Augrabies will thunder into your heart but will you surrender?
Augrabies known as Aukoerebis by the Khoi
Place of the great noise
Step into my car (or rather hop onto my cart) and let me take you on a journey to a far away place. This place is a land of contrasts. A rugged land, a hushed pulsating world with a sun that beats ruthlessly on you. Don’t be surprised if it captures your heart. But beware, it is an unforgiving land too. Some would find the journey to the Augrabies tedious at times, but don't despair, it will be broken with a few surprises along the way.
Close to the end of your journey, you’ll find a town called Upington. It is situated on the banks of the Orange River.
Here notorious robbers sold illegal diamonds and robbed highways. The South African Mounted Police Camel Memorial in front of the Upington Police Station stands as a reminder of those times, where policemen and their camels patrolled this harsh desert terrain.
You’ll also find the Orange River Wine Cellars – you would never think there are vineyards in this dry land.
After Upington you will pass Keimoes, a tiny town that you might consider was a figment of your imagination. You’ll find a reconstructed Persian waterwheel that is still in use. Farmers constructed water canals by hand to supply the town and surrounding areas and irrigate farms with water from the Orange River. Dry piling of stone was far easier and more economical than excavating through rock.
As you enter Kakamas, just slightly bigger than Keimoes, be on the lookout for a quirky and quaint landmark.
The Pienk Padstal is a road stall, where you can stop for a comfort break and a light meal. You might be tempted to buy a few nibbles and if you’re lucky, you could buy some fresh dates to snack on. They are delicious! You can expect some other surprises in this farm stall too.
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Just when you think you’ll never get to this remote park, you’ll find the Augrabies Falls National Park. At first glance you’ll think you’ve landed on the moon. Yet its rock formations have a certain fascination.
On the surface it looks barren, but there is still life in this arid area. Just look closely. We found quite a few creatures, including a snake, agamas, Broadley’s flat lizard and rock hyraxes or dassies. So many of them masters of disguise, especially the Namaqua sandgrouse.
Did you know the giraffe are lighter in colour to give them some protection against the extremely hot sun?
Namaqua Sandgrouse are masters of disguise:
Choose your times carefully and you’ll see water flowing down the falls. The Khoi people call it ‘Aukoerebis’ - Place of the great noise. An appropriate name, when the Orange river is in flood. Then it rumbles and roars its way down these rocky gorges. Sometimes though, all you’ll hear is its deathly silence.
To survive here, you must adapt to these harsh conditions. The area lends itself to a fantasy of stepping back into the stone age. And stone there is. Plenty of it to captivate or amuse you. I have never seen such huge pieces of pink quartz.
You can take the ‘easy’ route and drive the Wilderness Road but even that is 94km long. You need a 4 x 4 vehicle though and will take approximately 6 hours to complete. You will be rewarded with some fascinating scenery at several panoramic viewpoints though, where you can have a picnic. Remember to bring your own food and drinks.
As the sun sets on your visit, while it’s still dark, be sure to look up at the stars. They won’t disappoint – unless you’re unlucky and have chosen one of the few times that it rains there.
One thing is for sure, Augrabies will thunder into your heart but will you surrender?
Some facts from our travels
We took a detour to the Augrabies Falls on our way to the Kalahari in May 2012. Not only did we want to see the falls, we also wanted to avoid driving more than ten hours till we arrived at the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. Our accommodation was at Mata Mata which would mean almost 120 kilometres further that could take close on 3 hours extra, due to the road conditions and speed limit in the park.
Distances we had to travel
From Johannesburg to Upington - approximately 770 kilometres which takes about 8 hours.
From Upington to Augrabies - approximately 110 kilometres which takes about 1 and a half hours.
From Upington, going north to the gate of the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park - approximately 250 kilometers which takes about 2 and a half hours.
We spent two nights at Augrabies Falls National Park before continuing our journey to Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. That was sufficient time, unless you plan to hike over 3 days. It was my second visit to Augrabies. My first only lasted a couple of hours in my youth, but even in that short space of time it had captivated my heart.
Although we had a tent with us, we decided not to camp. We stayed in the national park’s accommodation, their chalets, because we’d heard the baboons and monkeys could be a nuisance and decided to opt for a bit of luxury. It gave us some more privacy as well, as the campsite was quite busy.
Some of the walkways and viewing platforms were destroyed due to floods the previous year, and still needed to be rebuilt.
This is a place of extremes and that includes the weather. Sweltering heat in summer and freezing in winter. Be prepared.