Attractions in the Northern Cape

10 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in the Northern Cape

Steeped in stark, semi-desert beauty, the Northern Cape Province is the largest of all South African provinces and the most sparsely populated. This is a place to find solitude in a land of big skies and bold hues. From the red soil and golden grasses of the Kgalagadi (Kalahari) Transfrontier Park, one of the world’s largest wildlife areas, to the kaleidoscopic wildflowers of Namaqualand and the deep blue, cloudless skies of Kimberley, once the diamond capital of the world, the region serves striking vistas. At Augrabies Falls National Park, travelers can watch the Orange River plunge into a yawning gorge at the world’s sixth largest waterfalls. In the desert, black-headed Kalahari lions and peculiar quiver trees live on the burning plains. And the province is also rich in history; visitors can tour historic battlefields as well as Victorian villas where mining magnates once mingled during the country’s illustrious diamond rush days.

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1 Kgalagadi (Kalahari) Cross-border park

Kgalagadi (Kalahari) Transfrontier Park
 

In 2000, South Africa’s Kalahari Gemsbok National Park and Botswana’s Gemsbok National Parkcombined into one of the largest nature reserves in the world – more than 3.6 million hectares. Cornflower blue skies, crimson dunes and golden grasslands provide a striking canvas for photo safaris in this harsh, arid region. Wildlife is abundant and easy to view thanks to the sparse vegetation here. Beautiful black-hooved Kalahari lions are the most iconic animal in this region and the park also protects leopards, cheetahs, gemsboks, meerkats and many species of birds, including sociable weavers, with their giant nests and birds of prey. Accommodation ranges from campsites to comfortable chalets. Four-wheel drive vehicles are recommended here for some of the rough circuits.

Official site: https://www.sanparks.org/parks/kgalagadi/

2 Goegap Nature Reserve, Namaqualand

Oryx in Namaqualand
Oryx in Namaqualand
 

In the big-sky semi-desert of Namaqualand, Goegap Nature Reserveoffers fun 4WD tracks and beautiful displays of wildflowers in spring. This 15,000 hectare reserve is worth a visit even when the wildflowers are not in bloom. The vegetation is typical of Namaqualand, with succulents; shrubs; and bizarre quiver trees or quiver trees, a type of branched aloe. The park also protects animals specially adapted to the parched conditions, including antelope, the endangered Hartmann’s zebra, Aardewolf, honey badger and more than 94 species of birds. In spring, the arid landscapes burst into an impossible glow of colorful flowers that delight avid photographers. Rain and temperature fluctuations affect the types of flowers in bloom, surprising visitors with different color combinations every year. In addition to photography, popular activities here include hiking the varied trails, mountain biking and stargazing in the crystal clear night skies. Campsites and basic accommodations are available in the park.

3 The Big Hole, Kimberley

The Big Hole, Kimberley
The Big Hole, Kimberley
 

The capital of the Northern Cape and once the diamond capital of the world, Kimberley lies on the border between the Northern Cape Province and the Orange Free State and is a convenient stopover on the road from Cape Town to Johannesburg. Kimberley is known as the Diamond City , as this is where the foundations of South Africa’s wealth were laid during the heady days of the diamond boom in the 1870s. In 1871, gold seekers struck luck on a farm owned by the brothers De Bear and on a neighboring hill. Today that area is known as The Big Hole. The size of eight football fields, this is the world’s largest man-made holeand one of Kimberley’s top tourist attractions. Between 1871 and 1914, 22.6 million tons of earth and rock were excavated from the mine for a yield of 14.5 million carats of diamonds. Visitors peer from a viewing platform into the mine, now filled with water, and see what it was like when thousands of men toiled here, pulling the rock to the surface with cables. Afterwards, a visit to the Mining Museum takes visitors on a journey back through the days of intoxicating diamonds.

Official site: https://www.thebighole.co.za/

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Kimberley

4 The Kimberley Mining Museum

Kimberley tram bob walker / photo modified
Kimberley tram bob walker / photo modified
 

At the west end of the Big Hole is the open-air Kimberley Mining Museum, a village of almost 50 buildings, some original and some reproductions, representing Kimberley during its diamond rush days. Tourists can visit some of the houses, which are decorated in the style of that time. The first church built in Kimberley was the German Lutheran Church of St. Martin (1875). However, Kimberley’s oldest house only dates to 1877; it was built from prefabricated parts imported from Britain: a residence of extraordinary luxury at a time when everyone else lived in tents. Other houses, shops and workshops line a cobbled street. The Mining Hallshows a collection of photos and documents from diamond peak days. Opposite, is the Diamond Hall, with a 616-carat diamond , one of the largest uncut diamonds in the world, and the Eureka, the first diamond discovered in South Africa. A restored 1913 tram transports visitors between the neoclassical Town Hall (circa 1899) and the Big Hole and museum.

5 Augrabies Falls National Park

Augrabies Falls National Park
Augrabies Falls National Park
 

The Augrabies Falls, near the border with Namibia, are one of the country’s greatest natural wonders. Here the Orange River plunges in a series of waterfalls almost 150 meters wide into an 18-kilometre-long granite gorge surrounded by towering rock walls. In the language of the Hottentots, who reverently regarded the falls as a sacred place, the name Augrabies means “place of great noise”, and indeed the falls, which are among the six largest in the world, justify their name.

