An index of the Northern Cape series appears at the first post.
July 5, 2016
We awoke this morning with a sense of purpose; today we would visit Augrabies Falls, the highlight of this vacation! We packed our hiking bags with bottles of water, and Natasha assembled some yummy cheese and onion muffins with bacon. Once the Overlook staff unlocked the main gate, we began our drive west on the N14. Within an hour we had reached Kakamas, and we started up the smaller highway to the falls. Here’s the tale of our amazing hike at this wonderful place!
Augrabies Falls are in an unlikely place. The Northern Cape is a particularly arid region, and there’s very little hint of open water until one reaches the Orange River. At Augrabies (pronounced “Oh-hra-bees,” from a Nama word meaning “Place of great noise“), the Orange River has cut a tall channel out of solid rock, plummeting as it heads westward to the Atlantic Ocean. It’s the tallest cataract in South Africa! When a flood hits, as happened in 1988 or in 2011, the volume can cause multiple new channels to appear, to spectacular effect.
We arrived at Augrabies around 10 AM. We used our new “Wild Card” passes to enter the park, and we parked at the rest center soon thereafter. At the reception desk, we received our “exit pass” (presumably one cannot leave without one) and our maps, which were poor mimeographs. In no time at all, we were ready to go.
The falls themselves are easily visited from the rest center. A short walk of a quarter kilometer put us at the first of five observation decks. The view is really stunning, especially if you have been in South Africa long enough to become accustomed to seeing little open water. The main channel is just the highlight; other areas near the falls show sign of significant water movement, such as the big sinkholes around which the path guides visitors.
The range of observation decks lets visitors see Augrabies from different perspectives. The visitors must also be ready to be observed by different creatures. As we walked to the viewing platform, we became aware that we were being watched warily by two dassies (rock hyraxes) who were warming their bellies on the rocks.
As we took in the view, a rainbow-colored Broadley’s flat lizard came to investigate us. One tried to distract us from the rocks, while the other two crept toward us along the railing.
Our goal for the day was not limited to seeing the falls. Our plan was to take a hike on the Dassie Trail (5 km). To get there, we needed to cross the camping area adjoining the rest center. As we walked through it, though, we spotted some mischievous vervet monkeys playing chase.
The Dassie Trail was pretty easy to follow; small green signs with a dassie silhouette alternated with white painted dots and arrows. The path itself, though, was frequently a challenge. The path led along the gorge carved by the Orange River, at first, but then it cut southward through the dry lands adjoining the river. We soon hit a valley that we needed to cross by hopping from boulder to boulder. I felt a bit intimidated by this trail, but I am no rock-climber!
Soon thereafter, we encountered a small klipspringer (“rock-jumper”), placidly eating flowers. I was happy that I could capture a few photos before she gave a demonstration of her moves. The name is very apt. She was incredibly fast, and her ability to vault to great heights was incredible.
The path was not entirely dry and desert-like, however. We crossed streams in a couple of different places. Generally this involved hopping from rocks to rickety wooden platforms. When our path joined a gravel road, we made our way across water flowing across the road by hopping from brick to brick at one edge of the road.
In connection with the water, I should say that I had a very real struggle with the mosquitoes and midge flies that inhabited this trail. From the time we crossed the first stream to the end of the hike, I carried by own personal nimbus of insects. We talked about several possible reasons that I was attracting so many of them, ranging from my bright colors to the flavor of my sweat, but the fact is that the bugs got under my skin. I was so peeved at one point that I began yelling insults at them: “May you never produce maggots!”
The high point of the hike (quite literally) came at Moon Rock, a pair of massive bald, smooth rocks around two-thirds of the way through the hike. Several parties climbed to the summit to take in a commanding view of the countryside, but we were satisfied with a lower-altitude perspective.
Shortly thereafter, we found a lovely stream crossing the rocks, and we sat down for a snack. Sadly, the bugs continued nibbling on me as I ate. By the time we had returned to the rest station, the bugs had begun to recede. I cheered up considerably to drink a coffee milkshake at the restaurant there.
Natasha and I felt quite cheerful as we drove back to Keimoes. We decided to go shopping at some of the farm stores lining the N14. The first one we visited was Desert Raisin; we acquired banana chips, dried mangoes, and “medjool” dates. At the second, Die Pienk Padstal, we found some presents for friends and some lovely harissa (hot chili pepper paste). We also resolved to take down mosquitoes who had taken residence in our lodge with some “Doom” spray. We acquired that at the Keimoes Spar.
As evening drew near, Natasha and I played several rounds of dominoes. The sun sank to the horizon, and we munched on delicious chicken in harissa with rice and lentils. I have never eaten so well on the road!