Saturday 2 August 2008: Langebaan to Springbok
This was the first day of a two week adventure to the Richtersveld. I was accompanied by a good friend and we were travelling in my trusty Isuzu LX300 D/C 4x4.
We departed from Langebaan at about 7:30 AM, doing a slow drive via Veldrif, Dwarskersbos, Leipoltville and Graaffwater. Here we turned onto the gravel road to Trawal, thus cutting out the detour via Clanwilliam. Soon after turning onto the gravel road we found an excuse to stop – for coffee freshly brewed. The morning was still crisp and a lovely misty blanket caressed the koppies close by. This was to become a daily routine – drive out of camp in the mornings and then have a road-side coffee with some good homemade rusks.
After turning onto the N7 at Trawal we, to my surprise saw a lot of flowers. Surprising because at home in Langebaan the flowers wasn’t too great this year. In contrast the van Ryhnsdorp Kamieskroon area was painted with wonderful colors – thousands of flowers of every color emaginable. I particularly loved these pastel colored ones. They seem extra delicate amongst the rocks – a contrast to repeat itself daily in the Richtersveld.
Our overnight stop was at one of the legendary oom Jopie’s lodges. We had a lovely meal at his Springbok café. This is not your ordinary café. Oom Jopie’s collection of books on the Namakwaland and Richtersveld is second to none. I wonder if any bookshop in this country has a more complete collection to offer.Sunday 3 August 2008: Springbok to Tierhoek
Originally we were to head for Tierhoek (incorrectly Tierkloof on Tracks for Africa) via Eksteenfontein, but as Eksteenfontein was on our return route, we desided to go via Lekkersing and the Bakkrans caves. We thus skipped the first Eksteenfontein turnoff on the Steinkopf – Port Nolloth road and took the second, more direct route to Lekkersing.
This is of course all gravel roads, of which the first bit was quite a bit corrugated. Dropping the tyre pressure to 1.8 bar and switching to 4x4 H solved most of the corrugation’s effect and resulted in a comfortable drive. We reached Lekkersing late morning and found a very quiet little town. People were quietly going about doing there own thing. With three bakkies parked outside the church, the service was seemingly on. I shot a bit of video and then took the “Park” exit, which was also the route to our next destination, Bakkrans caves. Now here is a word of warning: Finding the Bakkrans caves without a GPS will be quite a task. There are a few turn-offs to be made on route, none of which were signposted. Bakkrans itself is very scenic and definitely worth a visit.
From Bakkrans we took a much less traveled route directly towards Tierhoek. This is definitely 4x4 or maybe 4x2 with high clearance in good weather. Just remember; if you do get stuck on this route, you may find yourself in a spot of difficulty. Chances are that your vehicle will be the only one on the track for the day... or week.
We reached Tierhoek late afternoon. What a fabulous place! Those of you that love Kokerboomkloof will enjoy Tierhoek as well – much the same rock formations and ambiance. Ablution facilities and braai areas are in the process of being built. Quite a pity – I enjoyed the ruggedness of the place. The lack of facilities added to the feeling of being in the bush. If the lack of facilities did not contribute to that “being far away from it all” feeling, our experience the next morning certainly did – fresh leopard spoor close to our tents! Monday 4 August 2008: Tierhoek to Potjespram
After an early cup of coffee we departed for Potjespram via Wondergat and Sendelingsdrift. The latter part of the Eksteenfontein road was evidently recently graded and in a very good condition. Never the less this is a particularly twisty road with many rises and sudden turns on the blind sides and should thus be carefully negotiated. The Wondergat turnoff is signposted but even with GPS coordinates it was difficult finding Wondergat itself. We drove right past it and did part of the Cornellskop circular route in the process. In the end this detour proofed to be the highlight of that leg of the trip. Some very exciting climbs and descents were negotiated. Wondergat itself was very unspectacular and is an absolute nogo for little kids. It has no fences around it and with very slippery gravel gradients around the actual hole makes it a very dangerous place to be. With about a 6 meter diameter, the hole is said to be some 75 meters deep, so slipping here will be fatal – for anybody. Give it a miss.
After signing in at the RTP’s entrance gate, we drove the 19 km corrugated road to Sendelingsdrift. I red a lot about the excessive speed mine vehicles do on this road. Believe me it is all true. These guys drive like maniacs and don’t mess around. We had a close call with a bakkie carrying a big generator on the back, coming over a hill crest driving in the middle of the road – at great speed.
Sendelingsdrift was a nice surprise. Although the Park shop had absolute no stock of anything drinkable (not even one cold drink!), the Kliphuis restaurant had ice in stock and also cool drinks on sale. This, combined with their lovely view over the Gariep River makes it a very worthwhile stop. A friendly SA Police constable gave us a guided tour of the Pont facility. It has the capacity to take a 32 seater bus or two fully loaded 4x4 vehicles at a very reasonable tariff. This facility makes it a very worthwhile option to visit the Namibian part of the RTP – something I will definitely do next time around.
