Stargazing in the Northern Cape

Quiver Tree, Kalahari Red Dune, Richtersveld – evocative names to spark the imagination of any potential traveller. Each of these phrases describes a designated tour path for tourists within the Northern Cape’s vast and fascinating landscape.

The three listed here refer to attractions in the drier parts of the province but there is plenty of variety on offer in the other routes that have been developed in other parts of South Africa’s largest province. These include:

  • Namakwa Coastal Route
  • Kokerboom Food and Wine Route
  • Kimberley Diamond Route
  • Karoo Hoogland Route.

The routes are presented on the website of the Northern Cape Tourism Authority (NCTA) which is the official marketing agency for the Northern Cape. Culture, nature and adventure are the three big themes that future visitors are promised.

A partnership between the Northern Cape Department of Economic Development and Tourism (DEDAT) and Open Africa has created employment for nearly 1 000 people, the majority of whom are black and female. Open Africa is a social enterprise which works with local communities to open up tourism routes. A long-term collaboration with South African National Parks has seen facilities at many of the province’s parks improved, and the development of six tourism routes.

The national Department of Tourism worked together with DEDAT and the Kai Garib Municipality to build a campsite at Keimoes on the Orange River. There are six national parks and five provincial reserves in the province, each showing off distinct features.

Assets unique to the Northern Cape include wonderful spring flower displays, spectacular arid areas and brilliantly clear night skies for sky-gazers. Heritage tourism is another important niche. SteamNet 2000 and the Railway Museum at Kimberley Station maintain vital rail assets which will make it possible to launch a Northern Cape Steam Rail tourism route.

The Nomadic Nama of the Richtersveld Route

The Kalahari in the north-east is home to many of the province’s biggest mines, but also to great numbers of raptors, vultures and owls.

A specialist raptor route has been developed. Birders can look out for 50 species, including the Booted Eagle, the Pygmy Falcon and the Bateleur. Tours of the area’s vast open-cast mining operations can be arranged.

A new route under development in the region is the Heritage Route tracing the footprints of the early missionaries to Southern Africa and will include Kimberley and surrounds, Kuruman and surrounds and the Robert Moffat Mission.

Hunting is a lucrative subsection of the tourism sector that is proving extremely popular in this region and brings valuable economic development to these rural communities.

The Diamond Fields region contains the spectacular Big Hole, the Mokala National Park and portions of the famed South African War or Battlefields’ Route. The Magersfontein War Memorial is an iconic attraction on this route where you can visit the graves, Burgher monument and Boer trenches. The town of Kimberley is itself an extremely popular attraction and offers fine examples of Victorian architecture and the world-class McGregor museum, Sol Plaatje Museum and the famed William Humphrey Art Gallery.

The Karoo region encompasses the south-eastern portion of the province. While most of the region is dry, the Vanderkloof Dam is a major tourism asset. Many of the region’s small towns are geared to cater to tourists drawn to the magic of the Karoo’s open spaces and features famous Karoo towns such as De Aar, Britstown, Hanover, Victoria West and Carnarvon. The latter is especially of importance as home to SKA. Other tourist attractions are the unique Karoo architecture, South African war sites, rock art, ancient Paleo surfaces, farm stays and the famous Karoo lamb.

The Namakwa region is famous for its flowers, but it also hosts the South African Astronomical Observatory, several historic mission settlements, the Namaqua National Park (on the West Coast) and the awe-inspiring Richtersveld Transfrontier Park. Springbok and Calvinia are the two major towns in this huge district, which is also the only Northern Cape region with a coastline and soon to be the home of a new small harbour.

Aristea Shipwreck in Hondeklip Bay – Namaqua Coastal Route

Hotels

Country Hotels has recently invested heavily in the province. Demand for beds has risen because of concerted campaigns by the tourist authority and on the back of investment inflows in the mining and renewable energy sectors.

Spanish and Chinese engineers are now a common sight in Northern Cape towns, to such an extent that local supermarkets are stocking spices such as saffron for fragrant paellas.

R40-million has been invested by Country Hotels in the new Kathu Inn and R50-million will see the Springbok Inn become a smart 100-room hotel with a further 250 beds available in a backpackers’ lodge and 25 sites available at an associated campsite. The Orange River Rafting Lodge has an obvious purpose while the Namastat Lodge and Caravan Park caters to travellers on the N7. What used to be known as the Hantam Hotel in Calvinia is now the refurbished Calvinia Hotel and Tankwa Lodge offering 25 air-conditioned rooms and easy access to flower-spotting and the Tankwa Karoo National Park.

The riverside town of Upington has a large number of guesthouses and bed-and-breakfast establishments, together with a 90-room Protea Hotel by Marriott. The Protea Hotel by Marriott Kimberley has 117 rooms and three suites and is located right next to the Big Hole. Also near the capital city’s biggest attraction is the historic Kimberley Club Boutique Hotel.

Tsogo Sun has two properties in Kimberley: a 135-room Garden Court and a 64-room budget hotel, SUN1. The Flamingo Casino is run by Sun International and offers gaming tables, slot machines and conference facilities.

Conferences and events

The NCTA has increasingly been focusing on adventure sports and the organisation and promotion of events, including festivals.

The opening of the 2 500-seater Mittah Seperepere Convention Centre was a boost to the Northern Cape events and conferences industry. It is located near the Big Hole in the centre of Kimberley. The Convention Centre makes it much easier to sell the provincial capital as a meetings, incentives, conference and events (MICE) destination.

The Northern Cape has its fair share of annual festivals. AfrikaBurn is now a regular in the Tankwa Karoo National park, attracting fun-lovers determined to do their thing off the grid. The Vleisfees (meat festival) has been held in Calvinia in the Hantam region since 1990. The successful book festival called Boekbedonnerd celebrated its 10th anniversary in Richmond in 2016. Shelf upon shelf in room upon room of books are available in the Karoo town’s extraordinary bookshops. Located on the N1, it holds the title of “Booktown Richmond” (there are about 20 “Booktowns” in the world). Richmond also hosts the JM Coetzee and Athol Fugard Festival at which the South African Independent Publishers awards are announced. Fugard himself was in attendance in 2015.

Upington is the venue for the popular Kalahari Kuier (Visit) Festival. More than 30 000 people have been known to attend the event, providing a welcome boost for the local economy. Kuruman hosts the Kgalagadi Jazz Festival.

The Tankwa Trek (mountain trails) traverses the southern part of the Great Karoo through the Bokkeveld and Witzenburg areas to “star-gazer’s Central” at Sutherland. It is a mountain bike trail marathon over 265 km that typifies the adventure tourism of the province’s brand.

Tough sportsmen and women take to mountain bikes and canoes to take part in the Desert Knights Tour through the Richtersveld Transfrontier Park and on the Orange River. The river is also the venue for the 73 km Orange Descent Canoe Marathon which carries a first prize of R50 000.

The first Orange Descent Canoe Marathon attracted 55 participants from the Northern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, Free State, Eastern Cape, Western Cape and Gauteng, as well as from Namibia.

The Orange River provides a lush landscape in which the grapes of the several hundred producers of Orange River Wine Cellars prosper. The rushing water of the Augrabies Falls National Park provide another popular attraction.

Explore the Routes of the Northern Cape