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Richtersveld Rambling


The Richtersveld has been nominated South Africa's 8th UNESCO World Heritage Site

“… the Richtersveld Cultural and Botanical Landscape was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List as the eighth South African World Heritage Site. This site joins the Isimangaliso Wetlands Park (Greater St Lucia Wetlands Park), uKhahlamba-Drakensberg Park, Robben Island, Cape Floral Region Protected Areas, Mapungubwe Cultural Landscape, Vredefort Dome and the Fossil Hominid-bearing Sites of South Africa (i.e., Cradle of Humankind, Makapan Valley and Taung Skull Fossil Sites) as places of outstanding universal value”, as Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk stated on 28 June 2007.

I guess the Richtersveld brings about images of rugged basalt mountains, scorching heat, scorpion stings, lichen-covered rocks, lizards and diamond mines in many of you, and maybe you even had the pleasure of discovering this amazing landscape for yourself like I did a few years ago. Did you wheel your way through the blistering desert of the Hell’s Gat? Did you grind sand and dust between your teeth? And then collapsed in the crystal-clear waters of the Orange River? (Maybe floating on your back, ice-cold Windhoek in your hand …) Either way, I am sure you agree with me that a biosphere of such striking magnetism and as steeped in cultural history needs be protected.

Thus, when listing the Richtersveld Cultural and Botanical Landscape as a World Heritage Site, the World Heritage Committee had this to say about the area: “The extensive communal grazed lands are a testimony to land management processes which have ensured the protection of the succulent Karoo vegetation and thus demonstrates a harmonious interaction between people and nature. Furthermore, the seasonal migrations of graziers between stockposts with traditional demountable mat-roofed houses, |haru oms, reflect a practice that was once much more widespread over Southern Africa, and which has persisted for at least two millennia; the Nama are now its last practitioners.”

The proclaimed Richtersveld Cultural and Botanical Landscape is ‘buffered’ by the following protected areas: the Richtersveld National Park to the north, Nababiep Provincial Nature Reserve to the east, and designated communal grazing areas to the south and west owned by the Sida !hub Community Property Association.

When I visited the area with one of the Richtersveld Community Tourism facilitators back in 2000, I got an understanding for the vastness of this compelling part of South Africa. With over 160 000 ha in size, the Conservancy contains unspoiled stretches of the Great !Gariep River, otherworldly bizarre rock formations, and an unforgettable sky at night. There is no better place on earth to listen to campfire tales told by the "Grootmense" (old people) –while sitting in front of a matjieshut, and Nama bread burning in the coals of a crackling fire. They will tell you about the Wondergat, a deep and mysterious sinkhole at Cornellskop, where people disappear or return to the surface suddenly aged, with wide open terrified eyes and grey hair. And then there is the legend of the Big Snake at which city slickers will scoff at, but believe me: hearing it from a storyteller’s mouth, you can feel the snake’s breath knocking you down, and when I went for a splash in the Gariep the next morning, I checked twice for scattered bones …

How do I get there?
The National Park covers the northern part of the Richtersveld. The most common route used to get to the Richtersveld National Park is from Springbok to Port Nolloth and Alexander Bay. From Alexander Bay a gravel road (94km) takes visitors past Sanddrift to the Sendelingsdrift entrance to the Park. A 4x4 trail connects the Namibian border post at 'Vioolsdrift' with the Park. Vehicles with high ground clearance can follow scenic gravel roads via Lekkersing, Eksteenfontein and Kuboes to Sendelingsdrift, enjoying a breathtaking first impression on the Richtersveld area and its people.

Where do I sleep?
On route:
On route to the Richtersveld, consider these fine places on www.safarinow.com – they are both situated in Springbok, your last well-stocked refreshment station for groceries, petrol, and additional camping gear. And spade, toilet paper and matches for emergencies in the wilderness.
Mountain View Guest House
Annie's Cottage

Be sure to consult these destination specialists for the Richtersveld area, for more information and support of the community initiatives: North South Tourism Route
Campsites in the Richtersveld National Park north to the Richtersveld Botanical and Cultural Landscape: The parks’ guesthouse on the banks of the Orange River in Sendelingsdrift offers comfortable accommodation, easy access into the Park and breathtaking views across the border into Namibia. Cool down at night in one of the camping sites in Pokkiespram, De Hoop or Richtersberg on the banks of the Orange River, or at De Koei and Kokerboomkloof in the mountains. The huts in the Nama camp at Pokkiespram can also shelter you from the heavy dew that occurs sometimes after nightfall. Brandkaros, Eksteenfontein, Rooiberg, Lekkersing, Sanddrift, and Kuboes offer you unique places to stay overnight if you decide to visit the Park just for a day trip.
South Africa National Parks

© Text: Barbara Ulmi

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*Distances are shown as the crow flies and not necessarily the actual travelling distance.