Taken from IOL
Exploring the place of great noise...
September 13 2005 at 12:54PM
By Brent Naude-Mosely
Augrabies Falls is one of those places we've all heard about, but because it is out there in the sticks it is not the kind of place you pop into as you happen to be passing by. You have to make a point of heading to this corner of the country - so we did.
Turning off the N14 eight kilometres west of Kakamas, which lies in the north-western reaches of the Northern Cape, the last 28km of tarred road to the park entrance runs parallel to the Orange River. The area is known for its fruit production and on this stretch you'll pass citrus orchards and various dried-fruit places such as The Raisin Company.
There are also a couple of settlements, Marchand and Augrabies, and, although they don't have much that will lure passers-by, it's worth stopping in at the nearby Brabeesmond Nursery.
Though at times a little overgrown, it sells a good range of plants and specialises in cacti and succulents. On the opposite side of the road is a Roman Catholic mission substantially built of rose quartz, the translucent pink stone you first see at the gate.
Once booked into the park, it's hard not to rush off straight away to see the falls. After all, this is the whole raison d'ÃƒÂªtre for your visit, but remember that temperatures can be extreme in summer, so contain yourself until the cooler hours or you'll end up scorched.
Early mornings or late afternoons are the best sightseeing times - then the landscape cools to pastel pink - unless you're visiting in spring or autumn when the weather is usually perfect for wandering round at any time of day.
After a squiz at the tourist shop, which supplies most basic commodities, we checked into our overnight accommodation. The chalets are self-catering, or there's a large campsite, and visitors have the use of swimming pools to cool off in.
The reception centre has a coffee shop where you can loll about sipping cold beers, and there's an a la carte restaurant serves good food, although service can be slow.
The name "Augrabies" is derived from a Khoi word meaning "the place of great noise" and it's said that the Khoi, who had great respect for the falls, usually avoided the area because they believed it was the home of a great water monster. Which it is. Well ... not technically, but after good rain the mass of water that churns and bubbles could easily be likened to a writhing creature.
The falls mark the area where the Orange River changes from a slow-flowing, sandy-banked body of water into a fast-paced river that cuts through ancient granite. Braided channels come together and pound over rocks, crashing 56 metres into the ravine below before travelling downstream through an 18km gorge.
In wet years the Vaal - which joins the Orange at Douglas - and Orange rivers flood simultaneously, resulting in massive volumes of water. Normally the Orange flows at 50-70m3 per second but during floods this can increase more than a hundredfold, which it did in 1988 when it reached an incredible 7,8 million m3 per second.
You can stand for ages mesmerised by the movement and roar of the falls. Their energy seems to vibrate through your body, drawing you into the swirling mass far below, but fortunately there are good strong guard rails to prevent you from taking an involuntary swim.
Of course, there are those who'd like a dip in the ravine because it's said that the 130m-deep pool below the main falls holds a stupendous treasure of diamonds (they're just a tad inaccessible).
Augrabies Falls National Park was proclaimed in 1966, primarily for the falls, although the 48000-hectare park also protects many wildlife species, including 46 mammal and 186 bird species.
Often sighted are klipspringers, leaping surefooted from rock to rock on specially adapted hooves. Essentially, though, this is a scenic wilderness and if you spend time exploring you'll soon realise that the amazing landscape more than compensates for the lack of the Big Five so ubiquitous elsewhere.
We took the recently graded road to Moon Rock, a massive granite dome that visitors may climb for panoramic views of the surrounding countryside. The region had recently enjoyed plenty of rain and the distant mountains were covered in the green fuzz of new growth.
Wherever you drive in the park, you'll see granitic gneiss swelling out of the earth and the pleasing curves of hillocks all around: this is hard rock country without the music. In places the tawny roads snake through the rocks and it looks as if they might collide at any moment with the intensely blue sky.
As we pootled sedately along one of these routes, my husband jammed on the brakes, having spotted the small shrike-like pygmy falcon, which we'd previously seen on only a few occasions.
The diversity of birdlife in Augrabies, despite the dryness of the region, is attributed to the various habitats, which include riparian vegetation, acacia thickets, cliffs, gorges and arid rocky scrubland.
At Ararat view site we were privileged to see two black eagles gliding on thermals and at the same time hear the call of a fish eagle. Another great view site is Oranjekom and, as we pulled up, a couple of rock hyraxes, or dassies as they're commonly known, were engaged in such serious sun-worshipping that they hardly glanced in our direction.
A matter of metres from the car park, you look down onto the Orange River as it carves its way through the desert. There's something calming about being near an impressive body of water when you're in such a dry region. Perhaps it's the fact that even out here, in this harsh environment, Nature is reassuring us that there is an abundant supply of this life-giving substance.
Visitors to the park can now hire mountain bikes or canoes to do their sightseeing from, and in fact there's an eco-adventure - the Gariep 3-in-1 - run by the park which employs these and includes a hike.
For those spending several days, there are a couple of day trips that can be done with two local companies specialising in river rafting, abseiling and other adrenalin-boosting activities.
Khamkirri Private Game Reserve is situated along the Orange River, about 24km from the N14; and the Kalahari Adventure Centre is located 11km before you reach Augrabies Falls National Park. If you have a four-wheel drive, do at least one trail either in the park or out and you'll experience a landscape that really is wonderfully unspoilt and craggy.
For me, the end of a day in Augrabies Falls National Park is the best time, when the day's activities and excitement are over and you can sit back on the still-warm rocks and watch the sky separate into pale blue and pink.
Deep russet caresses the landscape, the rainbow-coloured flat lizards have retired, and the evening promises a full moon as the night chorus starts to chirrup.
This is the time to still your mind and tune everything around you out - everything, that is, except the distant roar of the Orange River as it journeys over the Augrabies Falls.
This article was originally published on page 10 of Saturday Star on September 09, 2005