Northern Cape, South Africa

Augrabies Falls in the Northern Cape.

The Northern Cape is South Africa's biggest province and consists mostly of desert or semi-desert and a long, utterly beautiful coastline.

Much of the province contains the Karoo, consisting of low-growing shrubs and numerous species of succulent plants - many of which have splendid, if short-lived, flowers. The sheer size of the place, the clear skies, flamboyant sunsets, brilliant starry nights, the mystical quality of the light and the incredible silence is quite intoxicating.

A good starting point would be the Augrabies Falls National Park. Primarily a scenic park, there is some small game and many birds. The highlight, though, has got to be the thundering Augrabies Falls. There is a multi-day hike in the park, as well as day walks, a mountain bike trail and 2 marvellous paddling trips nearby.

The northern part of the province is Kalahari thirstland, its not really a desert as there is so much life here, but there is little or no standing water. Here you will find the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, which is a joint venture between South Africa and neighbouring Botswana. Game includes enormous black-maned Lions and gracef u Gemsbok (or Oryx).

The Northern Cape is about wide, open spaces but Kimberley is worth a visit. As well as many museums, monuments, art galleries and lovely old buildings, you may also see the largest human-made hole in the world; called 'The Big Hole'. It was the first opencast diamond mine in the area.

Nearby are some stunning rock engravings, in quite abstract shapes, which could lend credibility to people who believe in UFOs. The Orange River, which forms the Augrabies Falls is a veritable, linear oasis in this dry land. On its banks, tender young grapes grow sweet in the sun, and date palms sway in the breeze.

The Orange River Wine Route, which is near Upington concentrates mostly on fortified dessert wines. Further west, long after the river has recovered from its headlong rush into the Augrabies Gorge, there is another eminently paddle-worthy section of river, starting at Noordoewer.