1800’s.

The Region - The Northern Cape was once part of the larger Cape Province which was divided into 3 parts in 1994, the Northern Cape, Eastern Cape and Western Cape. It is still South Africa’s largest province though, about the size of Montana and distances between towns are long. (See map below.)

Its western border is the Atlantic Ocean, northwestern border is Namibia and northern border is the Kgalagadi District of Botswana.

Within South Africa its eastern border is the Free State province, northeastern border is the North West province, Eastern Cape to the southeast and Western Cape to the south and southwest.

Gateway by Air: Cape Town and Kimberley - Regular flights connect with these cities from Johannesburg, Durban, Port Elizabeth and other centers.

 

Activities and Attractions

Northern Cape Province

Map of Northern Cape Province
How to Get There
Climate
Archaeological Heritage
Adventure Activities
Scenic Routes
Parks and Reserves
Map of Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park

The 5 Regions of the Northern Cape:

  1. Quick Guide to Regional Attractions of the Northern Cape
  2. Namakwa
  3. Green Kalahari
  4. Kalahari
  5. Diamond Fields
  6. Karoo

Photos (left):
[Kgalagadi Transfrontier National Park, Northern Cape Province]
Giraffe crossing a Kalahari dune
Hartebeest stand beneath a weaver bird nesting colony

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Map of Northern Cape Province

Map of Northern Cape

Map of Northern Cape Province, South Africa

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How to Get There

By air:
The main airport is found 8km (5 miles) outside Kimberley and although there are car hire companies at the airport, there are no bus or shuttle services from the airport into town, however taxi services are available on request.

Smaller airports are found in Springbok and Upington.

SA Airlink and SA Express, both belonging to South African Airways service fly into all three airports: Kimberley, Springbok and Upington.

By car:
Car hire companies are found at the airports. The Northern Cape is a vast province, the largest in the country and it has an extensive asphalt road network, although gas stations are available in almost every town, these towns are spreads many miles apart. If doing a self drive, fill up the tank and plan a route to avoid getting stuck without gas in the middle nowhere. In the major centers gas stations will be open 24 hours.

By bus:
A number of large bus companies travel to Kimberley, Springbok and Upington.

Bus companies include:
Intercity Bus Services
Intercape
Greyhound
Translux
Carstens Bus Service
Van Wyk’s Bus Service

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Climate

The Northern Cape is mostly arid and the average annual rainfall for the region is 8 inches or 200mm, extreme heat is not uncommon especially towards the Namibian border where summer temperatures can reach 40 degrees Celsius (104 F).

Average temperatures
Kimberley – summer highs reach 33 degrees Celsius (91 F) and winter highs reach 18 degrees Celsius (64F) winter nights can drop to 3 degrees Celsius (37 F)

Springbok Summer highs reach 30 degrees Celsius (86 F) and winter highs reach 17 degrees Celsius (62F) Winter nights can drop to 7 degrees Celsius (44 F)

Sutherland Summer highs reach 27 degrees Celsius (80 F) and winter highs reach 13 degrees Celsius (55F) winter nights can drop to -3 degrees Celsius (26F)

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Archaeological Heritage

Even before the Europeans started arriving to colonize Southern Africa, local inhabitants built a way of life in the region. Caves such as Wonderwerk (Wonder work) Cave near Kuruman have produced strong evidence of Stone Age habitation with the discovery of stone tools. No scheduled tours are available but visits may be granted by the McGregor Museum on request.

Other more open areas along river banks and pans have produced further evidence of life dating back to Middle and later Stone Ages. Places such as Wildebeest Kuil between Kimberley and Barkly West have excellent examples of rock art and rock engravings from the late Stone Age period. There are over 400 scattered over a small hill. The land is owned by the Xun and Khwe San people and rock art custodians who also act as tour guides educate visitors on the importance of the engravings, starting with a 20 minute introductory film. The walk/tour travels along an 800 m (+/- half a mile) walk way over a hill with information boards along the way. At the end of the tour visitors can buy art and craftwork from the local Xun and Khwe community.

Rock Art at Wildebeest Kuil

Stone Age Rock Art at Wildebeest Kuil, near Kimberley, Northern Cape

Hours:
Opens 9am and closes at 4pm Monday to Friday
Opens 10am and closes at 4pm Saturdays and Sundays
Special tours for large groups are available outside of these hours but have to be pre arranged.

