This trip combines the sparsely populated semi-desert of Bushmanland, with its exciting and highly desirable South African endemic birds, with the stark beauty of the vast mountain desert known as the Richtersveld. It also provides a juicy taste of the floral splendour of springtime Namaqualand and the rugged beauty and mystique of the Diamond Coast
- Trip Outline
- Trip Includes
- Trip Excludes
25 August to 7 September 2023
This fantastic trip is centred around the Richtersveld, a spectacular mountain desert in the north-western corner of South Africa. The Richtersveld is one of the remotest and least explored regions of South Africa; it is also one of the richest in terms of both biological and mineral wealth. The isolation of the Richtersveld and its enigmatic beauty make it an increasingly attractive destination for adventurous travellers and for those seeking out Earth’s final frontiers.
The tour also provides a juicy taste of the floral splendour of springtime Namaqualand, the rugged beauty and mystique of the Diamond Coast and the the sparsely populated semi-desert of Bushmanland with its exciting and highly desirable South African endemic birds.
The Richtersveld region stretches from Steinkopf and Port Nolloth in the south up to the Orange River and from Alexander Bay to Vioolsdrif. The Ai Ais Richtersveld Transfrontier Park is a small part of this, in the loop of the Orange River. This park is in one of the most undeveloped and inaccessible areas in South Africa.
The Richtersveld is a desert of ever-changing vistas-contorted mountains with awe-inspiring names like Mount Terror and Devil’s Tooth, narrow valleys, wide plains and rocks fashioned into bizarre shapes by wind, rain and extremes of temperature. The mountains of the Richtersveld are truly awe-inspiring and lovers of remote places will find endless pleasures in its richness.
Namaqua National Park
As if by magic a tapestry of brilliant colours unfold enticingly along the winding roads of the Namaqua National Park. Butterflies, birds and long-tongued flies dart around among the flowers, seemingly overwhelmed by the abundance and diversity. Every turn in the road paints an unforgettable picture: valleys filled with Namaqualand daisies and other spring flowers that pulse with sheer energy and joy.
The Diamond Coast
Situated in the north-western corner of South Africa’s rugged Northern Cape is the stretch of pristine coastline aptly named The Diamond Coast. These shores have remained virtually unknown to the public at large as it is within the restricted and previously forbidden diamond mining areas. The valuable mineral treasures hidden within its sands are not the only treasures of the area. The Sandveld has been jealously guarded and is home to many indigenous plants, animals and insects.
Bushmanland is most famous in birding circles for hosting one of the world’s highest diversities of larks, with an amazing 14 species occurring regularly. Its stony plains are scattered with low bushes, punctuated by broken country and the occasional dune field.
We leave Johannesburg bright and early at the start of what promises to be a memorable and rewarding trip. We travel via Kuruman and Upington to our first overnight stop near Kenhardt.
The next morning, we bird the area around Kenhardt, towards Brandvlei which is excellent country for Sclater’s and Stark’s Larks and Burchell’s Courser. Karoo Korhaan and Double-banded Courser may be seen at the roadsides and Black-eared Sparrowlark is often present in the area.
After brunch we head for our next overnight stop, a charming guesthouse at MacDougalls Bay, near Port Nolloth, on the Diamond Coast. We travel via the Spektakel Pass and Kleinsee.
Kleinsee is surrounded by Namaqualand’s coastal plain, known as Strandveld. The coastal strip consists of white sand and rocky outcrops. Vegetation grows to an average height of 30 cm and includes a variety of succulents and hardy shrubs.
Birding includes walks along the coast, around an estuary and in the nature reserves. Approximately 115 bird species have been recorded. Top birds for the area include Kori and Ludwig’s Bustard, Southern Black Korhaan, African Black Oystercatcher, Karoo Scrub-Robin, Cape Penduline-Tit, Cape Long-billed Lark and Black-headed Canary. The Buffels River estuary’s wetland area teems with aquatic birds, waders, warblers, weavers and more.
The Kleinsee Cape Fur Seal colony is situated just north of the town There are an estimated 300 000 to 400 000 animals, and the site is the largest on-land seal colony in South Africa.
Port Nolloth is a small town, originally built to provide an export harbour for the copper from Okiep. The town has a strange desert atmosphere as it is on an arid and barren coastal plain, yet it holds some fascination for the visitor.
We spend one night in a charming guesthouse on the seafront at MacDougalls Bay, a stones-throw away from Port Nolloth..
Our primary birding targets for Port Nolloth are Barlow’s and Cape Long-billed Larks. Both species occur in dunes around Still Bay, a few kilometers north of Port Nolloth.
