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Ai-Ais/Richtersveld Transfrontier Park


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Ritsgaai

 

A warm and hearty hello to all who desire to take to the road, to explore and discover...

 

Have you ever visited the spectacular north-western part of South Africa called the Richtersveld?

 

I know that a lot of people visit the Namibian side when exploring south Namibia. The park is part of an initiative between the two countries and the proper name is Ai-Ais/Richtersveld Transfrontier Park.

 

It is more of a 4x4 self-drive destination and very remote. It is dry and arid with extreme temperatures plummeting to subzero during winter and reaching scorching hot temperatures of way above 40 degrees Celsius in summer. Vegetation is mostly sparse but extremely interesting plants can be seen. The Orange River runs through it and is the only source of water for the area. The rock formations are absolutely stunning, especially with sunrise and sunset when beautiful shadows play and highlight valleys and gorges in a display of colors. At night the wide, open Milky Way sparkles overhead.

 

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We have been there a couple of times and would like to share a few impressions.

 

 

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Ritsgaai

Our first visit was in 2007 and totally unplanned.

 

Our firstborn son got married in the middle of December and after life got back to normal – friends and family has all gone home – we decided to go away.  We had nothing planned, but decided to throw a tent in the back of our bakkie and head in a general western direction. It was an area of the country we haven’t explored before. We did not know where we will sleep or how far we want to travel. At the last minute before departure I ran back inside to grab a few local travel magazines which I knew had articles that covered the western parts of the country.

 

As we left the city behind, heading west on the N14, I paged through some of the magazines and we decided it would be nice to make our first sleepover stop at Witsand Nature Reserve, some 160 kilometers from Upington. I called to make a reservation and we were in high spirits after they confirmed a booking for two nights.

 

We discovered that Witsand NR was an excellent choice to start off our holiday and we had a great time hiking, climbing the dunes and just relaxing in the excellent chalet. After 2 wonderful days we were ready to continue and explore further west.

 

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That day we had a unique experience we will never forget. As we were travelling on the dirt road after exiting the park, my husband noticed a huge bird struggling in the wire fence. He reversed back and found a Kori Bustard was trapped by his two feet between the upper two horizontal wires and hanging upside down with the head in the sand. How this was possible and happened was totally unexplained. The massive bird was still alive with signs of blood on the wings as it struggled to escape.

 

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My husband fetched some tools from the bakkie and we forced the wires open around the legs. We were so excited when the feet came free and the bird sat quietly to gather strength. We tried to feed it some drinking water and poured some over the head. We will never forget when it got up after a while and walked away with a few deep “oempth, umpths” as in saying: Thank you for saving my life.”

 

We both felt like heroes! :)

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offshorebirder

Thanks for this trip report @Ritsgaai - you got some good karma for sure for rescuing the Kori Bustard!

 

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Ritsgaai

Hi @offshorebirder

Thank you. 

Yes, it left a lasting imprint in our memories and we told the story many times since. 

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Ritsgaai

To cut a long story short…

After spending a few days at the Augrabies National Park, our road heading west literally came to a dead end! We’ve reached the Atlantic Ocean at Port Nolloth  and the only options left were to head back east (home) or turn the nose of the bakkie north or south.

 

Over breakfast at a coffee shop we poured over our few travel magazines to see if any destination was calling our hearts and then an article about the Richtersveld was the one drawing our full attention. My level-headed and logic husband pointed out that it is not a destination to tackle without being properly prepared, but we were ready for an adventure, very optimistic… and a little naïve. :D

 

In our excitement we didn’t even consider making a reservation first, as it was after all the 27th of December and in the middle of the peak holiday season! We would drive up the west coast to Alexander Bay, get some food supplies and then head straight to Sendeling’s Drift to arrange a campsite at the office.

 

The only supermarket in Alexander Bay was a big disappointment and didn’t leave much of a choice in terms of variety or freshness, but nothing could kill our excitement. We didn’t own a camp fridge at the time yet, but filled the cooler box with ice and headed towards the park, as excited as little children.

 

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The gorge below the Augrabies Waterfall

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  • Ritsgaai changed the title to Ai-Ais/Richtersveld Transfrontier Park
Ritsgaai

Our travel magazine suggested De Hoop campsites as the best in the park and we asked the lady at the reception desk whether they had a vacant campsite there. She replied: “No, it is always fully booked for this time of the year.” She checked for other possible availabilities and found four nights available at Richtersberg, situated on the banks of the Orange River. We were very happy with our good fortune to get anything at all during the peak season.

 

As we drove deeper and deeper into the mountain wilderness, we got captivated with the vastness and beauty of our surroundings. My husband enjoyed the challenge of the rugged terrain and narrow road leading us towards Richtersberg campsites.

 

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The campsite was a pleasant surprise and we found that there were no other campers around. We pitched our little dome tent on the green grass next to the water and allowed the tranquility and peacefulness of the beautiful surroundings to fill our senses.

  

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Over the next few days we explored and visited the other camps, discovered interesting rock formations, found beautiful vistas and swam in the river to cool down, as it was extremely hot with temperatures reaching 46 to 49 degree Celsius.

 

An hour before sundown we drove to Rooiberg and with sun-downers in hand, watched a breathtakingly beautiful display of colour-changing against the rugged side of the mountain before the last rays of the sun dipped below the horizon.

 

When it was getting dark, the night sky came to life overhead and seemed to be very close and brighter than anywhere else on the planet. It didn’t take much imagination to feel like we were the only two people alive on the face of the earth.

 

The day we left, we knew that we will be back again… and again…

 

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Ritsgaai

The follow-up visit only came four years later in the September of 2011 and we made a booking for De Hoop camp well in advance . This time our middle-born son and his wife joined us. The first part of the trip was spend in Namaqualand during the latter part of August to see the spring flowers and just like the previous time we ended up in Port Nolloth  the last night before going to the Richtersveld.

 

I’m sure that you gathered by now that we do not mind to make sudden changes to our plans if an idea comes up that sounds like adventure. :D

 

A few months back I have read an article about a route that runs through the Richtersveld Botanical Wilderness Area outside and on the southern border of the park. The trip report in the travel magazine showed a sketch of the route and some rough outlines of how to get to the start of the route. It sounded amazing and the decision was made on the morning of our departure to rather drive through this area en-route to the park, instead of through the rather boring landscape between Port Nolloth and Sendeling’s Drift.

 

We found the start of the route easily and the full track showed up on the GPS, which was loaded with Tracks4Africa, after we turned onto it. Shortly after the turnoff we realized that the track wasn’t used lately or regularly, as it was very small and in some places overgrown and invisible… literally ‘of the beaten track’!

 

Our progress was very slow because of the condition of the track, but we enjoyed the remoteness of it and as we progressed we realized that it was getting too late to reach the park entrance before closing time. It didn’t bother us at all as both vehicles were fully kitted out with tents, water and food supplies and by late afternoon we found a flat, open space to camp for the night.

 

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It was a magical feeling… only the four of us in a vast wilderness area, miles and miles away from any civilization.

 

 

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The next morning the road progressively worsens as we proceeded into a more mountainous area and we often had to build sections of it in order to get through.

 

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Simultaneously the area was getting more beautiful with dense vegetation that was covered in spring flowers. Really very, very special and totally different to the sparse vegetation found inside the park.

 

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So, yes, we did get to our booked camp at De Hoop next to the Orange River that day and were feeling very blessed that evening about our unique experience of the very remote and beautiful wilderness area we had encountered.

 

This is the kind of experiences and adventures that we absolutely love! :wub:

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Ritsgaai

Our next visit was undertaken with dear friends in September 2015.

 

There is a road in Namibia, the C13, which follows the northern border of the Orange River from Vioolsdrif, then via Rosh Pinah to Sendeling’s Drift where the only entrance to the Richtersveld park is situated. For a long time we wanted to experience the beauty of this road and this was an excellent opportunity to do just that.