Wildebeest Kuil - Art

Wildebeest Kuil - pottery

Xun and Khwe San Art at Wildebeest Kuil, near Kimberley, Northern Cape

Many are also found on rocky outcrops or on slopes but some are a little trickier to spot such as at Driekopseiland near Douglas in the Karoo region where the engravings are found in the Riet River bed. There are over 3,500 of these engravings that are visible when the water level is low with the oldest estimated to be 2,500 years old and the youngest engraving dated at around 1,000 years of age.  

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Adventure Activities

It is easy to think that in a vast arid space such as the Northern Cape there is very little to offer the adrenalin adventure seeker, but nothing is further from the truth. There are rivers to conquer, mountains to abseil, skies to soar in and old mines to explore. Then there are trails, hikes and fishing to add to the menu of adventure activities.

Water Sports

The two main rivers, the Vaal and Orange Rivers offer canoeing and rafting to visitors with the Orange River taking the prize as most popular. Half day to multi day adventures are offered by a number of local operators with accommodation ranging from sleeping under the stars to catered accommodation.

River Rafting on the Orange River

White Water Rafting, Northern Cape

4x4 Trails

There are many varying terrains in the Northern Cape, with valleys, ravines, mountain passes and desert landscapes offering unique scenic attractions along the many trails:

Many trails are long, dusty and challenging and it is a good idea to plan carefully and do as much research about the route before heading out.

A Trail in the Richtersveld

Some trails to consider:

Amam 4x4 Dune Trails
Distance – 50km (31 miles)
Nearest Town – Pofadder
Approximate duration: 4 – 6 hours
Ghamuip 4x4 Trail
Distance – 50km (31 miles)
Nearest Town – Upington
Approximate duration: 4 – 6 hours
Kalahari Mier 4x4 Trail
Distance – 400km (248 miles)
Nearest Town – Askham
Approximate duration: 4 days
Kliphuiskloof 4x4 Trail
Distance - 50km (31 miles)
Nearest Town – Calvinia
Approximate duration: 6 – 7 hours
Nossob 4x4 Trail
Distance - 300km (186 miles)
Nearest Town – Twee Rivieren, contact
Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park
Approximate duration: 3 days
Orange River
Distance – 120km (74 miles)
Nearest Town – Douglas
Remhoogte 4x4 Trail
Distance – 100 km (62 miles)
Nearest Town – Garies
Approximate duration: 17 hours
Richtersveld National Park
Distance 200km (124 miles)
Nearest Town – Alexander Bay
Approximate duration: 3 – 4 days
Riemvasmaak 4x4 Trail
Distance – 160km – 3 different trails
Nearest Town – Kakamas
Approximate duration: 12 – 18 hours
Egerton Trail / Adventure Bound 4x4 Trail
Distance 50km (31 miles)
Nearest Town – Hopetown
Approximate duration:  1 day
The Posroete 4x4 Trail
Distance 100km (62 miles)
Nearest Town -  Fraserburg
Approximate duration: 2 days
Thorn Tree 4x4 Trails
Distance – 22km (13.5 miles)
Nearest Town -  Kakamas
Approximate duration: 1.5 – 2.5 hours
Vioolsdrif Richtersveld Trail
Distance – 300km (186 miles)
Nearest Town – Steinkopf or Noordoewer
Approximate duration: 4 – 5 days
West Coast 4x4 Trail
Distance – 650km (403 miles)
Nearest Town – Lamberts Bay
Approximate duration: 6 days

Other trails to consider:

Hiking Trails

There are a number of hiking trails, bush and town walk across the province. Some take only a few hours, others will take a few days.

Hikes and walks are found in these National Parks and Reserves:

Hikes and walks are found near these towns:

Adventure Motorcycling

All the regions of the Northern Cape have old mines, quarries and a lot of open space, not to mention miles and miles of dirt roads of various levels of difficulty. As with 4x4 drivers, motorcyclists will traverse landscapes offering myriads of color, history, scenery and sunshine to make it an unforgettable road trip.

Paragliding

Hot earth, cold skies and off they go. The weather in the province provides ideal conditions for para gliders, so much so that world records have been set in De Aar in the Karoo region and Kuruman in the Kalahari region, where flight distances of 350km (217 miles) have been recorded.

