Northern Cape – a vast land of great diversity

No other province or region in South Africa can arguably compete with the great diversity of this province when it comes to natural scenery, adventure, history and culture, places to visit, and things to do.


The vast Northern Cape province of South Africa is often thought of as the Cinderella region of our country…the largest yet most sparsely populated province with great distances between small little towns, located in the far north-western, arid corner of the country, mostly far from the busiest travel and commercial routes.

Let that mislead you, and it will be your own great loss.

No other province or region in South Africa can arguably compete with the great diversity of this province when it comes to natural scenery, adventure, history and culture, places to visit, and things to do.

In size it is slightly larger than all of Germany. In the west the province has a 320km shoreline along the icy Atlantic Ocean, rich in marine life…and diamonds. For over 1,000km South Africa’s greatest river, the life-giving Orange River, called the !Garib by the Khoisan (also Gariep, meaning great river), courses through the frequently changing landscape of this province. The river too has diamonds in places, having carried alluvial diamonds to the sea.


Rich Heritage

The Northern Cape is a frontier region where brave missionaries, the Khoisan, hardy trekkers, adventurers, Griquas, other tribes or groups, explorers, farmers, soldiers, outlaws, and many others all left their indelible mark. Today it all comes together in this sun-drenched, happy province with its many offerings.

It is also one of the last Southern African refuges of its original inhabitants, the Khoisan, whose Nama, Griqua and San descendants still live here, their cultural heritage still much intact, although threatened. But it is also home to a variety of other ethnic and tribal groups, together providing a rich cultural tapestry. South Africa’s national motto, ǃKe e ǀxarra ǁke, meaning “unity in diversity’, was derived from the extinct Northern Cape ǀXam language of the San, or Bushmen.






The province’s natural scenery ranges from the mountain desert of the Richtersveld in the north, to the arid, wind-swept West Coast or Diamond Coast along the Atlantic, the red desert dunes of the Kalahari, the lush vegetation filled with bird life along the banks of the Orange River, the colourful flower spectacle that annually covers the south-western Namaqualand region, and the endless boulder and hill-strewn plains of the Great Karoo that hide ancient mysteries.

Drenched in history, the province witnessed the Koranna War along the Orange River, the expansion of the Dutch settlement from the Cape of Good Hope, the Anglo-Boer War, the arrival of pioneering European missionaries, the invasion of Namibia (then German Southwest Africa) by South African forces in the First World War, and the great diamond rush that left behind what some claim is the biggest hand-excavated hole in the world at Kimberley, and much more.

Geographically dominated by the Karoo Basin, the region is also an archaeological and natural history treasure trove, with many traces of prehistoric and early human life.


Much to Do


Technologically and commercially it has not stayed behind. It is home to modern, bustling yet less-rushed cities like Upington, De Aar and Kimberley. A variety of mining activities from copper to diamonds and iron are spread across the province. Its agriculture is dominated by sheep farms and vineyards. Located in the south at Sutherland is the Southern African Large Telescope (SALT), the largest single optical telescope in the southern hemisphere. And at De Aar, a major railway junction serving Southern Africa, one also finds the biggest solar energy plant in Africa and the southern hemisphere.


For holidaymakers and tourists the province offers almost unlimited choice. These range from beach and boating holidays along the coast, to 4X4 discoveries in the rugged Richtersveld; white-water rafting or kayaking down the Orange River; visiting the floral kingdom of Namaqualand; wine-tasting on the estates along the Orange River; an abundance of activities for adrenaline junkies; visiting the many museums and historical sites such as the old mission stations with their beautiful churches, or the Big Hole and the reconstructed mining town museum at Kimberley; submerging yourself into the silence and vastness of the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, which is bigger than many countries;  visiting the cultural heritage of the Riemvasmaak Community Conservancy; being awed by the diverse natural beauty of more than twelve national parks and nature reserves; or indulging in game drives that will bring you up close with rhino, zebra, giraffes, black-mane lion, leopard, cheetah, African wild dog, black-backed jackal, bat-eared fox, African wild cat, eland, kudu, gemsbok and the iconic springbok.

