Rare encounters in the Richtersveld

Winona Griggs

Rare encounters in the Richtersveld

Hey there! Want to see something truly unique and extraordinary? Well, the Richtersveld is the place for you. This fascinating region in South Africa is known for its rare and extraordinary encounters with nature.

Picture this: you’re exploring the rugged landscapes of the Richtersveld, surrounded by ancient mountains and vast desert stretches. Suddenly, a rare plant called the “Halfmens” catches your eye. Standing tall and slender, it resembles a half-human figure reaching out towards the sky. It’s a surreal sight that’ll leave you in awe.

But the Richtersveld has more wonders in store for you. Ever heard of the “Baboon Spider”? Well, in this region, you might just come across one of these unique creatures. With its furry body and long legs, it’s like a mini monster from a fantasy novel. Don’t worry, though—they’re harmless to humans! It’s just another example of the extraordinary biodiversity you can find here.

As you continue your journey, you might stumble upon the mesmerizing Namaqualand daisies in full bloom. These vibrant flowers transform the landscape into a breathtaking sea of color. It’s an experience that’ll make you appreciate the beauty and resilience of nature.

Speaking of resilience, have you ever seen a “Quiver Tree”? These ancient trees can withstand harsh conditions and survive for hundreds of years. The sight of these tall, peculiar-looking trees against the backdrop of the Richtersveld’s striking landscapes is truly remarkable.

So, if you’re looking for a unique adventure, the Richtersveld is the place to be. From the fascinating Halfmens to the extraordinary Baboon Spider and the captivating Namaqualand daisies, this region is a treasure trove of rare encounters with nature. Get ready to be amazed and inspired!

Rare encounters in the Richtersveld

Imagine this: A long time ago, I heard about an enchanting place tucked away in the desert. It’s a place where water has carved a majestic canyon into the rugged quartzites of the Oemsberg Mountains. And even now, water continues to trickle down from the towering cliff-tops, landing gently in the soft desert sand that surrounds a peacefully enclosed campsite. Ever since I first heard about this place, I’ve been eager to go camping there.

Rare encounters in the Richtersveld

In the vast and desolate landscape of South Africa, the Oemsberg Mountains stand as a testament to nature’s resilience. With their remote location and arid climate, these mountains offer a glimpse into a harsh and unforgiving terrain. I find myself on the edge of a precipice, gazing out at the Armanshoek Valley below, captivated by the beauty and isolation that surrounds me.

As I take in the panoramic view, I am struck by the realization that I am in a place few have ventured. Port Nolloth, the nearest town, is a distant speck on the horizon, a windswept outpost clinging to the rugged western edge of our country. From here, it takes an entire day of travel to reach the end of the trail that leads to the Oemsberg Amphitheatre. It’s a journey that demands dedication and perseverance but promises a reward like no other.

The Oemsberg Mountains, with their rugged peaks and vast expanses, have a magnetic pull that draws adventurers and nature enthusiasts alike. The sheer remoteness of this region adds an element of mystery and excitement to the experience. It’s a place where time seems to stand still, and the rhythm of nature takes center stage.

As I hike through the rugged terrain, I can’t help but be in awe of the breathtaking beauty that surrounds me. The jagged cliffs and deep canyons create a dramatic backdrop against the ever-changing sky. Every step I take is a reminder of the immense power and grandeur of nature.

There is a sense of solitude and tranquility in this untouched wilderness. It’s a place where you can disconnect from the chaos of everyday life and reconnect with yourself and the natural world. The silence is deafening, and the vastness is humbling.

But it’s not just the physical beauty that makes this place special. It’s the feeling of being a part of something greater, of tapping into the ancient wisdom and energy that permeates the land. There is a certain magic in the air, a sense of possibility and adventure that lingers at every turn.

As I sit here, perched on the edge of a cliff, I can’t help but feel grateful for the opportunity to explore this untouched wilderness. The Oemsberg Mountains have taught me the importance of embracing the unknown, of pushing beyond my limits, and of finding beauty in the most unexpected places.

