Capital Kimberley, famous for its diamonds and the “Big Hole”. The largest province with the fewest people, Upington is the second big city, a good base when exploring the Kalahari Desert, Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, and the Augrabies Falls on the Orange River. Also Ai-Ais/Richtersveld Transfrontier Park and the semi-desert Karoo.
POINTS OF INTEREST
The first Diamond Rush in the Kimberley district took place in 1869 when diamonds were found in the walls of a house on the Bultfontein farm. In July 1871, prospectors camped at the base of a small hill, 3 miles to the northwest. The party’s cook was sent to the summit as punishment for a minor offense and returned with a diamond. Within two years, New Rush tent town was renamed Kimberley in 1873 and had become home to 50,000 miners. By the time Cecil John Rhodes arrived, 3,600 claims were being worked.
THE BIG HOLE: KIMBERLEY MINE MUSEUM
Centered around the Big Hole, this museum tells South Africa’s diamond-mining history through several elements. The Old Mining Village consists of cobbled streets lined with buildings dating to the late 19th century, including a watchmaker’s shop, a pawnbroker’s, and an old bar with original fittings. The 295-ft viewing platform over the Big Hole allows visitors to look into the murky lake below, and there is a mock-up of a mine shaft, too. The Real Diamond Display holds replicas of uncut stones.
Augrabies Falls, christened Aukoerebis (“place of great noise”) by the early Khoi inhabitants of this region, is where the Orange River plunges 182 ft into a constricted granite gorge. The falls and surrounding area were declared a national park in 1966.
Upington is the largest town on the Orange River. As it is an important center for the dried fruit industry, sultanas drying in the sun are a common sight along the road. The pleasant riverside guesthouses are a popular stopover on the way to the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park.
IAI-IAIS/RICHTERSVELD TRANSFRONTIER PARK
The IAi-IAis/Richtersveld Transfrontier Park is located in a jagged, mountainous landscape where water is scarce. The hardy vegetation relies on the early morning fog that rolls in from the Atlantic.
The Kalahari Desert forms part of a vast inland steppe that stretches from the Orange River to the equator. It extends across portions of the Northern Cape and Namibia, and also covers much of Botswana. Rainfall in this region varies from 6 to 16 inches per year and is soon soaked up or simply evaporates. There is little surface water and the flora consists mainly of grass, shrubs, and the hardy camelthorn acacias that line the dry beds of ancient rivers. Although the landscape may appear to be lifeless, it supports an astonishing variety of wildlife that is superbly adapted to survive in this harsh environment.
The semiarid, sparsely populated Karoo extends across the Northern Cape and parts of the Free State, Eastern, and Western Cape provinces. Sleepy country towns and villages, often treasure chests of Cape Dutch and Victorian architecture, serve as supply centers for surrounding farms.
NAMAQUA NATIONAL PARK
Namaqua National Park is located 11 miles west of Kamieskroon, this park has a circular drive with viewpoints, several short nature trails, picnic sites, and a SANParks visitor information center during the spring flowering season. The higher rainfall resulting from the park’s proximity to the West Coast guarantees excellent displays. Bright orange daisies and gazanias are at their most spectacular here.