The province is divided into five distinct regions: Diamond Fields, Green Kalahari, Kalahari, Karoo

Diamond Fields


The focal point of this region is obviously Kimberley, its Big Hole and its diamond mining history. The city is also the province’s capital. Here some 50,000 diggers once worked more than 3,600 diamond claims. What remains of the early tent town today, is a modern city boasting an open mining museum in which the early mining town is replicated next to the Big Hole, as well as many old buildings, museums and one of South Africa’s most important art galleries recalling that bygone era.


By 1873 the tents were starting to be replaced by the mansions of magnates who had made their fortunes here, and the city was named Kimberley after the Earl of Kimberley, British Secretary of State for the Colonies. And by 1900 five big holes had already been dug, as well as a number of smaller mines to reach the fabulous wealth locked in the blue diamond-bearing Kimberlite pipes. Gradually the tents, brothels, bars, boarding houses, loan shark dens and other less desirable enterprises made way for a more normal city life.

Green Kalahari

In this region of the province travellers will discover the dramatic contrast between semi-desert plains shimmering with mirages, and lush green vineyards covering the fertile banks and valleys along the Orange River. The cellars here produce some truly fine wines, and visitors are welcome to enjoy some wine tasting together with an excellent meal. Good lodges, B&Bs and backpackers’ lodges abound in the area.




Within the Augrabies Falls National Park, the mighty Orange River narrows and is forced through a series of granite cataracts, causing it at one point to crash 56m down with a deafening roar. Also in this region is the southern part of the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, Africa’s first transfrontier park, comprising almost 3.7 million hectares of mostly red sand dunes. But, despite its sparse vegetation, it is home to abundant wildlife, including gemsbok, springbok, blue wildebeest, red hartebeest, eland, lion, leopard, cheetah and smaller game. The size of the park allows for the mass migration of different species, an awesome sight to observe.




The main town of the region is Upington, the second biggest urban centre in the province, which is where in 1871 Christian Schröder set up his mission station, Olyfenhoutsdrift. Upington enjoys a summer rainfall and a hot climate, and is an ideal winter holiday resort with excellent facilities and much to do and explore. Through a modern airport it is linked by air and by road to most parts of the country. It is also a convenient stopover on the Kalahari-Namaqua-Namibia route to and from Johannesburg and Cape Town, and for those travelling to the Augrabies Falls National Park, the Fish River Canyon and the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park.

Here you also find the humerously-named town of Hotazel…. But it’s not really as hot as hell here, with other towns averaging much higher summer temperatures than the town’s average of 37oC.  The nearby town of Kathu boasts one of the world’s largest open-cast iron mines, one of the country’s most beautiful golf courses, and a luxurious lodge, game reserve and pleasure resort…a real little palm tree-lined oasis in the semi-desert.



Other towns in the region include Danielskuil, named after a limestone crater with biblical connotations; Kakamas where Khoi, San, Griquas and Koranna once roamed; Augrabies and Marshand, surrounded by vineyards; Kanoneiland, a wine-producing settlement on the largest island in the Orange River; Keimoes, on the northern bank of the river and home to one of the old mission stations; Kenhardt with its quiver tree forest, fossilized imprints and where colonial forces clashed with the anti-colonial Koranna; and various other towns with quaint names like Askham, Mier, Putsonderwater, Hotazel, Brandboom, Grootdrink, Noenieput, Philandersbron, Postmasburg, Kuruman, Dibeng and Loubos.




This ancient region, believe it or not, was once part of Antarctica before continental drift occurred. These days it appears arid and desert-like, until it undergoes a dramatic transformation when the first summer rains fall. Then its soil bursts into a life of its own with hardy succulents and sweet grasses on which the merino and fat-tailed sheep that the region is renowned for, graze.


Dotted across this landscape are small, isolated villages and towns where life continues in the way it has always done. Hugging whatever shade there may be in the valleys between flat-topped Karoo hills and mountains, these settlements are characterised by white-washed Karoo architecture and imposing churches.