Sendelingsdrift is also the last place that you will find an SA cell phone signal in the RTP. On a koppie near Kokerboomkloof we had coverage from the Namibian service stationed at Aussenkerr. If you don’t have roving activated on your cell phone it will be of no use either.
Potjespram campsites were a bit of a disappointment. There are three campsites with ablution facilities. Not one has a view of the great Gariep. We camped at camp C.
The wash basin, showerhead and toilet bowl cover was removed – obviously stolen! It is hard to believe that anybody that has the means to get to such a remote place will feel the need to steel these items. Maybe somebody from the local community is the culprit? It’s very easy to cross the border here, as the river is very low at this point in time. I don’t know and can only speculate. We reported this at Sendelingsdrift and it seems that the staff there was equally surprised.
I suppose one can camp to the west of these camp sites – close to the river with an un-obscured view of the river. Thing is this is outside the appointed camping area, and also very exposed to the well known evening winds of the area, so we did not take this option. Tuesday 4 August 2008: Potjespram to De Hoop
This was the day we were dreaming about and planning for for months and months – traveling to and taking that turnoff at RT 1 towards De Hoop.
The ravine from Potjespram to the RT 1 turnoff is spectacularly beautiful. There was some water flowing down the pathway, stressing the biodiversity of the Richtersveld – we were driving through water whilst the surrounding mountains show off a barren landscape. It was also here that we saw Pachypodium Namaquanum (or Halfmens) for the first time. The whole scene, along with the ear deafening silence was something to behold. This was why we came to this wonderful place – to experience a unique landscape that no words can describe! Sitting on the rocks and just absorbing the environment left me with an inner peacefulness that is hard to describe – and this was only the beginning!
Now for those without a GPS here is some good news: RTP management has done a great job in upgrading the road signs in the RTP. Buy the newly released official information brochure at Sendelingsdrift to find an excellent map in it, clearly indicating all turnoffs as they appear on the signposts. No more guess work!
Taking the turnoff at RT 1 takes you to the Halmens Pass fairly soon. One could spend a day in this pass. There are loads and loads of beautiful flora to photograph or video. What spoil it a bit are the telephone lines running to the mine along the route. This is fortunately only up to RT 2, where there is a turnoff to the mine. It’s also on this road where you will find the Hand of God, about 200 meters after the RT 2 turnoff. The Hand of God rock formation is as far as we as tourists can travel on this piece of road – you have to make a u-turn here, back towards RT 2 and on.
Traveling through Akkedis Pass was great. Now before I go any further with my trip report, there is a common question from people that I have to address; can you travel through the RTP in a high clearance 4x2? The answer is quite simple: Yes you can, but it is definitely not recommended. The going through Akkedis requires slow driving on a very twisty route. Avoiding vehicle damage makes wheel placement critical at some places. Doing it in 4x4 low range is just much easier than doing it with a 4x2 without low range, with much less strain on the vehicle’s drive chain and clutch. There are quite a few descents that require great control of the vehicle, the most mentionable maybe the one going down from the crest of Hellskloof Pass. This is maybe the greatest benefit of a proper 4x4 – not relying on the brakes to slowly negotiate a potentially very dangerous decent – the great resistance of the low range gearbox will allow safe, slow controlled steering of your 2 to 3 ton vehicle down steep and uneven pathways.
Furthermore there are many sandy stretches in dry riverbeds that will easily bog you down if you don’t take care. Remember compared with a 4x4, a 4x2 has at the most 40% traction – only two wheels drive and the other two must be dragged or pushed along, accounting for at least 10% traction loss on the driving wheels. Also, in the event of a 4x2 getting bogged down, it is quite often due to driver inexperience. Wheel pressure may be to high and the general skill of negotiating difficult routes are just not there. There are definitely those that will successfully traverse the RTP with a 4x2, but it will rather be an exception than the rule. Then there is also the question of recovery gear. I don’t know of to many 4x2 vehicles equipped for self recovery. These are all facts you have to address before attempting to safely traverse the RTP in a 4x2.
The route from RT 3 to RT 5 is quite uneventful. Long stretches of sandy tracks allows you to just look around and absorb the fantastic surroundings.
At RT 5 we turned away towards De Hoop, negotiating the Kook River. Lovely scenery with just one spot that’s a bit tight. Take care not to damage the paintwork here!
Arriving at De Hoop was just awesome! To suddenly see the lush riverbanks and hearing the river flow was an amazing contrast to the dry quietness of the past few hours. We were looking forward to a wonderful few days at De Hoop!Tuesday 4 August – Friday 8 August 2008: De Hoop
Originally I had my doubts about De Hoop. Maybe it was because it was not during school holidays, but against my expectation I found De Hoop to be wonderfully peaceful. We camped on the extreme eastern side of the camp area. To get to our site we had to negotiate an interesting piece of “road” through a very rocky area – quite enjoyable! There were a few campers along the riverbanks, but everybody seemingly had the same value system – not enjoying themselves to the detriment of others. There was a kind of silent brotherhood amongst all. People mostly keep to themselves, but when approached will gladly exchange wonderful stories of their experiences in the RTP. Most of the sites have a typically riverbed type gravel to camp on – much like the type you would buy for your fish tank at home. This makes for a dust free experience and clean kids! There is a nice little rapid more or less in the middle of the camping area. A few kids enjoyed themselves with an air mattress down the fast flowing waters for hours every day. It is far enough from other campers not to be a nuisance but close enough for parents to keep a watchful eye.
We spent a lot of time fishing (or trying to), bird watching and just enjoying the wonderful ambiance. Getting up the koppie behind the ablution facilities rewards you with a lovely view of De Hoop:Friday 8 August – Sunday 10 August 2008: Richtersberg
We decided not to take the dusty direct 8 km route to Richtersberg. Instead we took the inland detour via RT6, RT7 and RT 17, spending a lot of time at the very beautiful Maer kloof vista. Truly an awesome sight, only rivaled by the Tatasberg viewpoint we still had to get to in a few days. I thought this route was maybe the most 4x2 friendly. When we eventually got home there coincidently was an article in a local travel magazine of a couple getting stranded with nearly serious consequences in this exact area – getting bogged down in the thick river sand with no help for a day or two. With virtually no food or water left they were rescued by a local farmer and their vehicle recovered by Park management.
Richtersberg is a truly beautiful place. What was most appealing was the abundance of birdlife and beautiful sunset and sunrise scenery. Fish Eagles called through the day, with many other bird species filling the gaps. This is a definite stop for the serious birder. With less fast flowing water, it is much quieter than De Hoop, so bird sounds is much more prominent. On the down side, Richtersberg does not have many grassed stands to camp on. There are two great stands next to each other, both with a lovely view of the river. The rest are either behind river reeds or in very sandy spots, or both. If you’re lucky and get to camp on one of the grassed spots, Richtersberg is great. For the other sites you will have to brace yourself to face a lot of dust. For those with little kids I would suggest sticking to De Hoop and maybe drive to Richtersberg for the day to see the scenery. The birders will appreciate the opportunity to do their thing in peace and quiet.
Maybe the highlight of my time at Richtersberg was when I woke at 02:00 in the morning. With my tent door wide open I could see thousands of stars from where I was snuggled in in my bed. The Gariep River was gently flowing past me, a mere 3 meters away. I think that is more or less what it must be like in heaven!
Like De Hoop there is also a nice koppie for a great panoramic view of the area:Sunday 10 August – Monday 11 August 2008: Richtersberg to Kokerboomkloof
After backtracking the last 13 km to Richtersberg we turned towards RT 9, reaching the Springbokvlakte. It is amazing how different the same landscape looks from a different angle. It was never the less great when we turned east towards RT 9, reaching the Springblokvlakte soon after. It is hard to imagine that this area was once filled with springbok – hence the name. Now it is just an endless landscape with a dramatic horizon. I would like to know why there is no more springbok. My suspicion is that it is once again the human hand that interfered. Overgrazing and/or excessive hunting must be the reasons.
After reaching RT 9, one turns north towards Kokerboomkloof. More or less halfway to Kokerboomkloof we turned of the main route towards the Tatasberg viewpoint. As far as panoramic vistas are concerned, this one surely is in a league of its own. What makes it really special to me is the huge rocky koppies that encapsulates the the vast plains far below. It looks like a huge truck tipped millions of tons of rocks all along the perimeter of the plains, with some rocks spilling into the plains:
After Tatasberg viewpoint there still is a nice viewpoint to the east. With Mount Terror and the Rosyntjieberg on the horizon, one has a nice view of the Springbokvlakte. Just to the north of that viewpoint there is another koppie, from which we could use cell phones with roaming activated. The signal came from Aussenkehr in Namibia.
Due to the fact that the ablution facilities at Kokerboomkloof have no water, it is apparently currently closed to visitors. As we made our booking months before, we were still allowed to camp there. RTP management provided chemical toilets with enough spare water in 25 liter containers to add if needed. We found everything sparkling clean and well kept. It will be a real shame if this arrangement cannot be continued, resulting in a total closure of this marvelous place. We found somebody’s rubbish bag on the stoep of our ablution block – filled with empty beer bottles and other rubbish. What shameful behavior!
For any photographer or videographer, one day at Kokerboom is by far not enough.
