Northern Cape Travel Map
If you’re into space – and vast quantities of it - South Africa's Northern Cape Province is for you. Endless flat vistas stretch out across the silent, thirsty landscapes which form part of the area known as the Karoo. It was in the heart of this province - at Verneukpan - that Malcolm Campbell attempted to break the Land Speed Record in 1929 in his car, Bluebird. He failed, but he succeeded in putting this strikingly desolate part of the world on the map.
Not that the Northern Cape Province is all boundless desolation. It is hemmed-in to the south by the Swartberg Mountains. Flowing through the heart of this enormous province is the mighty Orange River – giving rise to startling oases of verdant farmland valleys throughout the region. Travel from the windswept Atlantic coast in the west, eastward into Namaqualand - world famous for its dazzling, abundant spring daisies - or visit the legendary thundering Augrabies Falls as the Orange River drops by a dizzying 191 meters!
Squeezed into a podgy finger-like shape and bordered by both Namibia and Botswana is the popular Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. Here, red dunes, scrubland and impressive camel thorn trees provide a dramatic backdrop for game spotting - with leopard, gemsbok, pygmy falcons and black-maned Kalahari lions on the viewing wish list.
The Northern Cape is the largest of South Africa’s provinces (it’s even larger than Germany) and historically was first settled in by the San people of Southern Africa – on many farms in the province, original San rock art can be viewed. The Diamond Rush on Kimberley in the late 1860s rapidly brought industrialization to this vast, uninhabited region of Southern Africa and Kimberley became the first city in the Southern Hemisphere to install electric street lighting. Due to its mineral wealth, Kimberley was at the centre of many skirmishes during the Boer War – one of the most pivotal battles in the area took place at Magersfontein, where Boer forces under General De La Rey employed guerrilla trench warfare tactics for the first time in recorded history, and dealt the British a devastating blow. Today Kimberley boasts the largest man-made hole in the world, The Big Hole, from where diamonds were historically excavated.
The Northern Cape is a semi-arid region with low rainfalls. Summers are hot – anything from a mild 25 degrees Celsius in Sutherland (home of S.A.L.T – the South African Large Telescope) to a sweltering 40 degrees Celsius in Upington. Chilly, crisp winters – southern areas, such as Sutherland can be desperately cold, but for the most part, winters are mild at around 17 degrees Celsius.
Use our Northern Cape map to dig out the gems of this region, including Augrabies, Colesberg, Kakamas, Kimberly, Springbok and Upington. And wherever your Northern Cape travels take you, Portfolio can guide you to the best, quality and luxury Northern Cape accommodation in a range of B&Bs, guest houses, farm stays and safari lodges in this South African province.
The thunderous, impressive Augrabies falls could be an angry giant’s endless bubble bath. It gets its tongue-twisting name from the original inhabitants. (For the Khoi, “Aukoerebis” was “the place of deafening rumbles”). On this stretch of the Orange River, expect to see striking granite rock formations and dramatic quiver trees. While visiting the Augrabies Falls National Park you might spot an endangered black rhino (if you’re lucky) or catch some springbok, giraffe and klipspringer grazing. Fertile valleys, an abundant diversity of wildlife, hiking and white water rafting.
Well known as the ideal stop-off between Cape Town and Johannesburg, Colesberg has much more to offer the traveller than a warm bed and Karoo hospitality! One of Colesberg’s surrounding koppies (hillocks) Coleskop, is considered to be a magic mountain. It can be seen from 40km away, but, according to folklore, by some bizarre optical illusion never seems to get nearer as you travel towards it. Colesberg has a rich history dating back to the stone-age hunter-gatherers, and the town played a significant role in the diamond rush in the region in the late 1800s – it was to Colesberg that John O’Reiley brought the first diamond to be tested. The stylish Colesberg-Kemper Museum, (originally the Colesberg Bank) is home to valuable relics and mementos which tell the tales of Colesberg’s historical odyssey – from fossils dating back to the first reptiles to a photographic display of the donkey cart nomads of the Karoo.
This is racehorse and stud farm country – not to mention the prize merinos that graze their days away in the Karoo scrublands that stretch out beyond Colesberg.
There are some that say the name Kakamas means “the place where fierce buffalo storm” and others that say it means “brown” or “barren land” - and while the town’s eccentric name may be a cause of dispute, what can’t be denied is that Kakamas is an alluring, idiosyncratic spot. First of all there’s a water-wheel in the main road, which was modified by Piet Burger from an ancient Egyptian design – and then there’s South Africa’s first hydro-electric power station, which was designed to look like an Egyptian temple! Then there are the irrigation tunnels – built through sheer determination by impoverished farmers who had been forced to abandon their former farms due to the massive drought at the end of the 1800s. Many of the farmers yoked themselves and did the hard graft, rather than wasting valuable time searching the countryside for donkeys or oxen. Engineers of the day strongly criticized the irrigation system, but more than 100 years later, the system is still in use… Today Kakamas is a fertile valley, exporting oranges, grapes, dates and raisins.
Kimberly - Capital of the Northern Cape Province
It all began in 1866 when Erasmus Jacobs, as legend has it, tripped over a stone on the banks of the Orange River. It was no ordinary stone – it was the 21carat diamond that started the Diamond rush - and from the Big Hole in the ground, Kimberly sprang up. Prospectors and workers flooded to the area, and for the first time in recorded South African history, the workers’ compounds were racially segregated – this was the chilling prototype for the terrible system of Apartheid, which was entrenched in 1948. The diamond rush is long gone, but modern day Kimberly is a haven of history. A must-see is the Magersfontein battlefield south of Kimberly, where a remarkable Anglo-Boer War battle took place – make sure you don’t miss the audiovisual display, which is tucked away in the museum. Speaking of museums – Kimberly has a plethora of them, many in original buildings. The Freddie Tate Golf Museum at the Kimberly Golf Club is the first of its kind in SA. The transport museum and the unique Pioneers of Aviation Museum are fun for the whole family.
When heading for Springbok, you can pretty much leave your brolly behind – with 300 days of sunshine a year, this town is for die-hard sun worshippers. Springbok’s main attraction isn’t its fantastic weather, though, it is world famous for its flower power! Once a year, from July to September, thick carpets of Namaqua daisies miraculously adorn the rugged, thirsty landscape surrounding the town in spring - a visual banquet not to be missed. Wander through the town and visit the lovely stone church and then amble up Klipkoppie (stone hill) to see the remains of an Anglo-Boer War fort. The surrounding areas are a landscape photographer’s paradise.
On the banks of the mighty Orange River lies Upington, an oasis in the Kalahari Desert. It’s the economic heart of this part of the Northern Cape, and is well known for its animal statues: a donkey turning a water pump and a camel and its rider. These sculptures are in remembrance of the service animals have rendered to this community over the years – in previous times, the Upington police patrolled the region on camels – clearly a testament to the dry, arid lands beyond the fertile borders of Upington’s Orange River valley. The Orange is South Africa’s very own Nile River. Aerial photographs show a river bordered by a thin green strip, beyond that, the gargantuan dry desertscape. Grapes, dried fruits and wine are farmed, and a large portion of produce is exported. Upington is the gateway to the colossal Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, and getting there is easy - its airport boasts the longest tarred runway in Africa at 4900m! Apparently this runway is an emergency backup airstrip for NASA space shuttles.