South African Holidays in Northern Cape

The Big Hole in Kimberley.

Capital: Kimberley
Population of Kimberley: 166 000
Provincial population: 0,9 million
Area: 361 830 km2
Percentage of total area of South Africa: 29,7%
Percentage of GDP produced in the Northern Cape: 2,09 %
Principal economic sectors: Mining (diamonds, iron ore and manganese), grape and other fruit production for drying, largescale sheep farming, tourism

The Northern Cape, South Africa's biggest province, is most often seen from inside a speeding car on its way to Cape Town. Although the Northern Cape is a corridor province for those driving between Johannesburg and the Cape, it is in fact a region of great magnificence with plenty to offer. It is the home of the San people, a hunter-gatherer tribe known for their rock art and their extraordinary ability to subsist in a barren environment and live in perfect harmony with the nature.

Forthose who express a desire to explore, the Northern Cape could be the ideal destination. The Karoo makes up much of the province, that consists of lowgrowing shrubs and numerous species of succulent plants. The sheer size of the place, the clear skies, flamboyant sunsets, brilliant starry nights, mystical quality of the light, and the incredible silence is overwhelming. This is the kind of place that you want to take in slowly.

A good starting point would be the Augrabies Falls National Park. Even though it is primarily a scenic park, there are small game and many species of birds. The highlight, though, is the thundering Augrabies Falls, where travellers can enjoy a multi-day hike in the park, as well as day walks, mountain bike trails and two invigorating paddling trips nearby.The northern part of the province is Kalahari thirstland - it's 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. The park is inhabited by game including the enormous black-maned lions and the graceful gemsbok, or oryx.

The north-western region with its green agricultural belt flanking the Orange River near the Atlantic ocean creates a lush contrast to the ruggedness of the Richtersveld. The Richtersveld is one of the most botanically interesting areas, with its hundreds of species of flowering succulents. Its saw-toothed mountain peak, wind-sculpted boulders and colourful indigenous flora have a unique beauty, found nowhere else on earth.

The principal city of Kimberley is worth a visit. As well as many museums, monuments, art galleries and lovely old buildings, you will also see the largest human-made hole in the world, simply called "The Big Hole". It was the first opencast diamond mine in the area. Nearby are some stunning rock engravings. The Orange River, which forms the Augrabies Falls, is a veritable 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, near Upington, concentrates mostly on fortified dessert wines.

The Big Hole

The Big Hole, found inside the Kimberley Mine Museum, is the largest human-made hole in the world, dug during the biggest diamond rush in history. The largest uncut diamond ever found is on display in the living museum, which is a reconstruction of the 19th century mining town, the only town in South Africa that still has a running tram.

Augrabies Falls National Park

The falls are arguably the main attraction to the park, plummeting 90m down a series of granite cataracts. The name Augrabies is derived from the Khoi word which means "place of great noise". The remainder of the park is made up of moulded rock formations and semi-desert landscapes. The area offers some good hiking trails and exciting whitewater rafting.

Namaqualand

The area stretching north and west from Cape Town is an austere landscape with its own rather minimalist aesthetic. It is not appreciated much outside of the flower season. These desert and semi-desert areas do have their own appeal. The sky is open and beautiful, the distant hills and the multi-coloured rocks create their own awesome spectacle. During the annual flowering season, all pretensions to minimalism go straight out of the window.

For a few weeks during August and September, the area is a mass of colour as far as the eye can see. Superlatives don't do justice to this magnificent spectacle. The exact timing of the flowering and the very best viewing positions change from year to year and even within the season, so it is best to get the latest flower reports before heading off. The blooming of the desert is almost biblical in its proportions. Without exaggeration, you will find acres of daisies, or brightly coloured bulbs - their brilliant blooms quivering gently on long stalks. Small pockets of delicate flowering plants create a private garden every few metres along the road, and everywhere, delicate flowers flourish for their brief but sublime moment in time.

Richtersveld

The far northwest of the country is remote and incredibly hot and dry. It is classified as succulent Karoo, with the neatly ranked mountains in the distance. But the truth is very different. Although trees are few and far between and quite scrubby, this is one of the most botanically interesting areas with hundreds of species of flowering succulents. The only standing water is the Orange, or Gariep River. So with no shade, virtually no roads and only one, long, linear oasis, this is not an easy place to visit. The best way to see it is on an guided river trip on the Orange River, but you could also do a guided 4x4 trail. There is a hiking trail but it's not for the fainthearted.

The San

The San were the first people of the Northern Cape, who were gradually pushed out of the area by the arrival of Europeans and other African tribes. The last remaining true San people live in the Kalahari area of the Northern Cape. The whole area, especially along the Orange and Vaal rivers, is rich in San rock engravings. A good collection can be seen at the McGregor Museum in Kimberley. The province is also rich in fossils.

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