Birds along the coastline include Bank and Crowned Cormorant, African Black Oystercatcher, and various species of waders.
We take our leave of Port Nolloth and head northwards towards Alexander Bay, en route to the Richtersveld wonderland. Alexander Bay, some 90km north of Port Nolloth, is a diamond mining town belonging to Alexkor and one passes through a security gate before entering the town. We visit the Orange River mouth and its associated wetlands. The river mouth, mudflats, marshlands, islets near the mouth, and adjacent pans provide a sizeable area of sheltered shallow water suitable for concentrations of wetland birds, which use these habitats for breeding purposes or as a stopover on migration routes. The bird population can be as high as 20000-26000 individuals. Lesser and Greater Flamingos, Black-necked Grebe, Chestnut-banded Plover, Caspian and Damara Terns, Little Bittern and Maccoa, and African Black Ducks are some of the more interesting species which may be found.
The Richtersveld is a harsh and unpredictable land where water is scarce and life-sustaining moisture comes in the form of early morning fog which rolls in from the cold waters of the Atlantic Ocean, sustaining a remarkable range of small reptiles, birds and mammals. A staggering assortment of plant life, some species occurring nowhere else, is to be found here, with gnarled quiver trees, tall aloes and quaint “halfmens” keeping vigil over this inscrutable landscape.
Birding in the Park is very rewarding and many of the dry western specials can be found. These include Ludwig’s Bustard, Bradfield’s Swift, Cinnamon-breasted Warbler, Namaqua Warbler, Orange River White-eye, Karoo Eremomela, Grey Tit, Cape Penduline-Tit, Tractrac and Sickle-winged Chat and Stark’s, Sabota and Karoo Long-billed Lark. Raptors are well represented, with Booted Eagle, Black-chested Snake-Eagle, Jackal Buzzard, Lanner Falcon and Southern Pale Chanting Goshawk occurring regularly. A night excursion into the hills surrounding the camp may yield Cape Eagle-Owl if we are very fortunate.
We spend our first two nights in the Park in fully equipped chalets in Sendelingsdrift rest camp, overlooking the Orange River. Our third night is spent at the stunning Tatasberg Wilderness Camp beside the Orange River, a place that is difficult to beat for its virtuoso setting. From the camp, one gets a broad view of the river and some mountains on the Namibian side.
Built in a similar style to the chalets at Tatasberg, Gannakouriep Wilderness Camp is situated within a rocky valley in the south-west of the park. The camp is situated in the dry interior and has an outlook just as soulful as at Tatasberg, though completely different. Here we spend two nights in glorious isolation, far from the madding crowd.
We say a fond farewell to the Richtersveld and start our journey southwards. Our routing takes us through the Richtersveld Community Conservancy, and we travel via the little towns of Eksteenfontein and Kuboes to Naries Namakwa Retreat, a beautiful hideaway on the edge of the Spektakelberg between Springbok and Kleinsee.
Our next overnight destination is Naries Namakwa Retreat, a beautiful hideaway on the edge of the Spektakelberg between Springbok and Kleinzee.
Using Naries as our base we pay a visit to Namaqua National Park, near Kamieskroon. Our route takes us into the heart of spectacular spring floral displays that provide such a colourful, yet ephemeral façade to a fascinating region. Within a radius of 60km one finds four different regions, each with its characteristic rock formations and natural flowers, developing at their own pace during the flower season to eventually display a kaleidoscope of colour – multi-coloured carpets stretching as far as the eye can see. We spend three nights at the superb Naries Namakwa Retreat in charming cottages, offering a unique experience amid spectacular scenery.
After an early morning walk around Naries, we proceed to our next overnight stay, Pofadder, where we spend two nights at the very comfortable Pofadder Hotel.
Pofadder is a stereotypical South African one-horse town. However, the surrounding area offers excellent birding across a diversity of habitats, from arid, rocky gorges and dusty plains to lush riparian vegetation along the Orange River, some 50km north of the town. Birds to look out for include Karoo Long-billed, Stark’s and Sclater’s Lark, Karoo Chat, Burchell’s Courser, Short-toed Rock Thrush, Dusky Sunbird and Black-headed Canary. The giant nests of Sociable Weavers, often with a resident pair of Pygmy Falcons, are common in this part of Bushmanland. We visit the Ghaamsberg and Namies Mountains where we will be looking for Cinnamon-breasted Warbler, Short-toed Rock-Thrush, Black-headed Canary, Black-eared Sparrowlark, Karoo Korhaan and Karoo Eremomela. The prize for this area, however, is the richly coloured dune form of the Red Lark which is, in fact, one of the commoner birds in the area.
