In February of this year, already exhausted from being back at work, my wife and I decided to start planning our next family holiday. (Our family being the two of us, our 16-year-old son and 10-year-old daughter.)  We opened a map of SA and our eyes  immediately pulled towards the vastness of the Northern Cape. We were drawn by the names of towns we had only ever heard of… Poffadder, Springbok, Augrabies, Port Nolloth, Alexander Bay and the like. Our imaginations ran wild! I was excited by the vast amount of photographic opportunities.

So it was decided! The next available school holiday, we will be heading west, driving as far as we could till we hit the sea, in which case we would turn left. Other than that, there were no rules, no bookings and no expectations beyond the wide-open skies of the Northern Cape. As much as we tried to deny this was a destination holiday, our destination being the Northern Cape, we were determined, our focus would be on enjoying the journey.

Day 1

Not soon enough, the 21st April dawned and we packed our trusty Discovery and headed off early on our way to Kimberley. We followed the N12, through Potchefstroom and Klerksdorp stopping off at the Engen Wimpy in Wolmarranstad. (It cannot be called a road trip, until you have stopped for a Wimpy breakfast.)

Our journey took us onwards through Bloemhof, and Christiana before we arrived in Kimberley. We were not too keen to spend our first night in a city, so while exploring accommodation opportunities online during the drive, we decided to make a booking at Lilydale Lodge in Mokala National Park. Typical of all South African National Parks, the fees are incredibly reasonable, the accommodation simple, clean and comfortable. Lilydale has 12 thatched chalets with views across the Riet River. It was dusk already, so all that was left for us was the first of many braai’s and an early night’s sleep.

Landscape view over Mokala National Park from Lilydale Lodge

Day 2

We could not wait to explore the park. The weather was overcast and a little wet , which we  liked that as it added mud and character to our Discovery. Mokala National Park is the youngest of all SANParks, having been officially proclaimed in June 2007. Mokala is mostly known for Camel Thorn Acacia from which it gets its name along with Tsessebe, Roan Antelope, Cape Buffalo and Black Wildebeest. Despite drizzly weather we saw all of the above, as well as some White Rhino in the distance.

Roan Antelope (Hippotragus Equinus)
Roan Antelope and calf

I always assumed that Kimberley would be a simple waypoint on our journey, but after a rewarding morning in Mokala, we headed into town to view the Big Hole. I had low expectations but the Big Hole museum was incredible. Having recently been upgraded it is well kept and in great condition. What really surprised us was how much the children enjoyed the visit, not just viewing the hole, but the walking through the small mine section, witnessing a pretend explosion and reading the history of this fascinating place.

The little mine town was also a treasure trove with old-fashioned ten-pin bowling and diamond hunting. The highlight though, was the trip on the electric tram, which for a paltry R10 takes you out on the streets for a short ride. There is a fantastic B&B on the site of the museum and we penciled that in as a potential place to stop on the way back.

Quarry hole, Kimberley
Man playing old fashioned tenpin bowling in Kimberley
Old electric tram in Kimberley

The road was calling and we headed west again off through Schmidtsdrif, Campbell and Griekwastad, finally settling for the night at the Slypsteen Gasteplaas outside Groblershoop, alongside the Orange river. (Actually a bible study school, who also accepts road weary travellers)

Sunrise over Groblershoop landscape
Wine Farm in Orange river

Day 3

We were eager to witness the Augrabies Falls, so after picking up supplies in Upington, we were on the road again. Clearly, we have been living under a rock as we had not realized the vastness of the wine and saltana farms shrouding the banks of the Orange River. As the surrounding countryside became drier and drier, the juxtaposition of beautifully watered and manicured vineyards appeared even more bizarre.

Augrabies Falls is well maintained and spectacular, unfortunately with our arrival at midday, it was not ideal for photography. It is hard to imagine that during the peak rainy season further east, more water can flow over the Augrabies Falls than over the Niagara falls. With semi-dessert on either side, the Orange River cuts its unrelenting path towards the Atlantic, our destination too. Reading the history as we traveled on, we were in awe of the early white settlers who escaped from the Cape to claim land, or to zealously build missionaries and of course the Korana people who called this barren place home.

On the road we passed through Kakamas and Pofadder before settling for the night in the oasis enclave of Springbok. With a feel of the Western Cape, clear blue skies and mountainous landscape. There is something magical about Springbok. We enjoyed dinner at a superb, albeit dated steak house and hit back a few springbok shooters for good measure!

Augrabies falls at midday

Day 4

It was time to escape the tar roads, and we wanted to get a real desert feel so we headed north up through Steinkopf, before cutting across towards the Richtersveld and the isolated town of Eksteensfontein. The dust curled up behind us on the lonely road, isolated and desolate, but most definitely soul cleansing. After a short pit stop in Eksteensfontein for directions, we found ourselves winding our way along a dry river bed which happened to be a rough road. Our hope that our directions were good and that we would finally meet up with the Orange River, proved true. We headed in a  westerly direction, hoping to spend the night in Alexander Bay, the most northwesterly town of South Africa.

On the edge of the Richtersveld
Dirt road in a dry lanscape

Alexander Bay was not what we expected, the desert heat and dust gave way to icy fog, that obliterated the sun shrouding the desolate town in mist. Disappointed, we turned left and headed south along the coast. We spent a cold night in Port Nolloth, not knowing the best was still to come.

Read about Part 2 of our trip.