Straddling the border between South Africa and Namibia, the Ai-Ais Richtersveld Transfrontier Park is rich in plant and animal species that are all carefully adapted to survive in a seemingly barren desert landscape.
The national park is located in the Northern Cape Province, off of the N7, 326 kilometres (202.1 miles) from Springbok. The quickest route to the nature reserve is to travel along the N7, turning off at Steinkopf, approaching via Port Nolloth and Alexander Bay. The final 80 kilometres (49.6 miles) of the journey are on a dirt road. An alternative route, and one that provides a boarder perspective of the park is to travel along the road from Vioolsdrift to Eksteenfontein via Kotzehoop and then on to Sendelings drift.
The roads within the reserve are made up of rough mountain passes and deep sanded river beds and visitors are advised to consider always travelling in convoy. Any visitors travelling alone are asked to sign an agreement to report in to the park reception headquarters when they leave the reserve.
Cape Town International Airport is the closest international airport to the reserve and is located 841 kilometres (521.42 miles) from the nature park. Windhoek Hosea Kutako International Airport is located 971 kilometres (602 miles) from the national park, straight down the B1 national road.
The Ai Ais Richtersveld Transfronteir National Park offers spectacular desert scenery that is rich in diverse arid-area adapted plant life. On the Namibian side of the reserve visitors will be able to visit the Fish River Canyon, a breath-taking gigantic chasm gorged out of the Earth that stretches for 100 kilometres (62 miles) and is 27 kilometres (16.7 miles) wide. The Fish River Canyon is the second largest canyon in the world, the largest canyon in Africa, and is the second most visited tourist attraction in Namibia, after the Etosha National Park.
The national park offers over 200 kilometres (124 miles) of rough terrain, high clearance vehicle required roads and 4X4 adventure lovers will be in their element exploring the internal road network. There are also a number of Mountain Bike trails available and hikers can explore the reserve on foot, staying in the overnight facilities provided. Guides are available to lead hikers along one of the 2, 3 or 4 day trails. These trails are only accessible between April and September. The 5 day hike through the Fish River Canyon, ending at the Ai Ais hot springs is a highly recommended activity, as is a long soak in the hot springs, found at the Ai Ais camp, afterwards.
Most years between June and October after good rainfall, the reserves landscape is transformed into a world of floral splendour during the flowering season. The area is also home to over 212 species of birds including arid-area specials and birds that have adapted to the dry conditions. The area along the Orange River is a popular location for bird-watchers.
An enjoyable excursion is a trip on the old pont, (last in service in 1988) that has been restored and offers a unique way of crossing the Orange River on the South Africa to Namibian border.
There are a number of Ai-Ais Richtersveld Transfrontier accommodations options available for those wanting to spend a few nights in the national park. At the Sendelings drift headquarters to the reserve one will find 10 fully equipped self-catering units while at the Tatasberg and Gannakouriep Wilderness Camps guests stay in one of the 4 chalets each offers. There are also a number of rustic camping sites at different locations.
The harsh landscape found here can be slightly jarring when you first arrive in the nature reserve, but after a few hours one becomes accustomed to the dry sands and arid surroundings and starts to take in the natural beauty of the superb scenery all around you. The Orange River cuts through the centre of the reserve, creating a green oasis that is stark contrast to the surrounding landscape. The area is not a destination of substantial game viewing, however if you spend some time and pay attention to the species that are found here, the experience can be highly rewarding.
The mountain desert has very low rainfall with annual averages ranging from 45mm to 200 mm, mostly on the high mountain reaches. The west gets more rainfall during the winter months, while the east experiences most of its rainfall in summer. The reserve is known for its extreme temperatures with frost occurring in the cold winter months and summer temperatures occasionally exceeding 50°C (122°F) in the shade. Strong south and south-west also winds frequently blow.
There is extreme heat during the summer months and visitors are advised to always carry sufficient water with them, especially when hiking. The rough terrain and poorly maintained desert roads mean that visitors are advised to always carry a spare tyre with them and where possible always travel in convoy. There are a number of Scorpion species found in the reserve and visitors, especially hikers are advised to always wear closed shoes and to check their shoes prior to putting them on.
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