The area is also home to Hopetown where the first recorded diamond was found in South Africa; Orania, the self-proclaimed Afrikaner volkstaat, or Afrikaner people’s state; Colesberg, on the junction of the roads between Johannesburg, Cape Town and Port Elizabeth, and the scene of many battles and skirmishes during the Anglo Boer War; De Aar, the third largest town in the Northern Cape, located on the main railway line between Johannesburg, Cape Town, Port Elizabeth and Namibia and the second most important railway junction in Southern Africa; Carnarvon, where Xhosa communities settled as early as 1795 and shared the area with frontier farmers living in corbelled houses and roaming San hunter-gatherers; and Griquatown, the capital of the Griqua clan led by by Adam Kok II and Andries Waterboer who settled in the area. In 1813, at the instigation of Rev John Campbell, the ‘bastaards’ renamed themselves Griqua, and the place called Klaarwater became Griquatown.





A mystical region, sun-drenched and ancient, its rolling landscape of red sand is given life by an amazing dolomite spring, the Eye of Kuruman, that feeds the camel-thorn trees dotted across the sandy plains. And beneath the red sands lies a treasure of iron, manganese and other precious ores. The Kalahari is home to 40 of South Africa’s 67 raptor and vulture species and seven owl species. Here you will find large number of game and hunting farms with plentiful wildlife and very unusual, hardy plants. The region was not always easily accessible, and tales abound of lost souls who died of thirst, and bandits who hid from the law.


Its name is derived from the Tswana word Kgala, meaning “the great thirst”, or Kgalagadi, meaning “a waterless place”. The San people have lived in the Kalahari for 20,000 years as hunter-gatherers, hunting game with bows and poison arrows and gathering edible plants, such as berries, melons and nuts, as well as insects.






The region is the home of some of the most awesome and unique attractions in all of South Africa: the rugged desert mountain and community conservancy of the Richtersveld, a UNESCO World heritage Site; the sea-based diamond mining operations and fishing villages of the West Coast; the Old Copper Way with its copper mines and towns with colourful histories and large sheep farms in the central southern parts; and one of the most breath-taking natural spectacles in Southern Africa…the annual eruption of spring flowers that almost endlessly cover vast tracts of the otherwise grey-brown landscape of Namaqualand to the south.




A large part of the unique Riemvasmaak Community Conservancy also falls within this region. In all it stretches from the town of Pofadder, named after a deadly snake, in the east, to the cold Atlantic Ocean in the west, and from Namibia, the Orange River and the Richtersveld mountain desert in the north, to the Western Cape in the south.


Here visitors can enjoy eating oysters and crayfish or the catch of the day in one of the many taverns and eateries of the coastal fishing villages. Or you can raft or kayak down the Orange River all the way to the diamond mining and fishing town of Alexander Bay. Hike across the flower carpeted districts and in the mountains of Namaqualand. Traverse the hauntingly beautiful moonscapes and rugged mountains of the |Ai|Ais/Richtersveld Transfrontier Park. Interact with the friendly Richtersveld Nama people in Eksteenfontein, and learn how they are preserving their unique culture and way of life. Gaze at the stars in the night skies above Sutherland from the giant telescopes of the South African Astronomical Observatory, also home to the Southern African Large Telescope (SALT), the largest single optical telescope in the southern hemisphere. Or visit one of the many mission stations such as the solitary, palm-fringed cathedral rising from the arid landscape in Pella. There are many other towns in the region with much to experience.

With so much more to experience, explore, visit and do in this amazing province of South Africa, far too much to cover here, miss it and you will be missing one of the best experiences South Africa has to offer.


Useful Contact Info


  • Northern Cape Tourism Authority – Website:; Tel: +27 (0)53 832 2657; Email:
  • Kimberley / Diamond Fields Tourism Office – Tel: +27 (0) 53 832 7298; +27 (0)53 830 6779; +27 (0)53 830 6272
  • Augrabies Falls National Park – Tel: +27 (0)54 452 9200; Fax: +27 (0)54 451 5003
  • South African National Parks (SANParks) – Tel: +27 (0)12 428 9111; Website:
  • Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park – Park tel: + 27 (0) 54 561 2000 (Twee Rivieren); Fax: + 27 (0) 54 561 2005
  • Richtersveld National Park – Email:; Tel: +27(0)21 853 7952;  Fax: +27(0)21 853 8391
  • Upington Tourism Office –  Tel: +27 (0)54 332 6064
  • Alexander Bay Tourism – Tel: +27 (0)27 831 1330
  • Port Nolloth Tourism  – Tel: + 27 (0)27 851 1111
  • Namakwa Tourism Information – Springbok – Tel: +27 (0)27 712 2011;  Email: