The Richtersveld National Park

Kokerbooom

Introduction

Three years ago I organized my first tour to the Richtersveld National Park. A remote inhospitable mountain desert area at the Northern extremity of South Africa. It was love at first sight. A simple, barren, stark land full of harsh contrast and fierce beauty. Presented here is all the information and resource material you will need to plan a trip there.

About the Richtersveld

The Richtersveld National Park is a 162445 Hectare mountain desert at the north-most extreme of South Africa. It is a mistake to think of only the National Park as the Richtersveld, as the whole area as far South as Eksteenfontein is truly the Richtersveld. The reserve is unique in that the management is a joint venture between the Parks Board and local communities. It has a harsh, dry climate with temperature extremes of up to 53 degrees C. For this reason the Park is only open in the cooler months. Rainfall can be as low as 50mm per annum and falls mainly in Winter. Permits are required to enter and there are limits to the number of vehicles and persons allowed in each day, so booking is essential. Booking can be done at the reserve at (0256) 831-1506 or fax (0256) 831-1175. Four wheel drive vehicles are essential for the routes up the river banks, but high clearance 2 wheel drive vehicles are allowed on the internal routes. Ordinary cars are not allowed.


The road to De Hoop

The Campsites

There are 5 campsites in the Park, each of them very different and with their own charm.

Potjiespram

Pootjiespram

This is your first stop, aim to arrive here on the afternoon of your first day in the Park. It's only 40min from the gate, but allow enough time to completely fill up your tanks and spare cans at the Sendlings drift office. The camp is sandy and is said to be windy. As with all the other riverside sites, watch out for thick soft sand. If you are careful, you can get by without deflating tyres at all the campsites. Get up early and walk up on the rugged mountain behind you, and enjoy the view across the Orange river into Namibia. After a leisurely breakfast make your way on the rocky road to De Hoop. Keep an eye out, and stop when you pass Half-Mens trees they are most accessible on this route. The trip will take you about 5 hours if you stop often for photographs. The road is rough, rocky and has sharp turns in awkward places on slopes.

De hoop

De Hoop

A vast camp site covering many square km along the sandy river-bank. There are a few trees offering sparse shade. A few old house ruins can be seen. You have 2 choices to get to your next camp, and you have more than enough time to try them both as each has it's own things to see. The track up the riverbank is not very interesting, but if you're going to get stuck anywhere, it's likely to be here! The trip up the river is only 90 minutes if you make it, and 2 hours on the inland route. There is a place on the inland route where you have to negotiate a narrow gorge and you could loose a bit of paint here and there if you're not carefull.

Richtersberg

Richtersberg

I like this site the best, there is green grass and rocks to enter the river from. The sand bank from the road to the bank is quite steep and you might need a bit of momentum to get back up it. If you had an inflatable mattress, you could have fun "rafting"on the river.

Kokerboomkloof

Kokerboom Kloof

The road to Kokerboomkloof is a easy sand road once you have come up out of the river approaches. The trip is about 3 hours. This is an inland site, nestled under the shadow of Die Toon, a huge rock formation. There are Kokerbome in abundance and photographic possibilities everywhere. (Get up at dawn the morning and catch the sun rising on the trees). When you get here, don't miss climbing Die Toon. (You won't get to the actual top unless you are a rock climber, but the view over the plains and campsite is worth it and not too strenuous.

De kooi

De Kooi

The trip to de Kooi is easy sand road, and takes you about 2 hours. The campsite here is very nondescript and this is why it is seldom used. However the walks and flora in the area are unique and worth seeing. The vegetation up on Helskloof pass is unique and different to the rest of the park as it gets the Atlantic mists rolling in to wet it. The Botany here is the most interesting and diverse.


Peace of paradise

A Bonus

Once having left the park you have the "mini Grand Canyon" to look forward to between Eksteenfontein and Viool'sdrift, but plan on spending the night at "Peace of Paradise", a shock of green on the banks of the Orange. be sure to ask the owner Peter to take you to see the petroglyphs (ancient rock engravings) a short stroll away. There is a pub here and canoeing on the river.