In my travels, I’ve come across an extraordinary individual named Pieter van Wyk. Pieter possesses a truly remarkable nature. Growing up in this region of the country, he has developed an incredible bond with the land and its people. What sets Pieter apart is his immense knowledge of botany, something he taught himself. Not only is he fluent in several indigenous languages, but he is also an expert speaker on the subject.

A distinguishing aspect of Pieter’s identity is the collection of tattoos adorning his arm. Each tattoo represents a new plant species that he personally discovered in this very area. It’s fascinating to witness his dedication to his craft and his genuine passion for uncovering the secrets of nature. He cherishes each discovery so much that he saves room on his arm for future plant species he encounters.

Rare encounters in the Richtersveld

Let me tell you about Pieter van Wyk. He’s the one who tells us all the amazing stories during the Venstervalle hike. It’s a really special experience because not many people have been able to go on this hike in the past six years due to a lack of rain. But this time, we were lucky enough to see the Oemsberg Amphitheatre waterfall and even swim in some of the rare desert waters.

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Something else that made this trip unique was meeting a botanist who knows so much about the plants in these mountains. He was wild and chatty, but also had a deep understanding of this incredible botanical wonderland.

When I first meet Pieter in Sendelingsdrift, I notice his choice of footwear: white wellington boots. It strikes me as odd to wear them in the desert. Pieter, with his wiry frame and sun-darkened skin, looks like a combination of a half-mustached konstabel and a Bedouin. As we stand on the tourist center’s stoep, overlooking the lazy brown waters of the Orange River below, Pieter’s excitement for our upcoming journey fills the air.

Unfortunately, Pieter can’t accompany us as our guide. His expertise is needed elsewhere, in the rugged mountains that make up the southern boundary of the Richtersveld National Park. Due to a wetter winter, Pieter must spend his days from dawn to dusk documenting the intricate distribution of plants in this vast and challenging terrain.

Rare encounters in the Richtersveld

Imagine being trapped in a wild and powerful flood during a storm at the Oemsberg Amphitheatre. That’s exactly what happened to Pieter.

When Pieter briefs us for our hike, he shares an exciting list of names like Zebrawater, Koeskopfontein, Dreunbult, and Gannakouriep. He gives us information about the route, tips, and even tells us where to find water sources and supplies. If you want more details, you can get his handy trail book at the tourist desk.

Once we’re in the mountains, Pieter plans to meet us. He marks a remote slope on the map where we’ll probably find him after our second day of hiking.

Hey there! Let me tell you about the Venstervalle Hiking Trail – it’s my absolute favorite. Picture this: it’s like a thrilling play that Pieter, the creator, has brilliantly put together. And guess what? It’s not just a one-day show; it stretches over four days, giving you plenty of time to indulge in its beauty.

Once you start the trail, your adventure begins. You’ll be on the lookout, just like an eagle, for any interesting sights. Imagine being high up, looking down at all the other campers below – quite a unique perspective, isn’t it? But it gets even better. As you make your way through the trail, you’ll come across a breathtaking gorge that seems impossible to reach. It’s like stepping into a secret world, with echoes of tranquility all around you.

The gorge is where all the magic happens. It’s the source of the water that cascades down to the floor of the amphitheatre below. This sight alone is worth the entire trip! The waterfalls create an enchanting atmosphere, and you’ll feel like you’ve stepped into a fairy tale. Trust me, it’s an experience you won’t find anywhere else.

So, if you’re looking for a hiking trail that will truly amaze you, the Venstervalle Hiking Trail is the one for you. It’s not just a trail; it’s an unforgettable journey into nature’s wonders. Make sure to bring your curiosity and love for adventure, and prepare to be captivated by the beauty that awaits.

Rare encounters in the Richtersveld

On the first day of our journey, we make our way to Zebrawater, one of the springs that allows us to hike in this dry area.

