If there's one thing I learnt from a recent road trip through the Northern Cape, it's that I know nearly nothing about this amazing country we live in.
I know the grandeur of the Western Cape's mountains, and the vastness of the Central Karoo. I know the hospitality of South Africans all over, but I have to admit that I've forgotten how diverse and incredible South Africa is.
Like in the Northern Cape, where everything is barren and deserted… and then the Great Orange River bursts through the moon-like landscape creating an oasis where it seemed as if only rocks could survive.
The river creates an oasis, an artery flowing from Kimberley, where the Orange meets with its main tributary, the Vaal River, right through the arid wilderness of the southern Kalahari region and Namaqualand and finally, to where it empties into the Atlantic Ocean at Alexander Bay.
The Green Kalahari extends for hundreds of kilometres along this ‘Gariep’, forming an oasis of unspoilt nature reserves, wine farms and of course, the majestic Augrabies Falls.
As refreshing as the water is to the landscape, the hospitality of the people is to travellers and newcomers. Locals welcome you like long-lost family, inviting you to their homes and tables after church on Sundays.
Apart from the warm hospitality from locals, here are a few iconic Green Kalahari experiences we’ll cherish forever…
Feel the Falls!
The Augrabies Falls National Park is naturally a must-see in the Green Kalahari. Even in low-water, the mighty river’s 60-metre-fall down into a gorge 240m deep and 18km long is something to behold.
A place of extreme temperatures, the Augrabies Falls National Park is also known for its iconic quiver trees, and hosts uniquely adapted animals such as mongoose, dassie, and the Cape clawless otter.
If you’re after real Kalahari adventure, rowing and canoeing comes highly recommended in the hot summer season. In winter, you can opt for a three-day guided hike right though the Augrabies, sleeping under the stars and exploring the moon-like landscape on foot.
Eat SA’s ‘white gold’
As a patriotic South African foodie, I've always envied the Italians for their claim to that world-renowned white gold - truffles.
That was before I came to know - and eat - a real Kalahari truffle! It's traditionally called a !Naba - a tender and very pungent bulb that's found growing in the Kalahari Desert.
Referred to as "manna from the heavens", as well as "the desert truffle", the !Naba has smooth potato-like texture. They grow close to the surface of the red soil of the area, and are (luckily) visible to the trained eye of truffle collectors.
When we visited the Green Kalahari, the desert surrounding the Orange River in the Northern Cape, this little sand potato even had its own, dedicated festival - the !Naba Food & Wine Festival. But luckily, you don't have to go to the !Naba Food Festival to enjoy the iconic Kalahari !Naba.
No doubt !Naba and !Naba products will again be available at the Kalahari Kuierfees, held in Upington from 3 to 5 November this year.
Other iconic fruits of the area are sultanas, which are grown right on the fertile Orange River banks.
TOP TIP: These make for the perfect local (and healthy) road trip snacks!
Learn the secrets of the Kalahari at African Vineyard
At African Vineyard, you get to experience the Green Kalahari right from its heart – an island in the Orange River. Kanoneiland or Cannon Island is the largest island in the Orange River and the largest inhabited island in South Africa. It is 14km long and 3km at it widest point, covering an area of 2 553 hectares where the fertile alluvial soil and ready waters of the river are used for the cultivation of sultana grapes, lucerne, pecan nuts and even cotton.
But all this commotion is a world away at African Vineyard. The retreat is also home to a Kalahari Lifestyle spa, where sand and traditional beauty treatments are used to enable guests to enable the environment.
It’s the perfect combination of South African hospitality, laid-back farm living and luxury.
Sleep next to the Falls
Want to become one with the incredible surrounding? Check in at Augrabies National Park’s self-catering chalets, right on the banks at the Augrabies Falls.
While camping under the stars in the Augrabies is a great adventure in summer, it might be a little too cold to bear in winter.
Luckily the chalets in the park are the best and closest spots to rest your head next to the rumbling falls.
If you’re driving a self-sustained camping vehicle, the campsite in the park has electrical outlets and everything else camping dreams are made of. And on top of that, waking up early in the cold to watch the sun rise over the waterfall will certainly goes down in your book of ‘memories to cherish forever’.
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*Disclaimer: Traveller24 Content Producer Louzel Lombard's road trip was sponsored by Arid National Park.