The Richtersveld begins when you leave Steinkopf a little way north of Springbok and travel along the R382 towards Port Nolloth. It is worthwhile to take the first turn to the right and head up to Eksteenfontein, on of the four villages that can be found in this area and inhabited mainly by Bosluisbasters – descendents of European families who settled in the area in the early part of the 20th Century who were settled in Eksteenfontein and Lekkersing after being evicted from Crown lands in Bushmanland. From there the drive north to Kuboes wends through some really beautiful countryside, with the village set right at the feet of the mountains that make up the lAi-lAis/Richtersveld Transfrontier Park. Kuboes is the oldest village of all the communities in the Richtersveld, and the most attractive. The ancient Nama culture still prevails here. The missionary centre in the town is reminiscent of something out of an old Mexican western movie – all that is missing is Marlon Brando and a few Senoritas. From Kuboes the next stop of consequence is the main entrance to the park is at Sendelingsdrift.
The new Pont at Sendelingsdrift is a welcome replacement for the old one which was last in service in 1988 and was wrecked in floods just prior to Namibia’s independence. With the re-opening of the border post whole sets of new travel opportunities become available – such as being able to do a quick hop, skip and jump up to Sossusvlei as part of a combined trip to the Richtersveld. Prior to the Pont’s reinstatement this would have required a 1000km detour and at least two extra days.
Crossing the river on the Pont – while entirely benign – is an experience in itself: one which provides a quiet little tinge of satisfaction at simply having done it – after all, in the bigger scheme of things not a hell of a lot of people actually choose to cross the Orange at Sendelingsdrift………….and the river itself, wherever one happens to come across it, is always beautiful.
At first glance De Hoop is great, but the ablution blocks only service the first two camp sites, moving beyond them requires total self sufficiency in every respect – which also has its advantages. The river was great, the swimming great – there were plenty of birds and plenty of fish – but when that wind starts blowing you really want to be somewhere else. It starts up around mid-afternoon and only begins to abate at around 9.30 in the evening …….. after it has managed to make even the thought of a braai a bad idea. It brings dust from every direction as it swirls down through the gullies and valleys, and manages to engender very little other than annoyance – and after two days there – a huge desire to simply get out of the place. Whether or not this wind is a seasonable phenomenon I am not sure, but it sure as nuts is a January one!
Needless to say we were only too happy to move on out of De Hoop first thing on the third day, making our way along the only section actually “designated” as 4 x 4 trail in the Park ……. the river route to Richtersberg. Again, the trail was very benign and we hoped that the wind would be less problematic than before, the river being East/West orientated rather than North/South as at De Hoop. Again we decided to move away from the area with the ablutions as there was a huge troop of Vervet monkeys lying in wait for us when we arrived, and found a lovely spot a couple of km’s down the river. Thinking we were going to get lucky wind –wise we got a fire going in a little hollow, only to slammed with some really mean gusts within minutes of having got it started. Not a lot of fun – but we managed and it wasn’t too bad an evening all things considered, with a most amazing full moon rising over the mountains just after sunset.
Recent articles in a number of the 4 x 4 mags have drawn attention to the misleading signposting in the area. We have a little Garmin Gekko into which we punched all of the relevant waypoints before entering the park and then simply plotted routes based on where we wanted to go. Easy-peasy as they say, and where there was doubt as far as the signage was concerned the Gekko quickly confirmed whether or not we were going in the right direction.
We had planned to stay another night, but having been informed when in Sendelingsdrift that our new granddaughter was now due on the 13th rather than the 15th we decided to hit the road early to be sure that we would be back in time for her arrival.
The lAi-lAis/Richtersveld Transfrontier Park is an awe-inspiring mountain desert with a huge diversity of arid plant species and is run as a contractual national park under the management of SANparks with full participation by the local community through elected members to preserve the traditional lifestyle and culture of the Nama people which is based on a fully nomadic to semi nomadic way of life. The establishment of the park as it now exists began in 1974 and was finally sealed in Windhoek on 1 August, 2003. At each stop we became aware of the extent of the various flocks of sheep and goats which one meets at these places. The owners of one flock told us that their sheep and goats numbered 500, and that they had six hundred head of cattle on the ‘island’ in the river. We did not see the cattle, but did hear them from time to time a Richtersberg………all in all, no mean asset!
The park is dominated by two main rivers, the !ariep River which is still known officially as the Orange, and the Fish River which flows through the lAi-lAis Hot Springs Game Park and unites with the Orange. The Orange is the biggest river in South Africa and has always been the lifeline to the Richtersveld’s inhabitants – from the earliest, some 3000 years ago, until now. The Orange was probably created about 100 million years ago, but the oldest rock formations in the Richtersveld are the 2000 million year old Orange River Group …….. somewhat mind-boggling from the point of view of our tiny little life spans.
As we made our way through a most amazing mountain landscape with views that simply stretched forever, on could not help but mull over these few facts, and as we approached the Helskloof Entrance gate the mountains suddenly turned into an absolute garden of succulents and fynbos for a distance of about 10 kilometres. There were vygies flowering everywhere – daubs of smiling paint on an otherwise generally dark grey canvas, but up near De Koei in the Helsberg the Hotnotsriem / Wolfstoon provided a display we are unlikely to ever forget.
The Richtersveld is not a place that I’ll hurry back to, as opposed to the other side – the Fish River Canyon – but we are pleased that we went there and had the opportunity to see and contemplate this extremely tough corner of our heritage. This is truly ‘hard’ country.
More about this trip and others can be seen at http://www.gearup4x4.co.za/