The Richtersveld

What was supposed to be a solo trip into one of the loneliest places in South Africa, turned into a journey with a good friend, having many new and exciting experiences together; from bathing in the orange river to watching a meteor shower alone in a forest of Kokerboom’s. This would be a trip to remember…

We wouldn’t be setting off from Johannesburg like usual, this time around we would be departing from Cape Town, driving up the west coast through to a special little spot called Fiddlers Creek, near the Vooilsdrift border post between Namibia and South Africa, then into the Richtersveld for 3 nights.

My travel companion joining me on this trip would be a good friend Marcus, he works as a director for a production agency based in Johannesburg which he co-owns. He hadn’t been on a trip like this before, and I don’t think he knew what he was getting himself into! Its difficult being a passenger on trips with hard unforgiving roads, in harsh landscapes, but the rewards far outweigh the difficulties. It’s a different type of relaxation to sitting in the pool sipping on a cocktail.

We would be leaving Cape Town in the rain, for hundreds of Kilometers we drove through the dark early morning, with rain pouring all around. Rain, roadworks and trucks always make for an interesting and thrilling drive… We travelled through darkness, sunrise, the peak heat of the day and find ourselves nearing the end of the day with a nothing but a lazy afternoon sun to guide us into the Fiddlers Creek camp.

What a sensational camp! It has a real feeling of heritage, with numberplates hammered all over the bar, and little trinkets scattered everywhere. We didn’t have much time to dawdle, we hit the ground running as soon as we got to camp, setting up the tent and getting a fire going for the evening. All the while the orange river flowed gently alongside the camp, this was just the perfect end to a long day of driving through the barren landscape’s of the Northern and Western Cape. That night we would begin a ritual of cracking open a couple of ice cold drinks, and enjoying them alongside a delicious meal as the sun sank below the horizon!

An early start to day had us sneaking over to the pontoon, grabbing a seat and enjoying the sunrise with a hot cup of coffee and a couple of rusks.. Every day forward we would make the effort to find a good spot to put our chairs, grab a coffee and a box of rusks and enjoy the sunrise and forget about the journey, the camp chores, and just soak in the scenery for a few minutes before breaking down our camp. Fiddler’s Creek, had fantastic hot showers and ablutions, with a view of the Orange river while you shower! I wasn’t sure when next I would get the privilege of a hot shower, so I made the most of it! After a sizzling of bacon and a scrambling of eggs, we were well fed and ready to pack up and hit the road again.

Heading away from the Orange River would lead us right into the desert, very little but barren rocky landscapes would be the norm for the next day of driving as we made our way into the Richtersveld Conservancy. Sendelingsdrif was our goal for the day, but first we would need to see the towns of Eksteenfontein and Kuboes.

The path to Eksteenfontein was slow going, with some points averaging out at speeds of 10km/h, over all it took us over half a day just to get to Eksteenfontein. We came to find out this road was called Helshoogte, and this wasn’t the last we would be hearing from Helshoogte…

En Route to Eksteenfontein we came across a field of cairns; a small structure made from a stack of rocks. They covered the hills alongside the road, I had heard something about this and that it was customary for travellers who had reached this sacred place, to get out and build their own cairn. I decided to take a bit of a different approach and hopefully leave a bit of a different mark, I’m sure it will be destroyed soon, but It would be great if someone drove past and shared a photo of it or, if one day I returned it would still be there.

Once we passed through the small town of Eksteenfontein, our lives would becoming a bit easier as we hit incredible long stretches of gravel that would see us doing speeds of almost 100km/h, blasting through the tremendous landscapes, whilst dust devils swirled around as the winds blustered through the valley. It really felt like something from Madmax, just with less chrome!

The sun was already setting, and we would be arriving in darkness at this point. However, we weren’t phased, after all the campsite was supposed to be beautiful and the wait would be worth it! Or not. The campsite turned out to be a major disappointment, the images I had seen online were not even half true. We basically camped in a dusty parking lot, it wasn’t near what we expected, but it was a place to setup our camp and rest for the evening. We decided a potjie would be a great idea to lift our spirits and keep up morale! With stomachs full of a delicious hot meal, it didn’t take long for us to be ready for a good night’s sleep. In the early hours of the morning, with the whole campsite asleep, we heard a rustling outside the tent… Marcus decided to get up and peep through the netting of the tent, there scrounging in the darkness for our scraps was a Jackal, crushing the bones we had left outside! We realised that there were a few of them around our tent, it was quite an experience knowing what lurked a few centimetres away from us, at one point I could have sworn It was trying to sniff my toes! You can bet my toes didn’t go anywhere near the edge of the tent for the rest of the night!