Books

There are a few good references to the Richtersveld:

Richtersveld National Park by Graham Williamson. A 48 page soft-cover booklet on the fauna, flora, archaeology, and geology of the park. Graham has done his own illustrations. This is a great field guide and one not to be without. Published in 1995. Cost R125.

Tracks and Trails of the Richtersveld by KW Reck. A 58 page soft-cover booklet with black and white photographs. Although this was published in 1996 after the proclamation of the park, it makes little reference to the current state of the park. Most of the trails described are now sadly off-limits, but the book offers a fascinating history of the people who lived, worked and died in the area before the proclamation in 1991. Published in 1996. Cost R150.

The Glamour of Prospecting by Fred Cornell. A 334 page autobiographical account of the life and times of a Victorian diamond prospector. Cornell worked the general area and gives a fascinating account of his time here among the people and animals just before the outbreak of WW1. There are some black and white pictures. Recently reprinted in 1992 from the original. Cost R160.

Veld and Flora Vol 79(4) December 93. A 7 page account of a botanical expedition in the Richtersveld by Ernst van Jarsveld. See also Veld and Flora Vol 78(1) March 92.

The Four-Wheel Drive Trails of Southern Africa by Andrew St Pierre White and Gwynne White. This is a hard cover book with colour photographs of the main areas of 4 wheel drive adventures in SA. About 25 pages are dedicated to the Richtersveld and make useful reading.


The flower road

Essential Maps

Without a doubt, you need maps. The Director of Surveys and Mapping produce a series of topographical maps which cover the area. Some are a bit out of date with respect to the roads, but fortunately, the mountains and rivers do not move :)

2816 Alexander Bay is a 1:250,000 which conveniently covers the whole park.
2916 Springbok is the 1:250,000 just below this, which is useful for the access roads and lower area. Both of these are recent (1993/4) and the roads are up to date.

2816BB, 2817AA, 2817AB, 2816BD, 2817AC and 2817AD are the 1:50,000 which show all the topographical detail except the roads you'll ever need. 2817AB has just a tiny corner of the park and if that's your only interest, you can leave it out.

The Park also issues a map at the entrance gate with convenient numbers to help you locate yourself in the park. (There are numbers on sign-posts at all important road-junctions to match the map).


The flower road

Planning

Once you leave the gate at Sendlingsdrift, you are on your own. There is NOTHING in the park, not even ablution facilities; petrol, water, food, all camping and cooking supplies must all be taken in and out. There are no fire places, not even dust bins, so it all comes out with you too. For this reason you need to spend time making packing lists, menus, shopping lists etc well in advance.

My packing list
You can view my packing list: here.

One of the best ideas we've had is to plan the catering such that each person in the party is solely responsible for one grand, evening meal; lunches are simple snack-bread and tinned fish type affairs, and everyone sorts out their own preferred breakfasts.


Questions

How much time do I need to see the park? 3 nights would be a bare minimum and a bit of a rush, 4 to 5 nights ideal, more and you would need to be doing something really specific to remain interested.

How much time does the traveling actually take? the park's entry brochure gives you detailed times between the camps and gates, but this does not allow for stops. I do Cape Town to Springbok in 7 hours, then 5 more to the entry at Sendlingsdrift. This includes lunch, tea and refuel stops

How much fuel and water should I take in? This depends a lot on your vehicle and your load. I suggest you cary about 150 litres. This will get you around with a reserve in case there is no petrol at Eksteenfontein at the exit. There is drinkable water in the Orange river, but I carry 2litres per person per day of Cape Town water for good drinking. ie thats about 20 litres for 2. (The water north of Springbok is not every ones cup of tea). The total round trip from Cape Town, 4 days in the reserve and back is about 2100km.

How much worse will my fuel consumption be off road? Once again this is very variable, in the rough you are only doing 15km/h but you are in low range so it evens out. My total average consumption is 25l/100km tar and off-road.

What are the camp sites like? Sand, sand and more sand.........Richtersberg site has a bit of grass, shade is sparse.....but, hey man this is the desert!

What emergency spares should I carry? Have a look under "planning" above and see my packing list.


Pictures and Maps

The West Coast Richtersveld area
The Richtersveld National Park