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Regional Attractions of the Northern Cape

Mine tours

Alexander Bay – Namakwa Region
Kleinzee – Namakwa Region
Koingnaas– Namakwa Region
Springbok – Namakwa Region
Kimberley – Diamond Fields Region
Barkly West – Diamond Fields Region
Black Rock – Karoo Region
Kathu – Karoo Region

San Rock Art, Engravings and other Archaeological sites

Brandvlei – Namakwa Region
Mier Area – Green Kalahari Region
Postmosburg – Green Kalahari Region
Groblershoop – Green Kalahari Region
Kenhardt – Green Kalahari Region
Wonderwerk Caves, Kuruman – Kalahari Region
Wildebeest Kuil – Diamond Fields Region
Mokala National Park – Diamond Fields Region
Hartswater – Diamond Fields Region
Driekopseiland – Karoo Region
Britstwon – Karoo Region
De Aar – Karoo Region
Prieska – Karoo Region

Wine Cellars and Wine Tasting Tours

Upington – Green Kalahari Region
Kakamas – Green Kalahari Region
Keimos – Green Kalahari Region
Grootdrink – Green Kalahari Region
Groblershoop – Green Kalahari Region
Hartswater – Diamond Fields Region
Douglas – Karoo Region

Historic building – Churches, wind pumps etc.

Brandvlei – Namakwa Region
Calvinia – Namakwa Region
Loeriefontein – Namakwa Region
Nieuwwoudtville – Namakwa Region
Pella – Namakwa Region
Pofadder – Namakwa Region
Williston – Namakwa Region
Groblershoop – Green Kalahari Region
Keimos – Green Kalahari Region
Kuruman – Kalahari Region
Barkly West – Diamond Fields Region
Kimberley – Diamond Fields Region
Britstown – Karoo Region
Colesberg – Karoo Region
Hanover – Karoo Region
Orania – Karoo Region
Victoria West – Karoo Region

Battlefields, Cemeteries and Memorials

Calvinia – Namakwa Region
Williston – Namakwa Region
Postmasburg – Green Kalahari Region
Kakamas – Green Kalahari Region
Hartswater – Diamond Fields Region
Kimberley – Diamond Fields Region
Campbell – Karoo Region
Carnarvon – Karoo Region
De Aar – Karoo Region
Hanover – Karoo Region
Hopetown – Karoo Region
Prieska  – Karoo Region
Noupoort – Karoo Region

Beaches and Seal Colonies

Port Nolloth – Namakwa Region
Kleinzee – Namakwa Region
Koingnaas – Namakwa Region

Quiver Forests

Loeriesfontein – Namakwa Region
Nieuwoudtville – Namakwa Region
Onseepkans – Namakwa Region
Kenhardt – Green Kalahari Region

Wild Flowers – in season

Ai Ai / Richtersveld Transfrontier Park
Goegap Nature Reserve
Namaqua National Park
Calvinia – Namakwa Region
Hondeklip – Namakwa Region
Loeriesfontein – Namakwa Region
Nieuwoudtville – Namakwa Region
Garies – Namakwa Region

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10 More Things to do
when visiting the Northern Cape

 1 Visit Paulshoek, the cultural camp near Kamieskroon in the Namakwa region, where visitors can enjoy traditional meals on request and see the matjieshuts (traditional huts) of the Nama people. Experience Nama culture also at Eksteen and Sanddrift in the Namakwa region, with donkey cart rides from Eksteenfontein to the Rooiberg Conservancy Area.
 2 Mountain biking is very popular around Leliefontein and Nourivier in the Namakwa region.
 3 A two km walk through Kimberley’s Belgravia suburb takes visitors to 33 historical sites. Walks are booked with the Diamantveld Visitor Centre or the McGregor Museum
 4 Fly Fishing near Kimberley is exceptional on the lower Vaal and Riet Rivers. It has become a popular destination for fishing for large mouth and small mouth yellowfish.
 5 Visit the Eye of Kuruman in the Kalahari Region, a natural fountain that produces 20 to 30 million liters (5 to 8 million gallons) of water daily. It is thought to be the largest natural fountain in the Southern Hemisphere. It provides water to the town and adjacent irrigation canals and was referred to at one point as the ‘Fountain of Christianity’ because it was the reason why a mission was established here.
 6 Mine tours are offered across the province. Some drop 840 m (1/2 a mile) into the earth and visitors are guided through the mine wearing miner’s gear – an overall, safety boots, hard hat with headlamp and a ‘sizamoya’ which is an oxygen generating survival pack.
 7 Enjoy wine tasting and a cellar tour on the vineyards along the Orange River in the Green Kalahari Region -- the largest wine producing area in South Africa.
 8 Visit the quaint historic village of Matjiesfontein in the Klein Karoo, south of Sutherland.
 9 Visit the Semi-precious stone museum in Warrenton 61km (37 miles) north of Kimberley in the Diamond Region.
10 For foodies, the Northern Cape offers a medley of new taste experiences. Roosterkoek (a bread cooked on an open grill), venison, local deserts such as koeksisters (a deep fried bread dough drenched in sugary syrup) to Nabbas, the seasonal Kalahari Truffles.


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