Thousands of visitors flock to Namaqua National Park every year to experience the breath-taking sights of flower carpets that dominate the landscape. But even if you’re not the biggest floral enthusiast, the park boasts numerous amazing experiences all year round.
History fundis, marine enthusiasts, beach-lovers and 4×4 fanatics alike – Here’s what to do in Namaqua National Park:
Leopards and sunsets
The South African safari scene is best summed up in those snapshots of the majestic sunset over the wilderness. Bring your voyeurism to life while on a drive along the Koeroebees Road, and (as long as you don’t forget the camera) immortalise the dusky glow of the escarpment and distant sea.
For the very fortunate and very patient, a drive around Luiperdskloof (which requires a Caracal Eco Route permit) may yield a glimpse of that most regal of African cats. Don’t rush while leopard spotting – the key is in your endurance, although waiting in a flower-sprinkled plateau won’t exactly be difficult. A 4×4 is recommended when heading towards Luiperdskloof and the central and southern sections of the park.
Ancient caves, camping and birding
There are few places left in the world that remain relatively untouched by human development, but the Groen and Spoeg Rivers’ endless stretches of rocky shores and white sand are some of the most beautiful. Waterside splendour doesn’t stop at the twinkle of sunlight on the ripples; wader and flamingo sightings are typical and certainly one of the highlights of the day.
If you’re the history buff of your group, the Spoeg River Caves are a must-visit; you can’t miss out on viewing shell middens from 1,900 years ago, which demonstrates the presence of hunter-gatherers in the area in 100AD.
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After dragging your park companions (who now hopefully appreciate some historical teachings) along to an archaeology seminar, unwind at one of the nine rustic camping spots along the coast, such as Boulder Bay near the seal colony, or Groen River Mouth at the southern tip of the park.
Hiking and history
If you haven’t quite had your fill of educational enjoyment but are also being goaded by your company to do something a touch more action-packed, the Korhaan and Skilpad walking trails are the perfect compromises.
Temporarily leave the ocean views of the Skilpad chalet and get up close and personal with birds, smaller animals and invertebrates while getting some laidback exercise.
Those branded the group ‘nerds’ will certainly pause along the Korhaan trail’s set of old graves, resting places of the Van Wyk family, who once farmed the area now known as Skilpad in the late 1800s.
Watch out for dassie colonies on the rocky outcrops, and trail along as the day wears on. And take the time to visit the padstal on the neighbouring farm near reception for a snack, refreshing drink and a welcome respite.
Seals and dune fields
No visit to the coast would be complete without viewing some of the local marine life, and Namaqua National Park’s heaving, barking seal colony doesn’t disappoint. Thousands of Cape fur seals, from small pups to males weighing up to 360kg, can all be seen basking in the sun and wading in the waters off the beach.
If you think you know how to relax properly, you haven’t seen a corpulent marine mammal lounge on a rock drying off its wet fur. For some additional wildlife enjoyment, keep an eye out for the breeding Cape Cormorants, which share their perch with the seals.
Leaving the coast (temporarily, because you’re sure to be back), travel to the central western part of the park to visit the Bitter River Dunes. An active dune system of almost 20km, this adventurous area is also a haven for breeding pairs of ostriches.
Wildlife, marine life and geographical wonders
After watching ostriches strut about the sand, make your way to the 21km Horizon Circle Route. Here, visitors are treated with views of the inland coastal plains which are frequented by game, a tour of the ruins of an old farmhouse, and a glimpse at Maclear’s Beacon, which was used in the 1800s to measure the curvature of the earth.
While driving along this coastal route, keep an eye out for Heaviside’s dolphins, which are endemic to the southern African west coast and some of the most coveted seaside sights. Along the Groen River Section, the estuary and lighthouse are excellent spots for birdwatching, photography and hiking (keep an eye out for pelicans!).
From wildlife to the coastal attractions – or even just the sound of silence – there is something for everyone at Namaqua National Park at any given time of year.
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