Take a landscape from a Martian ideal and garnish it with some of the most outlandish plants, then draw the flow path of a meandering river through the area and place it in a hostile environment with little water - and leave it to adapt.
There is place in the Northern Cape Province of South Africa, on the border with Namibia, where you can be forgiven for thinking you are on the film set of a science fiction movie about a distant planet in our solar system, so unique is the landscape and flora. For it is here, in the Richtersveld, where volcanic mountains rise from the desert landscape in jagged crags of rock, and where sandy plains host a diversity of lichens and other strange vegetation.
Traversed by the Orange River, also known as the Gariep which means Great River in the Nama tongue, the Richertsveld region ranges from just over 50 meters to 1377 meters above sea level and this alone ensures a diversity of living things.
The Nama people have lived in the region for generations and today they have been granted patronage of the area through the land claims policy of the present South African government. Very closely tied to their land the Nama have continued on a policy of conservation practises which sees a national park and a community conservation area, now a World Heritage Site, taking up a large portion of the area under their control.
Traditionally a nomadic people the Nama of today still move their livestock with the seasons, the only place in South Africa where pastoral people still practice their livelihoods on communal land. This rotation between the seasons saves the land from over usage and ensures the survival of the plants and livestock.
So fascinating and unique, and in relatively pristine shape, is the natural history of the Richtersveld that the community area has been declared a World Heritage Site for it diversity. With three biomes of the arid north, Desert, Succulent Karoo and Fynbos, the Richtersveld is truly a natural wonder that needs protection. The Richtersveld also has more succulent species than anywhere else on earth.
Parts of the region, and in particular the National Park, carry the scars of mining activity but these are in the process of being rehabilitated to their original state to fit in with the conservation ethics of World Heritage status.
The Richtersveld has something for everybody with activities ranging from nature walks to canoeing on the Orange River, with visits to ancient San engravings providing a fascinating insight into the people who once roamed the area. Accommodation facilities are also varied, from rustic camping to rest camps and guest lodges with en-suite facilities.
The Richtersveld is fast becoming a favourite for travellers and ecologists alike and a 'must see' destination. Considered the only Arid Biodiversity Hotspot on earth with its wealth of plants, it should be on the top of all travel destinations.