“The Richtersveld park is only accessible by 4×4” is music to our ears, but before you pack your 4X4 and head to the northwestern part of South Africa, let us tell you more about the UNESCO Richtersveld Cultural and Botanical Landscape in the Northern Cape.
Dr. Richter of the Rhenish Mission Society visited the area in 1830 and established a mission station at Kuboes, so the region was named after him. He was not related to Charles Francis Richter, the American seismologist and physicist best known for developing the Richter magnitude scale, which quantified earthquake size. The Richtersveld includes the towns of Alexander Bay, Eksteenfontein, Kuboes, Lekkersing, Port Nolloth, Sanddrift, and Steinkopf, all of which are excellent places to park your 4×4 and stretch your legs. On your way, stop by the Port Nolloth Museum to learn about the “Black Joke” of 1600.
The South African National Parks (SANParks) manage this park, and the main entrance is at Sendelingsdrif. The Hand of God, a “imprint” of a giant hand on a rockface, is one of the most famous attractions here (not to be confused with the two monoliths Mukurob, which is located between Keetmanshoop and Mariental off the D629 but collapsed in 1988, or with Vingerklip/Rock Finger, which is located in Damaraland, near Twyfelfontein). This site, which spans 160 000 hectares of dramatic mountainous desert, was added to the UNESCO list in 2007 due to its extensive bio-diversity and rich diverse botanical landscape, as well as the way it was shaped by pastoral grazing by Nama communities. The natural features of the area are truly breathtaking. The semi-arid environment supports a surprising variety of succulents, with roughly 40% of these being unique to the Richtersveld. Many indigenous plants are eaten, used medicinally, or used to make soap or braid ropes (the latter used in their traditional hut constructions).
Aside from many insects, butterflies, lizards, and a few (mostly poisonous) snakes, the Namakwa Padloper, the world’s smallest turtle, can also be found here, but you’ll be lucky to spot it as it is only 100mm tall when mature. Along the way, you might see the angulate (or geometric) tortoise and the Namaqua tent tortoise. This area has one of the world’s richest gecko faunas per square kilometer. Snakes are rare, however they include the black spitting cobra, puff adder, horned adder, and desert mountain cobra. Brown hyenas and leopards can be noticed in the Richtersveld. The Namaqua short-tailed gerbil and the hairy-footed gerbil are two types of gerbils. There are also numerous bat species. The |Ai-|Ais/Richtersveld Trans-frontier Conservation Area is home to a large number of bird species (197) that are mostly found along the Orange River’s banks, along dry river beds, and in the mountain ranges. The Pachypodium namaquanum (Halfmensboom – translated: half human tree) grows only in the Richtersveld. The Halfmens can grow up to 5 meters tall, and its leaves absorb water from the air as well as energy from the sun, which is why the tree’s “head” is always turned to the north. These trees germinate once every 50 years under optimal conditions. Quiver trees (also known as tree aloes) can survive for up to 400 years! The San and Khoi-Khoi hunters hollowed out the tree branches and used them as quivers or containers to store their arrows. The Khoi-Khoi and San have been using the Ghaap plant as an appetite suppressant for centuries.
Campsites are scattered through the area, at Potjiespram (on the sandbanks of the river), De Hoop, Sendelingsdrift and Kokerboomkloof, but unless you bring along your own bells and whistles, you won’t find opportunities for glamping in tented camps or exclusive lodges in this part of the world. Visit the quartzite tombstones and the Skurwehoog caves in the small town of Lekkersing, on the way to Kuboes. Kuboes is centrally located and has been dubbed a “arid wonder” by many. The Mountain Valley Guest House, located on Kuboes’ Main Street, has four self-catering chalets that can accommodate up to eight people. There is a refrigerator/freezer as well as braai facilities. You can learn how to make “riempies” chairs, “velskoene,” and “kappies” at “Rusoord,” a local craft and community workgroup. Umkulu Safari & Canoe Trails provides tours along the Richtersveld Route, camping under the stars, hiking trails, and fishing expeditions. Kokerboomkloof has impressive granitic structures, but the best view in the park is from Tatasberg, a relatively easy climb. Richtersberg is most likely the best summer campsite because it has less wind than some of the other sites. Good news for 4X4 enthusiasts: you’ll have to cross a couple of passes to reach the (well-worth-the-effort) Richtersberg campsite!
Things to keep in mind:
- Avoid setting up camp in the riverbeds to avoid nocturnal sand louses and potential flash floods at certain times of the year.
- Be ready for sudden temperature changes.
- In Springbok, buy enough “Namibia” wood for a spectacular night around the campfire.
- The Little Five are the main focus, not game viewing.
- Engage low range as you approach Vioolsdrift on the Richtersveld’s outskirts along the 600km Namaqua 4×4 eco-trail route.
- Get your adrenaline on your way up Domrog Pass and down Akkedis Pass, past the Hand of God rock formation.
- Due to the slow driving over the Akkedis Pass, the track to DeHoop campsite takes some time. Know your vehicle and keep your navigator awake as some unmarked roads may result in you taking the wrong turn.
- The road becomes very corrugated near Sendlingsdrif, so make sure your tyres are appropriately deflated.
- The Helskloof Pass to Sendlingsdrif Camp provides great photo stops, and crisscrossing the area will be a good test for any 4×4 driver’s skills.
So…if you are looking to explore the vastness, openness, mountain desert, steep hills, pointy rocks and narrow gaps, add the Richtersveld to your bucket list of 4×4 destinations for 2023. But first, bring your 4×4 to us for a service or repairs: https:// n14x4.co.za/category/rmi-certified-workshop/
N1 4X4 is one of South Africa’s biggest suppliers of new, used & refurbished parts for Cruisers and Toyota 4WD’S.