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Northern Cape

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Travel Guide Africa South Africa Northern Cape

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Introduction

Kalahari desert

Kalahari desert

© All Rights Reserved Utrecht

The Northern Cape is South Africa's largest and least populated province. It has beautiful landscapes, barren plains and deserts and distances between cities (towns) are big. It's a land of the Upper Karoo, of big skies and stark beauty.

Native speakers of Afrikaans comprise a higher percentage of the population in the Northern Cape than in any other province. The Northern Cape's four official languages are Afrikaans, Tswana, Xhosa, and English. Minorities speak the other official languages of South Africa, and a few people speak indigenous languages such as Nama and Khwe.

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Geography

The Northern Cape is South Africa's largest province, and distances between towns are enormous due to its sparse population. Its size is just shy of the size of the American state of Montana and slightly larger than that of Germany. The province is dominated by the Karoo Basin and consists mostly of sedimentary rocks and some Dolerite intrusions. The south and south-east of the province is high-lying, 1,200-1,900 metres, in the Roggeveld and Nuweveld districts. The west coast is dominated by the Namaqualand region, famous for its spring flowers. This area is hilly to mountainous and consists of Granites and other metamorphic rocks. The central areas are generally flat with interspersed salt pans. Kimberlite intrusions punctuate the Karoo rocks, giving the province its most precious natural resource, Diamonds. The north is primarily Kalahari Desert, characterised by parallel red sand dunes and acacia tree dry savanna.

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Cities and Towns

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Sights and Activities

Kgalagadi Transfrontier National Park

Male lion, Kgalagadi park

Male lion, Kgalagadi park

© All Rights Reserved Utrecht

The Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park is located in the arid northwest of the country and actually comprises two adjoining national parks, namely the Kalahari Gemsbok National Park in South Africa and Gemsbok National Park in Botswana. The part in South Africa is more easily accessible than the park in Botswana and although technically you don't really need a 4wd vehicle, it is still better and gives you the opportunity to visit some more remote parts where several off the self catering wilderness camps are located. The park is located in the southern reaches of the Kalahari desert and red sand dunes with some sparse vegetation is the main vegetation here. Much of the wildlife can be found along the dry riverbeds of the Nossob and Auob rivers and the main gravelroads run along these riverbeds. Animals which you are likely to see are predators like black-maned Kalahari lions, cheetahs, leopards, and hyenas, hunting for animals like oryx, springbok and wildebeest.

From December to February it can get extremely hot here, with temperatures well over 40 °C. Access is from the towns of Upington and Kuruman towards the main gate at Twee Rivieren (meaning Two Rivers).

Check Sanparks' Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park website for more information. It's advised to book well in advance as accommodation quickly fills up. There are a few possibilities outside the National Park area- A few campsites between the town of Askham and the park entrance, as well as few guesthouses in town, about 100 kilometres from the park. Please note that the campsites in the area tend to be expensive; expect to pay R100 for one person.

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Weather

The climate is generally semi-arid with hot summers from November to March and warm winters from June to August. Winters see temperatures mostly around 20 °C with relatively cold nights. Conditions are generally dry and sunny. Showers are possible from August to April with days of over 40 °C possible from November to March in the northern parts of the province. Mostly arid to semi-arid, few areas in the province receive more than 400 mm of rainfall per annum and the average annual rainfall over the province is 202 mm. Rainfall generally increases from west to east from a minimum average of 20 mm to a maximum of 540 mm per year. The west experiences most rainfall in winter, while the east receives most of its moisture from late summer thunderstorms.

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Getting There

By Plane

Upington Airport (UTN) has flights with South African Airlink to Cape Town and Johannesburg.

Kimberley Airport (KIM) has flights to and from Johannesburg with South African Express and to and from Cape Town with South African Airlink.

By Train

Shosholoza Meyl is the national railway and several trains stop in Kimberley in the Northern Cape:

  • Cape Town - Durban via Kimberley, Bloemfontein, Kroonstad and Ladysmith, 36 hours, tourist and economy class both once weekly
  • Johannesburg - Cape Town via Kimberley and Matjiesfontein, 27 hours, premier class twice weekly, tourist 4 weekly and economy daily.

There is a regular overnight train service with TransNamib, the national railway company of Namibia, from Upington to Windhoek in Namibia via Keetmanshoop. The total trip takes about 26 hours. Although the domestic service from Keetmanshoop to Windhoek runs every day except Saturdays, the train between Upington and Keetmanshoop only runs on two days: from Upington on Sundays and Thursdays at 5am arriving 11 and a half hours later in Keetmanshoop and from the latter on Wednesdays and Saturdays around 9 am, taking well over 12 hours to reach Upington.

By Car

The Northern Cape Province is served by a number of excellent national roads:

  • The N1 runs from Cape Town to Gauteng via the southeastern edge of the Northern Cape and Bloemfontein.
  • The N7 runs from Cape Town and the Western Cape, goes through Springbok and then on up north to Namibia.
  • The N8 runs from near Upington across through Kimberley and Bloemfontein, and then goes on to Maseru Bridge (border post to Lesotho).
  • The N10 runs from the Namibia border down through Upington and then on to Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape.
  • The N12 runs from George in the Western Cape to Gauteng, going via Kimberley.
  • The N14 runs from Springbok to Upington and then on to Johannesburg and Pretoria in Gauteng.

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Getting Around

By Car

If you would like to travel around by car, there are numerous car rental companies available from the airports and downtown locations. Just make sure that you have sufficient insurance to cover you if the need arises. Some of them offer the possibility to reduce excess (the amount you pay when involved in an accident) for a daily fee. Car hire companies include Avis, Imperial, CABS, First Car Rental as well as many other international and local ones. Usually, the local ones are cheaper but don't have the same standard as the international ones, which have more branches throughout the country and therefore are able to help you more quickly if needed.

If travelling by car, be sure to plan your routes carefully to insure that there are sufficient places to fill the tank with petrol as some towns are located quite a distance apart with no filling stations in between. It's a good idea to fill up with fuel when you have about half a tank left if possible.

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Contributors

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This is version 9. Last edited at 8:12 on May 11, 16 by Utrecht. 9 articles link to this page.

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