Established in 1967 to protect the falls, the national park is a region of extreme drought with sparse vegetation, consisting mainly of euphorbias and kokerboom or koker trees. Among the animals that live here are klipspringer, porcupines, leopards, baboons, vervet monkeys and more than 140 species of birds, including Verreaux’s eagle, which is often seen near the falls. The 26 kilometer long Klipspringer Hiking Trail through the gorge takes about three days with overnight accommodation in huts. In summer the trail is closed due to the heat, but this is the best time to see the falls – especially in late summer when the river swells with water. Other highlights include Moonstone and the scenic Oranjekom viewpoints, Ararat , and Echo Corner . Accommodation is available at campsites and well-equipped chalets.

Official site: https://www.sanparks.org/parks/augrabies/

6 Mokala National Park

Mokala National Park
Mokala National Park
 

About 70 kilometers southwest of Kimberley, Mokala National Park protects some of the most endangered species, including white and black rhinos. Visitors can also see roan and sable antelope, tsessebe, black wildebeest, caracal,aardwolf, giraffe, kudu, oryx, zebra and many species of birds. Named after the Setswana word for camel thorn, the park’s red earth and golden grass-covered plains are dotted with these semi-desert trees, as well as the dolerie hills, which make a beautiful backdrop for photographs. In addition to day and night game drives, visitors can go horse riding, hiking and mountain biking. Accommodation options include safari bungalows, self-catering cottages and campsites.

Official site: https://www.sanparks.org/parks/mokala/

7 Tanker Karoo National Park

Tank truck Karoo National Park
Tank truck Karoo National Park
 

Remote and rugged, Tankwa Karoo National Park is a land of haunting beauty. The national park is located near the border of the Northern Cape and Western Cape in one of the most arid regions of the country with stark desert plains and glittering night skies. Satellite phones are useful here. Animals in the wildlife park include red hartebeest, mongoose, oryx and a variety of reptiles. Birdwatching is a popular activity and visitors can go on self-paced game drives on the rough and paved roads. In addition to wildlife watching, visitors come here to bounce around on the 4WD tracks, stargaze in the dazzling night skies and photograph the beautiful semi-desert landscapes from scenic viewpoints. A 4WD vehicle is highly recommended. The accommodations include campsites,

Official site: https://www.sanparks.org/parks/tankwa/

8 Belgravia Historical walk

Dunluce flowcomm / modified photo
Dunluce flowcomm / modified photo
 

Surprised by the grand homes of former miners and magnates, Belgravia is the chic residential area near the old diamond mines of Kimberley. Today, visitors can step back in time and view some of these beautiful old Victorian villas on the Belgravia Historic Walk. The walk visits 30 historic sites and starts at the McGregor Museum , which provides a good overview of the area’s history and was the former temporary residence of imperialist Cecil John Rhodes. Highlights of the walk include dunluce , an excellent example of late Victorian architecture dating from 1897, and Rudd House, once the home of mining magnate HP Rudd, whose father was a friend and business associate of Cecil Rhodes. Both houses are attached to the McGregor Museum and can be visited by appointment. In the 13-story Harry Oppenheimer Building (1974), designed by German architect H. Hentrich, all diamonds found in South Africa are appraised. Also on the tour, the Duggan Cronin Gallery contains a unique collection of photographs of the indigenous people of South Africa, taken by AM Duggan Cronin between 1919 and 1939. Some of the traditional tribal rites depicted can never be photographed again. The William Humphreys Art Galleryopened in 1952 and features works by Dutch, Flemish, British and French masters, as well as South African artists.

Official site: https://www.museumsnc.co.za

9 Quiver Tree Forest

Quiver boom
Quiver boom
 

At Gannabos, a farm near the small towns of Loeriesfontein and Nieuwoudtville, the Quiver Tree Forest is the world’s largest colony of these bizarre flowering aloes, also known as kokerboom, (aloe dichotoma). Photographers and budding botanists often stop here on their way to Augrabies Falls and the Kalaharito admire these gigantic aloes, which appear on the pages of a Dr. Seuss book would look good. Able to store water in its trunk, the kokerboom can live up to 400 years and is perfectly adapted to dry conditions. The name comes from the practice of the San (Bushmen) who made vibrating arrows for their poison arrows from the dried out hollow branches. Sociable weaver birds often build their large multi-chambered nests from their branches. The best time to photograph these sculptural trees is when they produce their bright yellow flowers, usually in May, June and July.

10 Magersfontein Battlefield & Museum

About 30 kilometers south of Kimberley, the Magersfontein battlefield is the scene of a British defeat during “Black Week” in the Boer War, l. The site is well signposted and visitors can view the battlefield and trenches from an observation point and explore small museum, which shows an audiovisual presentation and displays a collection of weapons and uniforms. Near the museum, hilltop memorials honor the dead and provide beautiful views of the area. Tours provide fascinating details about these historical events and are highly recommended for history buffs.

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