The sky changes from its usual blue to a dark black, adorned with countless stars. Before the sun rises, we use our head torches to light up the floor and walls of the amphitheatre. We’re going to climb Dreunbult while it’s still covered in cool shadows from the early morning sun.

We spend our morning walking through these majestic mountains, which are filled with rolling valleys and vibrant flowers. These mountains receive more rainfall compared to the surrounding desert, making them home to some of the most diverse desert flora in the world. We’re lucky enough to come across some incredibly rare and unique plant species. As we take a break and have lunch in the shade of the trees around Modderfontein, we spot a delicate blue dove’s egg resting on the ground.

Rare encounters in the Richtersveld

When you negotiate the rocky Gannakouriep Gorge below the towering Amphitheatre, it goes beyond just meeting Pieter at Venstervalle, our overnight stay. It’s more than encountering an intense, wandering botanist in the desert. It’s an opportunity to truly experience this place. You get to encounter the small and rare Conophytums, also known as Bobejaan toointjies. You can marvel at the peculiar, child-like rock art found in the nearby overhang by the waterfalls. And there’s more – we’ll uncover the hidden taxonomic secrets of the little oasis at Koeskop-fontein. Who knows, we may even discover a plant species that hasn’t been documented by science before. It’s a chance to meet a true endemic of this captivating place, and all its wonders await.

I may not fully appreciate the intricacies of plant taxonomy, but I find solace in the presence of plants in their natural habitats. The rare and exotic ones catch my eye, and the picturesque ones take my breath away. Their ancestry may be of little concern to me, but what truly fascinates me is their connection to the land and how they defy the norms of their traditional upbringing.

When Pieter talks about his grandmother, there’s a special light in his eyes, just like when he talks about the plants that grew in the mountains where his ancestors lived. He takes us to see old fields up the valley, fields that haven’t been cultivated in many years. We come across a rusty plow and the remains of a simple farmhouse that must have been their home, so far away from everything. Pieter’s grandmother, he tells me, was a seer, someone who could see things others couldn’t. He feels a deep connection to her, and she’s the reason he has chosen such an unconventional path in life. I can tell that Pieter could talk about her all night if he had the chance, but there are weary hikers already fast asleep under the starry sky.

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Rare encounters in the Richtersveld

Today, I want to tell you all about my incredible adventure in Descending Reinhardt se Gat and the off-trail Armanshoek Gorge. Let me take you through the highlights of day three.

The day started off with a breathtaking sunrise. We found the perfect spot, carefully selected by our guide Pieter, to enjoy a cup of coffee while taking in the beauty of nature. It was a truly magical way to begin the day.

As we continued our journey, we reached a point just before God’s Window. Pieter had an important task to attend to, involving new discoveries in the field of taxonomy. He bid us farewell with the traditional Nama phrase, “!Gâise !gû re.” It meant “Journey well.” It was a poignant moment as we wished him the best and continued on our way.

Our next destination was Bababaddens, a unique lunch spot. Unlike a typical spring, it was a remarkable formation made of smooth quartzite. Over time, a desert stream had worn deeply grooved potholes into the rock, creating a fascinating chain of water-filled cavities. These natural pools held precious water, protected from the harsh desert environment. On a hot day, there was nothing more refreshing than taking a dip in these clear, cool pools along the trail.

Rare encounters in the Richtersveld

Did you know that desert flora can be more vibrant than you might expect? Take, for example, the Richtersveld pelargonium – a beautiful plant that is native to the desert and is often used as a remedy for respiratory problems. Its colorful flowers are a delightful surprise in an otherwise barren landscape. Another striking plant is the halfmens, with its vivid crimson headdress. These plants prove that even in the harshest of environments, nature finds a way to thrive and surprise us with its beauty.

