South Africa Northern Cape Richtersveld National Park

Blogger, outdoor enthusiast, explorer and adventurer. A south African with a heart for travel and exploration.

Touring through the Richtersveld National Park!

We began our epic adventure to the Orange River at 3am rounding up all the crew and the two vehicles, first meeting at an Engen garage. Using Tracks 4 Africa on the GPS there were already pre-loaded routes for our whole journey and we set our first waypoint to Springbok in the Northern Cape at 561 km’s away travelling on the N7 from Cape Town. Things started to sink in when we turned off the N1 onto the N7 and saw the sign saying “Cape Namibia Route”. A shout of joy was heard over the radio between the two cars travelling in convoy as all the preparation and planning for Orange River had finally come to a reality. We were loaded to the roof travelling with two “bakkies” as known in South Africa or Trucks if from another part of the world.

Travelling on a Saturday morning it was strange to see people still up from the night before about to head home when we were up ready for an adventure. The N7 gave us our first taste of what was to come with thick fog lying in the valley along with some serious roadworks. A lot of attention was needed here as the lights from the car flickered off the chevrons illuminating the road, sometimes distorting the edges. As we traveled on I remember speaking to my friend asking him what he thought the terrain looks like under all this thick fog and darkness. We both looked at each other and shrugged our shoulders.

sunrise along the route between Garies and Springbok.

We edged closer to Springbok itching for the sun to rise, trying to keep straight on the road without missing it. There it was, gold and orange rising right over a peak along a rocky cliff pass to resemble a fantastic day ahead. We shortly pulled into Springbok ready for a great breakfast, not knowing what was there we settled for “Pot and Barrell pub and Restaurant”. We parked outside across the road and gathered the crew who were as hungry as could be at this point. All I was concerned about was some decent coffee to start my morning!

We ordered breakfast and had a great catch-up about the next leg of the voyage. Grabbing the GPS and comparing routes we realised that we had little time left as the park gates close at 16h00. We smashed that breakfast and coffee, little did we know that this was one of the last stops with decent food for the next week!

Next way point was set from Springbok to Port Nolloth at 126 km’s heading West on the R382. Our plan at this stage was to fill up the vehicles at the last possible garage provided that we could get 50ppm of diesel for the new Hilux. Onwards we went, radio check 1.2.3, all good as heard from the other vehicle! This stretch was extremely long and straight with very little bends in the road. We changed drivers as necessary to avoid any fatigue that may have set in at this stage, quite important and regular checking between each other ensured a safe drive ahead. About 1.5 hrs later we eventually saw a bank of thick fog in the distance and we knew we were on the final stretch to Port Nolloth. We searched the town for old tractor tubes for floating in the river but unfortunately only found ones that were not repairable! We didn’t waste any more time and hit the road again.

Next leg was from Port Nolloth to Alexander bay at 87 km’s. This road was just as long and straight travelling on the R382, but soon afterwards we had made it to the first long stretch of dirt road after passing the sign “Sendelingsdrif”. The terrain out here just blew me away and it’s hard to believe that there are well functioning towns out here. It seems so desolate, dry with a sense of loneliness! A quick stop to deflate the tyres of which the guys had a quick chat about to ensure the correct pressures. We were fairly loaded in both vehicles especially the one bakkie as it was not towing a trailer. We both agreed on pressures and jumped back in the car. A quick check of the GPS heading to sendelingsdrif of 85kms gravel stretch along with a coms check, we were ready to go. A first impression of the deflated tyres was perfect, softer quieter and stuck like glue. We engaged 4Hi especially in the vehicle towing the trailer, combining that with correct pressures and speed, you can ensure the vehicle will be safer to drive.

These roads were fantastic in my opinion, well graded, little corrugation and wide enough to safely pass vehicles! We kept our distance between the two vehicles as not to drive directly in one another’s dust cloud, for visibility reasons firstly but also to avoid excessive dust getting trapped on the air filter. We quickly found out that you should avoid excessive speeds on these roads as there were some high peaks with a direct turn in the road on the other side. You can quickly find yourself overshooting the turn and into a dangerous slide! We pulled into the entrance of the park and were met by a very friendly SANParks ranger.

He confirmed that you can buy wood, fuel and some small supplies at Sendelingsdrif our next stop where we are to meet the staff and sign in to the Richtersveld Park. We had previously phoned in to check that there is available fuel for both vehicles, one being a Mitsubishi V6 petrol and the other a modern GD6 Toyota Hilux. The plan was to fill up at the last possible stop before entering the park. Onwards we went arriving just down the road on half a tank with the Diesel and quarter with the Petrol. We were met by the staff and urgently said that we require to fill up both vehicles as the plan was to tour around the park for a week. This is where things started to get interesting!