Our next night is spent near the Augrabies Falls, one of the natural wonders of South Africa and one of the six greatest falls in the world. The Khoi people called it “Aukoerebis”, or place of great noise, as this powerful flow of water is unleashed from rocky surroundings, characterised by the 18 km abyss of the Orange River Gorge. Since 1966 the waterfall, set in a desolate and rugged milieu, is enclosed by the Augrabies Falls National Park.
The Park is an excellent birding destination with more than 280 species recorded. It is especially good for raptors, with Verreaux’s Eagle being the star attraction as it breeds on the cliffs of the gorge. Several specials are resident, including Ludwig’s and Kori Bustards, Karoo Long-billed, Karoo and Spike-heeled Larks and Rufous-eared, Namaqua and Cinnamon-breasted Warblers.
Larger mammals found at Augrabies include Giraffe, Eland, Kudu, Hartmann’s Mountain Zebra, Gemsbok, Klipspringer, Springbok and Steenbok. The main predators are Caracal, Bat-eared Fox and Black-backed Jackal and, with some luck, Leopard may be encountered.
Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end, and after an exhilarating and soul enriching experience we must head for Johannesburg, via Upington and Kuruman.
This 14-day tour departs from Johannesburg. We travel in an air-conditioned Double Cab 4-wheel drive vehicle.
Date : August 25, 2023
Early morning departure from Johannesburg
Travel via Kuruman and Upington to Kenhardt, arriving late afternoon.
Overnight at guest house on the banks of the Orange River.
Date : August 26, 2023
Early morning birding around Kenhardt.
Depart after brunch for the Diamond Coast, via Springbok and Kleinsee.
Bird on route and arrive at McDougalls Bay in the mid-afternoon.
Late afternoon birding and overnight in McDougalls Bay.
Date : August 27, 2023
Port Nolloth-Sendelingsdrift, Richtersveld NP
Early morning birding in the dune fields near Port Nolloth
Depart after breakfast for the RIchtersveld, via Alexander Bay.
Visit the Orange River mouth at Alexander Bay, en route to the Park.
Arrive late afternoon and overnight at Sendelingsdrift Rest Camp.
Date : August 28, 2023
Day spent birding and sightseeing in the Sendelingsdrift area.
Afternoon visit to Potjiespram for birding and sundowners
Overnight at Sendelingsdrift Rest Camp.
Date : August 29, 2023
Early morning birding around camp.
Depart after breakfast for Tatasberg, via Akkedis Pass and De Hoop
Early afternoon arrival and overnight at Tatasberg Wilderness Camp.
Date : August 30, 2023
Early morning birding around camp
Depart after breakfast for Gannakouriep.
Arrive early afternoon and overnight at Gannakouriep Wilderness Camp.
Date : August 31, 2023
Day spent exploring area, including visit to Kokerboomkloof.
Overnight at Gannakouriep Wilderness Camp.
Date : September 1, 2023
Early morning birding and exploring around camp.
Depart after breakfast for Naries Namakwa Retreat, via Helskloof Pass
and the Richtersveld Conservancy.
Afternoon birding and overnight at Naries Namakwa Retreat.
Date : September 2, 2023
Early morning walk around Naries.
Depart after breakfast for Namaqua National Park near Kamieskroon.
Rest of day spent birding and flower watching in Park.
Late-afternoon return and overnight at Naries Namakwa Retreat.
Date : September 3, 2023
Early morning walk around Naries.
Visit Goegap Nature Reserve near Springbok for birding and flower watching.
Overnight at Naries Namakwa Retreat.
Date : September 4, 2023
Early morning birding departure from Naries.
Travel via Springbok and Aggeneys to Pofadder, birding en route.
Overnight at Pofadder Hotel.
Date : September 5, 2023
Morning birding in Koa Dunes and Namies Mountains.
Afternoon visit to Onseepkans border with Namibia.
Overnight at Pofadder Hotel.
Date : September 6, 2023
Early morning birding around Pofadder.
Depart after breakfast for Augrabies, via Kakamas.
Bird on route and arrive at Augrabies around lunchtime.
Afternoon sightseeing and birding in Augrabies Falls National Park.
Overnight at farm guesthouse near the Park.
Date : September 7, 2023
Early morning departure from Augrabies.
Travel via Upington and Kuruman to Johannesburg, arriving in the early evening.
Ground transport in VW Caravelle 4*4, all meals and accommodation, guiding, conservation fees and entrance fees.
Alcoholic beverages, gratuities and items of a personal nature.