So here’s the thing: Pieter has a knack for finding wild adventures that most people wouldn’t even consider. On the trail map, there’s a route called the Armanshoek Gorge, but it’s marked as ‘temporarily closed’. You see, this trail is no walk in the park. It involves some serious climbing and squeezing through a tiny hidden entrance into a pitch-black abyss called Reinhardt se Gat.

Pieter had dreams of sharing this epic journey with others, but it turns out installing ladders along the gorge would cost a pretty penny. So, unfortunately, his aspirations were dashed. However, for those of us who aren’t afraid to embrace the unknown, there’s an opportunity to explore the Armanshoek Gorge. It’s a daunting and chaotic place, with towering vertical walls made of quartz, but that’s just part of the thrill.

While some members of our group choose to kick back and relax at Bababaddens, the more daring among us embark on this exhilarating detour. We plunge into the dark depths of Reinhardt se Gat and immerse ourselves in the breathtaking beauty of the Armanshoek Gorge. It’s a journey that pushes our limits and takes us to places we never thought possible.

As I continue my journey to Panorama, I can’t help but notice the stark contrast between its unassuming name and the breathtaking view it offers. Perched on the edge of a steep drop-off, this vantage point overlooks the vast Armanshoek Valley below. The descent itself is quite treacherous, but the sight that awaits us is well worth the effort.

Along the path, we encounter a fascinating group of individuals known as the “halfmense”. They are unlike anyone I’ve seen before, dressed impeccably in their Sunday best, resembling Nama churchgoers. In stark contrast, our hiking party appears shabby and disheveled, donning three-day-old clothes and sporting unruly facial hair. Despite our differences, we find ourselves mingling with the halfmense, sharing stories and experiences.

As we reach the bottom of the descent, exhaustion takes hold of our weary bodies. The challenging journey has taken its toll, but the awe-inspiring beauty of the Armanshoek Valley has rejuvenated our spirits. It’s moments like these that remind me of the importance of pushing through obstacles to experience the wonders that await.

Rare encounters in the Richtersveld

As I step into the Amphitheatre camp, I am greeted by the cool shade and the soothing sound of the waterfall. It feels like a hidden oasis in the midst of a scorching desert.

The wind blows fiercely, carrying dry sand with it. Our water supply is almost depleted, and we are running out of options. Pieter has left a water cache at the veepos, but camping there doesn’t seem appealing, exposed to the relentless wind on the open plains.

Instead, we decide to go against the current and explore the gorge in search of the Armanshoek Spring. It turns out to be a wise decision. As the sun sets, we come across the spring, a beautiful sight guarded by towering arum lilies. We quickly replenish our water and find a safe spot under the trees, nestled in a thicket by the dry watercourse, where we can rest for the night.

As I make my way on this final day, descending to the plains below, I can already feel the heat seeping into my skin. The journey feels long and arduous, but I know the end is near. The final afternoon brings us to the dry Gannakouriep River, a familiar sight from our way in. However, the memories of this river seem to have deceived us, as it stretches on for what feels like an eternity.

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Yet, amidst the weariness and fatigue, a sense of hope washes over me. It’s as if the unpredictability of this place is rewarding us in its own peculiar way. Suddenly, we stumble upon a hidden gem – a secluded rock pool, enclosed by magnificent granite walls. Its deep, cool waters beckon us, offering respite from the scorching heat.

This unexpected oasis proves to be a game-changer. It transforms our grueling trudge into a revitalizing and inspiring experience. The contrast between the unrelenting slog and the refreshing dip brings new life to our weary souls.

This journey has taught me that even in our most challenging moments, surprises await us just around the corner. It reminds me to keep pushing forward, knowing that there may be hidden rewards waiting to be discovered. So, as I approach the end of this expedition, I reflect on the importance of embracing the unknown and finding solace in unexpected places. It’s these unforeseen encounters that truly elevate our adventures.

Rare encounters in the Richtersveld

I head to Vista, not Vida, for a coffee date with Pieter. I’m excited as we make our way high up in the mountains on day three of our adventure.