Very quickly my friend driving the V6 grabbed the hose and nozzle of the unleaded pump and pulled the trigger while the SANParks lady watched. We were met by a “clunk” and silence from the pump! How can this be, the only fuel station in 100km’s of gravel road was broken! We stood there in amazement and shock all at the same time, because not only was the petrol pump broken but the diesel one too! The start of the epic adventure was truly upon us as this was the first hurdle to get over.

We faced the fact that at 16h00 on a Saturday afternoon we were not going to be getting fuel anytime soon. With a little bit of worry and frustration we headed over to the main office at Sendelingsdrif before making our way to the first camp of “Potjiespram”. The two drivers of the vehicles had a good chat to the staff who agreed to make a plan to source fuel for both the vehicles. They said that we could drive to Potjiespram with no problem as this was just 9km’s away. We had been driving for almost 12hrs and decided to call it a day and set up camp for the night at Potjiespram. This is just a rest camp as it is not situated directly on the water’s edge. There are showers and toilets close by with well-kept facilities. It didn’t take us too long to set up camp and we lit a fire to enjoy what we had just achieved. We had a good “braai”, called it an early night as the next morning the guys had to go source fuel for the two vehicles before we could move on.

We all woke up relatively early, some much earlier than others and most in search for coffee and an all-time old favourite “Ouma Rusks”. As the kettle was on boil you couldn’t help but notice how phenomenal the scenery is out there and at some points you begin to wonder if this is how other planets tend to look like! A thriving river runs through this lush green valley but everywhere else seems desolate, rocky and dry!

The two vehicles left to head back to “Sendelingsdrif ” while the women were at camp taking a well-deserved easy morning after the long haul the previous day! Eventually about 1.5hrs later the V6 petrol “bakkie” arrives with sort of good news but bearing some bad news in-between. They managed to fix the petrol pump but the diesel pump was “Stukkend” i.e. broken! What this meant was that the Hilux needed to drive all the way back to Alexander bay to fill up the tanks. This meant an extra 160km’s+ of gravel and about 3hrs driving, all for just diesel!!

Half a day later and onwards we went to De Hoop, the campsite we have been longing to reach! Driving in this park is spectacular, each corner seems to bear something new. From Sandy roads, like a desert to rocky passes with no trees, the Richtersveld truly opened my eyes to this beautiful world we live on! The last corner before the long stretch to De-Hoop led us through a tight valley with narrow rocky slopes and a small running river. The scenery once again changed and we stopped right in the middle and took a few minutes to observe the surroundings and take it all in.

View from above the De Hoop campsite.

De Hoop campsite was in sights and it isn’t too hard to find when you spot the green trees in-amongst a desert looking plain. We entered the campsite and to my surprise you had to overcome a small rock obstacle in order to reach the whole camp. This means that standard low sedans will struggle with clearance to make it over. No problem at all in 2wd with a bakkie, and to be honest at this point we haven’t even needed 4wd other than engaging it to prevent track degradation. Once on the other side of the rocky ledge we could see why this camp is so well recommended. It is widespread, with lots of space with the most incredible flowing Orange River that is full of life. We picked a spot in the corner next to the trees and that was that! Let the fun times begin!

Sunrise along the banks of the campsite.

The guys couldn’t even contain themselves and before we could even setup camp they were casting lines across the river catching Yellowfish. We waited till the sun had set before we pitched our tents followed by another braai overlooking the valley. We watched the last light disappear listening to the “sizzling meat” on the fire.

The green terrain mixed with a desert landscape makes for an incredible sight.

For the next couple of days we stayed at De Hoop before heading to the final camp spot at Kokerboomkloof. We had enough time to explore the surroundings and the daytime was made up of hikes on the mountainside followed by swims in the river. One of my highlights was climbing up the back “koppie” overlooking the river and valley. I felt a sense of being “one with earth” as I sat on a rock that probably nobody had ever been on, quite high up. It is very strange being in a place that is so quite that you can hear you own heartbeat! There is no life on these slopes nor did I even see one bug! I wanted to freeze time as I sat and watched the river flowing while the wind created dust storms on the escarpments flattening out any tracks. This place is truly remarkable!

Watching dust storms swirl through the valley.

The time had come to up and leave to our final destination in the park called Kokerboomkloof that apparently was a campsite nestled in amongst large rocks in another desert type area. This got me really excited as a change in scenery and camp-style could be an incredible way to end off the trip. Once again we plugged in the destination to the GPS, 42 km’s and about 2 hrs drive! This stretch was one of the longest in the park between camps and stopping along the way it turned into quite a long drive. We were met with small rocky passes through to soft sand and corrugation. Even at one time passing through a valley so large that I thought you could even land a Boeing 747 there.

