Northern Cape in South Africa

The Northern Cape is South Africa's largest province, although it is home to fewer than a million people. It is also one of the most beautiful areas of the country but, compared to other provinces, it remains tourist-free. Much of this has to do with the sheer harshness of the area.

This is where the rock-strewn semi-desert of Namakwa (Namaqualand) merges with the rolling red dunes of the Kalahari, where cruel heat pounds the parched wilderness for much of the year. But it is this sun-bleached emptiness and inaccessibility that gives the area its stark beauty, endless shimmering plains and hazy saltpans providing it with a real sense of isolation.

The state can be divided into three distinct regions: Namakwa in the west; the Kalahari to the north of the Gariep River; and the Karoo to the south. Despite the pervasive arid conditions, it is an area of excellent game viewing, with the magnificent Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park offering one of the finest national park experiences in Africa. In spring, Namakwa becomes the main attraction, as the valleys are transformed into carpets of vibrant colour as desert flowers explode from the earth with the first rains.

The Gariep River - formerly the Orange - runs through much of the state; it was recently been given its Nama name, meaning 'great river'. It thunders over the surreal Augrabies Falls, the fifth largest in the world, and offers superb whitewater rafting. Lastly, this is diamond country, and the key town of Kimberley has a rich history and a number of sights, not least the colossal diamond mines themselves.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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