We had a lazy start to the day and ended up being the last ones out of the camp. We had no where to rush to. We had initially planned to camp that night at De Hoop, but were instead we decided to heed a recommendation to head to Richtersberg although further away, it was certainly more beautiful but either campsite would have been spectacular. Around every corner we were greated by the stark, forlorn landscapes of the Richtersveld. The only life we encountered was a snake slithering across the road… There is a unique kind of beauty to a place like this, in a land where everything wants to kill you…

We started on the Akkedis Pass, which would lead us to “Die Hand Van God”, which really does live up to its name! Onwards we trekked, winding through rocky gorges, hitting long stretches of dried up riverbed which eventually lead us to a little taste of greenery! We would follow this strange green vein to something much more surprising. Seemingly out of nowhere appeared a strange juxtaposition of green, shimmering water, and white beach sand. It was so incredibly exciting to see this much water after hours of driving through nothing but dust and sand. We struggled to find the road through De Hoop, but eventually stumbled upon a tight twist of a path through some rugged rocks and made our way onwards. I decided it would probably be in our best interests to deflate the tyres a bit extra, after seeing the beach sand I assumed we would encounter more of it soon. I wouldn’t say the drive is very challenging in the Richtersveld, but it definitely is easy to get too over-confident and the possibility of making a big mistake and really damaging your vehicle is high, so I think the discipline of keep it slow and steady will pay off greatly, changing a tyre in the peak heat of the day would be backbreaking stuff.

Arriving in Richtersberg after feeling very lost a few times was a happy blessing. We arrived to a beautiful stretch of river bank that we would call our home for the next day, we managed to get the only shady spot around and decided to not set up our tent right away, but rather make use of the beautiful Orange river right in front of us! I decided to pull out the National Luna fridge I had been loaned for the trip and get some photographs of it. Marcus decided to try and create a make shift fly fishing rod, we werent too sure on the legality of fishing there or not, but he was quite confident he wouldn’t actually catch anything, but would rather have the experience than not!Our afternoon faded away slowly, Marcus decided we would set up the tent and then try and get a bit of a dip in the Orange River to cool down. Admittedly, I didn’t get that far in… I couldn’t shake the feeling of crabs snapping at my ankles and decided that cutting my foot on a rock wasn’t worth the benefits of cooling down. I joked with Marcus, mentioning how I am a lover of land and stability, hence I drive a 4×4, water is far from my interests, He on the other hand is a keen fisherman and lover of all things water, so he had a great time in the river!

We would have an incredible night, cooking mielies and wors over the open flame all whilst the moonset over the river, and the stars began to appear in the night sky. We had a magical sight as we noticed little lights flying over the river, the penny dropped, and we realised that they were fire-flies! I had never in my life seen fire-flies, we had one or two land in our campsite, emitting a faint glow in the floor, but every now and then one would fly up and dart across the river in an awesome display! I would spend the next few hours photographing the milkyway and capturing the beauty of the clear night sky.

The following day we were sad to leave Richtersberg, but we had been reinvigorated by the water and were ready to brave the barren lands again! Our destination today would be the Kokerboomkloof campsite, where we were hope to be the only living things around. The drive to get to Kokerboomkloof would show us the real heart of the Richtersveld, we would drive through sandy riverbeds once more, then on to the wide open stretches of flat land as far as your eyes can see.. All the while in the distance the ever looming Tatasberg grew bolder on the horizon with each passing kilometre. The road came to a split, we decided to see how close we could get up to the Tatasberg. It turns out you can drive right up to it, there is also a little sneaky path further down the side of the mountain, where there is an incredible viewpoint… It was really starting to feel like we were in the middle of nowhere now. We had not seen other humans for hours, actually we hadn’t seen any life.

We held thumbs that this solitude would remain, we just wanted to have that feeling sitting at the campfire being the only ones looking up at the stars, the only ones resting in the absolute silence. The noise of everyday life had lingered for too long, and an escape was essential. To really let your mind settle for just one moment, not having to listen to the worlds problems for just one evening, just to allow the astonishing world around us be the centre of everything. Standing amongst the kokerbooms, with flies harassing us constantly… It just all felt so right.

The stars would put on an incredible show for us that night, with stars falling from the sky every few seconds, dashing across the sky and quickly fading to nothingness. Kokerboomkloof is one of those places that leaves a lasting imprint on your soul. Richtersberg was beautiful too, but this was just something else..

The sunrise the next morning would leave a lasting impression on my mind… The sun peaking over the mountains and lighting rays of haze over the valley of Kokerbooms, we couldn’t ask for a better goodbye! It was a strange drive out of the park… I know we had to go and I was ready to leave, but it also all felt so unfinished… Like the Richtersveld had more to show me, more to teach me. I will have to go back and finish what I started, the next time however I will be crossing that Orange River and pushing my boundary into Namibia, to see a world that promises so much to so many…

We met up with the dreaded Helshoogte again… It would be the route that would leave an almost sour taste in our mouths, it had these horrible “Speed bump” or whatever the actually purpose of these bumps was, there was probably one every 15 meters, they were more disruptive to the vehicle and driving than the actual rocks on the trail… Let’s just say we were glad when it was over and were looking forward to finding some tar!

This would be the last we would see of the Richtersveld, and it has definitely earned its position as one of my favourite places to go! You will see me again soon Richtersveld!

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