The hills and mountains are so desolate that little to no life lives here.

During the drive towards the end we decided to visit the viewpoint listed on the GPS and on the map. This was slightly off the path but so totally worth it. It was on top of a peak that had the most incredible view of the whole valley below. As we walked and climbed over these large rocks we realised that they were hollow underneath, my guess is that water has previously run under these rocks down through the valley over millions of years creating chambers below. As I looked to my right you could see small caves up on the cliffs, followed by the most incredible silence that I have heard in a very long time. Its moments like these that you realise how spectacular this world is that we live in! I will never forget that this is a place that you can honestly hear your own heartbeat!

The Valley's are large and one feels very small and insignificant.

Onwards we went and just a few km’s down the road we had reached Kokerboomkloof campsite. In amongst this desert type landscape we found ourselves pulling in amongst these large boulders. This campsite had me startled as I did not expect it to look anything like this! Each camp seemed to be semi-private from one another and we picked ourselves a great spot near the ablutions in between large rocks. Getting out the vehicle we were once again met with an incredible silence overlooking this strange but yet beautiful landscape. There were only a few other individuals there mostly couples and what looked like retired overlanders. There was very little life in amongst the Quiver trees as known by the campsite name “Kokerboom”. These trees seemed to be very apparent in this area and left the most beautiful backdrops to the sunset.

Once again we were tired and lit yet another “braai” of which we barely even cooked meat, more of just for warmth and light at this stage. We had come to the last night in the park and we celebrated under the full moon and stars that was lighting up the whole escarpment. This place blew me away as I still have fond memories to this day of watching this planet type landscape under the moonlight. I could sit here for hours staring at this sloped campsite trying to take it all in once again. We needed an early night as the next morning we were out early to travel back towards “Sendelingsdrif” via Helskloof pass.

Staring at a sloped mountain under the moonlight at Kokerboomkloof.

An early 05h00 start for the team as we rolled up our tents and packed away our goods for the last time before hitting the dirt again. The sun was itching to come up showing a dark red colour over the horizon. Coffee and tea was first before we upped and left! We had heard different stories about Heilskloof pass and we were a little in the dark as to know what to expect here. Onwards we went driving in convoy keeping a small distance from one another while keeping in radio check. About an hour later we reached the sign indicating to take the pass we must go Right. Right we went, fully loaded and ready to take on this pass. To my surprise after about half an hour we were wondering what all the fuss was about, navigating this with absolute ease! Ahh! We spoke to soon!

I was chatting to my friend next to me who was driving at the time as his girlfriend raised a concern that there was a noise coming from the rear. We were so unaware of what she was talking about. He jumped out the car and his face said it all! I knew there and then that it was a puncture, but not just that an absolute write off from a sidewall slice! Now we had made hundreds of km’s through this park without any hassles so far and Murphy’s Law the day we leave things get interesting. What could we do other than jack it up, “steelie” with spare on and away we go again. We were very well prepared for punctures and small scenarios like this so no stress from anyone here. This pass is not too difficult however the nature of the Richtersveld terrain is very harsh on tyres and a good set of A/T’S is a must!

The vast plains of the Richtersveld that stretch over many kilometers.

About an hour later we reached the park exit gate where we met a park ranger, signed out the two vehicles and headed towards Alexander bay which was +- 85 km’s away! It had been a whole week since we had driven on tar again and you can compare it to getting off a ship and walking on dry solid land. We met up at the garage, filled up the tyres with air again ready to hit the road. Did a final once over on the cars and plugged in final home destination – Cape Town 786 km’s away. The trip had come to an end, looking back as we headed off into the distance leaving the park behind us.

Richtersveld, we will be back again!

What you need to know

There is very little to no signal in the park.

Diesel and Petrol can be bought at the entrance of Sendelingsdrif.

A 4×4 is highly recommended

The gravel roads in and out the park are very long.

A good set of A/T tyres is needed.

Travel with correct tyre pressures in the park.

Ensure you have fresh drinking water at Kokerboomkloof, there is no running water.

The distances between campsites may take time, ensure you have sufficient fuel.

A compressor is highly recommended.

Watch out for Monkeys, they may sneak in and steal your food.

Wear closed shoes at night.

Keep a headtorch on you at night.

Travel in convoy as much as possible.

For more tips on travelling through the park and booking campsites click on the link below-

https://www.sanparks.org/parks/richtersveld/


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Alex
July 5, 2018, 9:21 a.m. - 1 Like
Awesome journal here mate! RNP is on my bucket list!
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Mark
July 12, 2018, 7:29 a.m. - 1 Like
Thanks very much! One of my most memorable trips!
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