 

We booked at a place called The Growcery, situated close to Vioolsdrif border post which would allow us to have the whole of the next day to drive to Sendeling’s Drift at a leisurely pace in order to enjoy the scenery.

 

The Growcery is situated right on the banks of the Orange River and we can highly recommend it. This is the road leading there, the view and the open bar area.

 

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It did not take long to get our passports stamped the next morning and soon we passed the agricultural area or Aussenkehr with their interesting looking reed village.

 

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This traveler on his heavily laden bike was very grateful when we offered him an ice cold cooldrink. 

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We were highly rewarded with stunning scenery driving through the remote mountain terrain on the C13 road.

 

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We reached the ferry taking us over the river by early afternoon and spent a relaxing afternoon after booked in at the office.

 

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The first night was booked at Potjiespram, a few kilometres deeper into the park from Sendeling’s Drift. It was lovely having the whole camp to ourselves. We took a short walk alongside the river, had a braai and fall asleep to the sound of a nearby owl calling.

 

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Ritsgaai

We had all the time in the world to once again explore and discover the beauty of this mountain desert over the next 5 days.

 

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The next very interesting looking plants are called Halfmens (directly translated it would be half-human) and were found on the Halfmens Pass, one of several passes in the park. 

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A huge rock alongside the road with an imprint of a hand called Hand of God

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It was always a delight to find fragile looking flowers amongst the desert of rocks.

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Another pass on the way to De Hoop camp

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We were amazed to suddenly notice a small stream of running water in the middle of the road  and delighted by shrubs with a mass of small, white flowers alongside.  The water was seeping from the rocks in the mountain. The desert surely held a lot of surprises.

 

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It was a short distance and a few more turns from here to the De Hoop camp.

 

 

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Ritsgaai

Relaxing at De Hoop

 

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@RitsgaaiRichtersveld is gifted with a glorious landscape. And the potjiekos must have tasted delicious in this beautiful environment.

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Treepol

Thanks for this very scenic retrospective trip report. I can see a fun time was had by all with such beautiful scenery and tubing on the river.

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Peter Connan

I am taking notes! 

Despite my family coming from pretty close to there, I have actually never been on the SA side of this park. I did once spend a day or so (a 24 hour day) driving from Springbok to Rosh Pinah, wild camping next to the Orange river along the way, and really enjoyed it, so I would love to go there some time.

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Ritsgaai

@Biko, thank you. 

The oxtail potjie was indeed delicious... compliments to the chef, Deon.

 

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Ritsgaai

Thanks you for your kind comments, @Treepol

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Ritsgaai
On 2/22/2021 at 5:51 PM, Peter Connan said:

I would love to go there some time.

Hi Peter

I think with all the covid rules in place to cross our borders, Richtersveld seems inviting as a remote destination.

Go for it. :)

 

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Ritsgaai

We had all the time in the world to once again explore and discover the beauty of the park over the next 5 days.

 

If you do not want to camp, there is an option of three Wilderness Camps to book from in the park which consist of small self-catering units with solar-powered facilities.

Tatasberg is one of three wilderness camps in the park. 

 

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I imagine a giant lost his football... :o

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Tatasberg... literally a mountain of stones!

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Mountain range upon mountain range disappearing in the distance with a beautiful spectrum of blues and purple.

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Plants that seemingly grow out of nothing but rocks and stones.

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The scenic road leading down to Kokerboomkloof Camp.

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I think this must be the most photographed Kokerboom in the park and is standing in the middle of nowhere on the way to Kokerboomkloof Camp.

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This interesting rock formation is just before entering Kokerboomkloof Camp.

De Toon (the Toe)

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It seems that the other toes are at the bottom.

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Kokerboomkloof Camp has some very interesting looking sites. It is not situated next to the Orange River and I imagine it can become very hot in summer.

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The iconic Kokerboom can be seen everywhere in camp.

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