At sunrise I found myself struggling to prioritize my shoots, as I new some will be lost just because there is not enough time to video all I wanted to. Whilst there, I made the comment that I will happily stay on any one spot in the area and will not have one dull moment in a full day. The colours and shapes of the rock formations are absolutely wonderful. The longer you stay at one spot the more you see and the more this truly spectacular and unique place creeps into you heart. Monday 11 August – Tuesday 12 August 2008: Kokerboomkloof to Brandkaros
So the last day of our visit to the RTP eventually arrived. Hellskloof was open so we headed straight towards RT 15. On our way there we passed patches with lovely flowers. Approaching the peak of Hellskloof provides for fantastic vistas to the east and west. Despite some cold winds blowing we spent quite a bit of time in the area.
In Hellskloof we saw the unique Aloe Pearsonii (Pearson’s Aloe). Not a spectacular plant but it was great to see this highly localized endangered species. It only grows here and in some mountains across the Gariep. Appart from the nice decent from the crest of Hellskloof the pass does not live up to its name. It is spectacular but much less of a challenge than Akkedis or its cousin with the same name between Eksteenfontein and Vioolsdrift.
We reached the gate all too soon and signed out. We were out of stock with ice and some other stuff that needs to be kept cold and opted to go to Brandkaros. This was the worst decision of the whole trip. In stead of going to Brandkaros we should have turned back to Sendelingsdrift, spend the night there. Brandkaros is a dilapidated place with little on offer. Furthermore we had to listen to serious mining activities into the early hours of the morning. For ice we had to drive all the way to Alexander Bay. Driving back from Alex I had this vision of me sitting on the stoep of the Kliphuis at Sendelingsdrift, maybe hearing a Fish Eagle and sipping on something cold. That was school fees I hope not to ever pay again.Tuesday 12 August – Wednesday 13 August 2008: Brandkaros to Rooiberg
This was a phase of our trip I never planned for. For some reasons beyond the scope of this report, I had the opportunity to spend a day or two with the local Namas and Bosluis Basters. I had the privilege of going into their homes, listing to the tales of an 89 year old Nama lady, telling of their experiences from childhood until today. We learnt about their matjieshuise (or rondehuise) – a unique structure that provides for excellent shade in summer but does not leak when it rains! I cannot offhand think of any material that the industry can cheaply produce that does the same thing. The simple ways these people adapted to through thousands of years is a hard act to follow. In a short time I learnt to respect and appreciate them dearly. It’s an honest community that needs to be protected from external influence. We spent the night in Rooiberg, at a staning
(temporary shelter) many kilometers away from civilization, listening to their stories, and seeing them perform the Nama vastrap, a local dance only they know how to perform. I pitched my tent in a dry riverbed where, most probably nobody from our modern society has ever done so. The photo was taken at first light. For these Namas it was just another day. To me it was a highlight in my life that I will never forget!Wednesday 13 August – Thursday 14 August 2008: Rooiberg to Aquacade
We left Rooiberg quite early in the morning and backtracked past the Rooiberg Guesthouse, towards Hellskloof Pass (don’t confuse with the one in the RTP). The first bit is on an uneventful route with a bit of 4x4. As we were now without our local Nama guide, I was very thankful for my GPS’s breadcrumb feature. We reached Hellskloof Pass proper late morning and slowly descended down a very steep decline. Going up there should be some fun, as some hollows filled with loose rocks will definitely make difflock a very nice feature to have. Anybody that reaches this point from the Vioolsdrift side can know that they have experienced the toughest of the main routes the Richtersveld conservancy or RTP has on offer. The route further east proofed a bit technical but nothing serious. The low point of this leg of our journey was to see how people have vandalized the petroglyphs. These engravings are believed to be thousands of years old, made by the Namas, depicting what they saw during trances reached during dancing rituals.
Aquacade was all we hoped for. Clean, well kept ablution facilities, stands with lush lawn cover and a great (final) view of the Gariep made this a worthwhile stop.
Here we met two French guys, on their way to the RTP in their well equipped Landy. Tomorrow they will be heading up Hellskloof, up that hill we came down. I envied them. They were about to experience what we did the past week or so. I wasn’t event home yet and already I was longing to come back to this wonderful place! Thursday 14 August 2008: Aquacade - Home
We left Aquacade fairly early. The last 10 km to Vioolsdrift was yet again a dusty affair. Back on the tarmac to Steinkopf was a strange experience of “glad to be on tar” but sad to leave this barren but friendly land. We were on our way home to family and friends we long to see. At the same time we were leaving new friends behind. It was about 11 am. I wondered how those to Frenchies were doing. What did they think of Hellskloof? Are they up that incline already...?
Most probably I did not make any impression on the Richtersveld. On the contrary, the Richtersveld made a huge impression on me. I came in touch with nature as never before. I saw things that you will never see anywhere else in the world. We have a beautiful country. I will be back...