As we arrive, I see that the rest of our group is already there, setting up camp. The evening light is beautiful, and there’s a cooler box filled with refreshing cold beer waiting for us. We gather around a blazing fire, sitting on comfy camping chairs set out in the riverbed. It’s the perfect setting for our final night together, celebrating under the starry desert sky.

On the way in, I almost miss it, but my wife Sandra and I make sure to stop and share a kiss under the Shepherds Tree. This ancient tree’s branches arch over the path, creating a magical atmosphere. Pieter tells us that legend says kissing under this tree ensures everlasting love. It’s easy to believe these stories after experiencing the incredible beauty and inspiration of the past four days. Maybe our love won’t last forever, but in this moment, it feels as strong as the Rosyntjieberg quartzite that has been around for nearly two billion years.

Rare encounters in the Richtersveld

Trip Planner

Let’s Get There!

So, you’re thinking of going on an adventure to the Ai-Ais/Richtersveld Transfrontier Park? Awesome! Let me help you plan your trip. First things first, you’ll need to get there.

If you’re coming from Cape Town, it’s about a two-day drive up the N7. Don’t worry, there are plenty of places to stop for a rest along the way. Once you reach Port Nolloth, you can find many options for self-catering or bed and breakfast accommodations. It’s the perfect place to stay overnight and recharge before continuing your journey.

Now, here’s where the real fun begins. Make sure you arrive at the Ai-Ais/Richtersveld Transfrontier Park office in Sendelingsdrift before midday. Why? Well, that’s when they give a briefing about the hike. Trust me, it’s important to attend this briefing so you know what to expect and how to stay safe during your adventure.

After the briefing, you’ll hop back in your car and drive through the park for several hours. Take your time and soak in the breathtaking views around you. Eventually, you’ll arrive at Hakkiesdoring Camp. Guess what? That’s where your hike starts! How exciting is that?

So, remember, if you’re ready for a thrilling experience in the Ai-Ais/Richtersveld Transfrontier Park, don’t forget to plan your trip accordingly. Start by driving up the N7 from Cape Town, stopping in Port Nolloth for a well-deserved rest. Then, head to the park office in Sendelingsdrift for the hike briefing. Finally, drive through the park to Hakkiesdoring Camp, where your adventure officially begins!

Rare encounters in the Richtersveld

When I dip my toes into the refreshing depths of Bababaddens on a scorching midday, it’s like a warm embrace from nature herself.

About the Trail

This trail is a hidden gem, and it’s only open from May to September. Of course, this timeframe depends on the ever-changing weather and water availability. The trail is reserved for one lucky group at a time for five glorious days. Four of those days are spent walking, and the first night is spent at the enchanting Hakkiesdoring. To embark on this adventure, it will cost you R290 per day for the first two people, with an additional R180 per day for each extra person (up to a maximum of 10). I mustn’t forget the R72 per day conservation fee, but fear not, for it is included if you possess a SanParks Wild Card. Want more information? Just visit sanparks.org/parks/richtersveld.

Rare encounters in the Richtersveld

Hey there! Have you heard of Tatasberg Wilderness Camp? It’s an awesome place to stay when you visit the park. Let me tell you more about it!

Stay Here

When you’re exploring the park, you’ll find some incredible places to stay, like Tatasberg Wilderness Camp. It’s one of the many great options available. You can choose from campsites or cozy huts, all located along the Orange River or in the inland area. After a long hike, it’s the perfect spot to relax and unwind. You’ll definitely enjoy your time there!

Don’t forget to visit sanparks.org for more information on booking your stay. Happy exploring!

Rare encounters in the Richtersveld

Imagine this: you’re out in the wilderness, surrounded by nature’s beauty. The sun is setting, and you find yourself sitting by the Gannakouriep River. You brought along a cooler box full of delicious treats and some comfortable chairs to relax in. As the night sky fills with twinkling stars, you can’t help but feel a sense of peace and contentment.

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