The Northern Cape is the country’s largest province and is characterised by the arid Kalahari Desert and the colourful floral displays of Namaqualand each spring.
The dramatic desert scenery and vast expanses of the Kalahari and its wildlife including meerkats and black-maned lions is unlike any other region of South Africa. Namaqualand’s annual floral display is a natural spectacle of an altogether gentler, though equally impressive, kind, when the ground is carpeted with colourful, sun-worshipping, wildflowers.
- Desert & starscapes: The Kalahari Desert is in the far north of the Northern Cape, an area of huge red sand dunes and semi-arid thornveld with grasses, shrubs, acacia trees and summer flowers topped off by the brilliant blue sky, so is not quite the barren wilderness you might expect. At night the huge skies, unaffected by light pollution, are ideal for stargazing.
- The Kalahari experience: Many animals and birds have adapted to life in the Kalahari, among them specialist desert species such as gemsbok, springbok and aardvark as well as cheetah, black-maned lions and meerkats. There are several locations including Tswalu, South Africa’s largest private game reserve, where you can enjoy 4x4 drives, go horse riding, walking and take to the skies in a helicopter to experience the many facets of the Kalahari.
- San bushmen: The San have lived in the Kalahari for some 20,000 years, the original hunter-gatherers. They have learned to survive in the desert environment, foraging for food as well as using bows and arrows. You can learn about their culture, accompany bushmen on nature walks, find out about the medicinal properties of plants and see ancient rock paintings, among the oldest artworks on the planet.
- Namaqualand daisies: Spiring is the flower season which peaks in August and September when rain transforms the usually dry landscape into a blaze of orange. It is best viewed during the warmest part of the day when the sun-facing blooms are fully opened. Daisies predominate but there are other species too, so it’s a real wildflower bonanza.
- Nature reserves: Goegap Nature Reserve is a good place to view the spring flowers and to see wildlife including springbok, gemsbok, aardwolf, Hartman’s zebra and ostrich as you hike the trails or drive around the reserve. Richtersveld National Park, partly owned by the local Nama people, is another great wildlife destination and has the world’s largest range of succulents. In Namaqua National Park you may be lucky enough to spot the Namaqualand speckled padloper, the world’s smallest tortoise. Top tip, they’re best seen in the morning.