South Africa’s Northern Cape possesses beauty in the form of vast arid terrains, abundant wildlife and blossoming desert landscapes. Scattered around the province are several historic and beguiling towns however, it is best known for its natural attractions. The Northern Cape is South Africa’s biggest, yet most sparsely populated province and sits in the country’s westernmost region.
A good place to start is Kimberley, the provincial capital and principal site of South Africa’s 19th-century diamond rush. The Big Hole is a 705-foot-deep (215-meter) manmade open mine. See displays of mining artifacts at the Museum of the Big Hole. Learn about indigenous cultures at the city’s galleries or drink a beer at the Halfway House Inn, one of the world’s oldest-surviving drive-in pubs.
Visit mission stations in Kuruman and then investigate the Eye, a huge natural fountain. Travel west to the frontier town of Upington, home to picturesque wineries along the Orange River. Hike to scenic viewpoints, gaze down at thundering waterfalls or join a white-water rafting trip in Augrabies Falls National Park.
Explore small fishing and diamond-mining villages, such as Alexander Bay and Kleinzee, along the province’s wild and less-traveled coastline. Visit Namaqua National Park in spring to observe the barren desert lands turning into a multicolored carpet of flowers. Jagged mountain ranges present awe-inspiring sights from a jeep safari in Richtersveld National Park.
Go in search of South Africa’s famous wildlife at the province’s nature reserves. Spot flamingos at Kamfers Dam. See Africa’s smallest cat, the black-footed cat, and other nocturnal animals at Bloemfontein Nature Reserve. Look for black-maned lions and gemsbok at the Kgalagadi Tansfrontier Park, which straddles the South Africa-Botswana border.
Reach the Northern Cape by first flying to either Cape Town’s or Johannesburg’s international airport. Since distances between the province’s destinations are long, many people rent a car or join organized overland tours. The Northern Cape is also a gateway into the desert wilderness of Namibia and Botswana’s spectacular Okavango Delta.