The Richtersveld National Park is arguably one of the most unforgiving landscapes in South Africa. A desert, where rainfall is unheard of for most of the year, and communities are sparsely spread around the vast, sometimes lunar landscapes.
With the park being run by the residents of the area themselves, however, expert experience and advice is on hand, ensuring that any trip to the area will be a memorable one. The Richtersveld is located in Northern Namaqualand, in the Northern Cape, and stretches all the way up to the Orange River, South Africa’s border with Namibia.
Despite the isolation, there is much to see in this rugged, dramatic area which enjoys UNESCO world heritage site status, for those who are willing to take the time to explore. Populated by the San people since prehistoric times, the area is still dotted with their artworks, some almost perfectly preserved despite the passing of the centuries.
These engravings, known as petroglyphs, were chipped by the artists into the hard dolomite rocks by hand, using rudimentary tools, and provide some insight into the cultural history of the area.
Another cultural experience is performing the Namastap, a traditional Nama dance, led by descendants of the original inhabitants. This can be arranged through the Eksteenfontein Information centre.
Other attractions and activities organized by the centre are hikes and pipe car trips to view gravesites and traditional stock posts, donkey cart rides to and around the Rooiberg (Red Mountain) as well as hiking trails, such as the Ventersval Trail, Lelieshoek Oemsberg Trail and Koedaspiek Trail, which range from 4 days for the former, to 2 days for the latter.
Despite the otherworldly, desolate appearance of the landscape at first glance, another draw card for the area is the rather unique plant and animal life to be found here. the most famous of these must be the Halfmensboom, which translates as “half-person tree”.
Local people named the tree because of its resemblance to the human form and revere the trees as the embodiment of their ancestors. Other plant life includes around 650 species, including the world’s most prolific collection of succulent species and the Richtersveld is known as one of the most fascinating mega ecosystems in the world.
Since roads are notoriously poor in the Park, access to most areas is by off-road vehicle only, but many organized 4 x 4 trips are available. Visiting during flower season will provide tourists to the area the opportunity to view the spectacular, if brief transformation of the park from a dry desert, into a living carpet of flowers and colour (see Namaqualand Flower Route).
As can be expected, accommodation in the area is mostly rudimentary; however, this offers even more opportunity to get closer to nature. Camping facilities and self catering accommodation are on offer, and can be arranged through local tourism offices.
While this area may lack the hustle and bustle of other tourist attractions, it surely has much to offer visitors in terms of unique fauna and flora, cultural experiences, and sheer natural beauty, and should not be overlooked when planning a trip in South Africa.