More rugged than the Kruger, the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park offers good game-viewing in a more remote area. Other popular sight in the Northern Cape include Namaqualand, famous for its annual floral display in which visitors are presented with a carpet of wild flowers all shades of the rainbow, Kimberley and its Big Hole, the quiet Karoo and the Augrabies Falls thundering down 60 metres from the Orange River.
The portion of the great Kalahari desert that lies in the Northern Cape is but part of a large arid to semi-arid sandy area known as the Kalahari Basin, covering 2.5 million square kilometres that stretch from the Orange River to cover most of Botswana and parts of Namibia. It evokes a picture of never ending red sand dunes, big, blue skies and a scorching sun that shimmers unrelentingly on ancient dry riverbeds, known as omuramba.
The Kalahari, derived from the Tswana Kgala, which means ‘great thirst’ or ‘waterless place’ is a vast area of red sand dunes, the southern part of which dominates the Northern Cape. Yet set along the border with the North West province are the mostly unfamiliar mining towns and villages of Black Rock, Dibeng, Kathu, Van Zylsrus, Hotazel, Dingleton, Olifantshoek and Kuruman. The Kalahari is both deceptive and alluring. Deceptive because beneath the surface of apparent desert lies an incredible wealth of iron, manganese and other precious ores, which explains the mining towns, and alluring for visitors because of the many game farms and nature reserves to which the Kalahari is home.
Despite the wilderness, the Kalahari is not true desert in the sense of being unable to support life. Parts of the Kalahari receive as much as 250 millimetres of rainfall, albeit erratically, throughout the year, and grasses and acacias easily support large species of antelope, hyenas, lions, meerkats, giraffe, warthogs and jackals.
Tswalu is the place to stay when visiting the Kalahari: