Roadtripping through the Northern Cape

For that next road trip, give the Garden Route a skip and head for the multitude of charms on offer in the Northern Cape. And you always want to take the back roads.

The R364 is a long and lonely strip of gravel, but I wasn’t worried. Instead, I had a smile on my face as I watched the Doring River – and with it the Western Cape – recede into the distance in the rear-view mirror. Ahead, the Northern Cape welcomed my Dunlop AT3s with a warm and dusty greeting. 

Up the beautiful Botterkloof Pass, and before long the rugged peaks of the Cederberg were exchanged for the open plains of the Karoo, with a hard right onto the R27 getting me to Calvinia, a short distance away, in no time. 

Locals in the Northern Cape letting their hair down at the annual Hantam Vleisfees, a four-day festival celebrating Karoo lamb

It may be named for the strait-laced religious leader John Calvin, but in late August each year the locals let their hair down at the annual Hantam Vleisfees, a four-day festival celebrating Karoo lamb. Beyond the braai smoke, the fees is filled with tractor parades, riel dancers and drum majorettes twirling their batons. 

But even without the festival, it’s a handsome town worth a stop. The Calvinia Museum delves into the town’s 250-year history and still showcases a fine collection of Victorian and Karoo architecture. Don’t miss a stop at the Hantam Huis, where you’ll find hearty Karoo cooking, a charming guesthouse and a small museum piled high with family keepsakes. In springtime, it’s also worth the diversion to Nieuwoudtville and the remarkable Hantam National Botanical Gardens. 

Experience the blooms of the Northern Cape on a road trip

Then it’s east towards Williston to stock up on lamb at the Karusaf butchery co-operative, and on to the charming tasting room at Langbaken – here, amid the Karoo scrub, Peter and Francy Schoeman’s herd of Jersey cows provides enough milk for them to produce up to 800kg of award-winning cheese each month. Don’t leave without a slice of the superb Karoo Crumble, washed-rind Karoo Sunset or creamy Camembert. 

From Williston, the rugged R353 leads north through a lonely landscape where history is peppered with outlaws and sheep rustlers, past Sakrivier, Brandvlei and Kenhardt, proceeding to Keimoes, as the Karoo gives way to the red sands of the Kalahari and the lush green stripe of the vegetation along the banks of the Orange River. 

The banks are lined with beautiful campsites begging for a lazy week with a fishing rod in hand. Khamkirri is always a favourite hideaway, with its grassy pitches and canvas suites, but if it’s your first time in this neck of the woods, you need at least a few nights in the Augrabies Falls National Park. 

The indigenous Khoi people called this place Aukoerebis (a place of great noise), and the falls, formed as the Orange River forces its way down a narrow granite gorge, are thunderous in their rush towards the Atlantic Ocean. 

The magnificent Augrabies Falls National Park. 

The large rest camp of comfortable self-catering chalets is set just a short walk from the falls, but the park also offers a range of self-drive routes, with the chance to spot everything from eland to giraffe and a flush of birdlife in the summer months. The adventurous Klipspringer Hiking Trail offers an even more immersive experience, with two nights spent in rustic stone huts deep in the park. It’s a challenging walk and largely self-supported, but a magical few days for those with sturdy legs and a sense of adventure. 

If your taste leans more towards luxury, then look no further than Tswalu Kalahari. This vast conservancy – 114 000 hectares – is the largest private reserve in South Africa and a shining example of returning farmland to wilderness. There are a handful of accommodation options, but the standout is the brand-new Loapi Tented Homes, where you’ll enjoy an exclusive, immersive time in the wilderness. A stay at the camp is not cheap, but with remarkable wildlife sightings and the chance to get up close to habituated meerkat colonies, it’s undoubtedly a stay for the bucket list. 

From Tswalu your road heads south through the historic streets of Kuruman, once home to the famous Moffat Mission Station, and then towards Kimberley, Hopetown and the holiday village of Vanderkloof. Fans of Deon Meyer will recall its role in his pandemic novel Fever, but today it’s a perfect bolt-hole for getaway by the waterside. 

It’s also just a few hours’ drive from Hanover and one of the Karoo’s most remarkable conservation projects, the Khoisan Karoo Conservancy. Here PC Ferreira is passionate about balancing sustainable farming with rewilding swathes of the Karoo. While night drives reveal the spring hares, Cape foxes and porcupines that thrive here, his most ambitious – perhaps audacious – project is reintroducing hippos to the waters of the Seekoei River. It’s a long and colourful tale, best told as you bounce along the farm roads in PC’s trusty Land Cruiser. 

The Karoo Padstal outside Richmond.

From Hanover, there’s one last unmissable stop on your Northern Cape circuit: the Karoo Padstal outside Richmond. Enjoy home bakes, local venison and the best bobotie pies the Northern Cape has to offer. It’s the perfect kos for a province with plenty of pad to explore. 

Bucket list girls’ road trips

What better way to enjoy the great outdoors this Women’s Month, than a ladies weekend away or a family getaway. Actress Ilse Klink and jewellery designer Katherine-Mary Pichulik share their bucket list road trips.