Northern Cape Road Trip Itinerary: Calvinia, Augrabies, Kgalagadi
On Friday 14th of August, 140 days after the start of lockdown, it was announced by the President that we would be allowed to travel inter provincially again. My husband and I knew exactly where we wanted to go- by Monday we had all of our accommodation booked and by Friday we were on the road! We didn’t want to waste any time and risk the chance of lockdown restrictions being tightened back up again! This would be our first holiday of the year and we were excited to see a new part of the country after so many months of lockdown. The northern Cape, but in particular the Kgalagadi Transfonteir Park, had been at the top of our South Africa bucket list for a while. We spent the majority of our time around Augrabies and Kgalagadi; these are some of the most underrated and untouched areas in the country meaning you get to go off the beaten track, avoid the crowds and see raw natural beauty. My idea of heaven!
Day 1: Let the road trip commence!
Leave Cape Town nice and early. We hit the road, with our very fully packed car, just before sunrise! After a scenic drive through the southern part of the Cederberg you arrive in the quaint town of Clanwilliam. In the base of the Olifants River valley, it is one of the ten oldest towns in South Africa with its beginnings dating back to 1660. I recommend finding the Rooibos Tea House where they offer a Rooibos tea tasting experience and have a selection of delicious home made cakes to choose from. Relax in their garden surrounded by orange trees and mountain views. The Ramskop Nature reserve is just down the road and is the perfect spot for a picnic. It has great views over the dam and filled with pretty flowers. Continue your drive up and over the impressive Pakhuis Pass where tall red rock formations line the road and impressive canyons carve through the mountains. The road then drops down into the Biedouw Valley, where, if you go at the right time of year, (August/Septemeber) you will get stunning views of the spring flowers in bloom. We were lucky enough to see fields of multicoloured flowers, so dense that it almost looked like they had been coloured in!
The remainder of the drive to Calvinia is mostly on gravel roads, so leave enough time so you get to Calvinia before restaurants close for the night. Spend you evening exploring Calvinia and treat yourself to a meal out at the Blou Nartjie- you won’t be disappointed! There is a lot of different accommodation to choose from, but I can highly recommend African Dawn B&B. The host was super helpful and cooked us a wonderful breakfast in the morning.
Tip= Make a booking for the Blou Nartjie, it is popular and can get very busy.
Day 2: Karoo to Kalahari
Make sure your your car is all fuelled up and you have food and water for the day. Hit the R27 and get ready for a day of driving through ‘wild west’ country! Enjoy the empty roads and take in the vast, arid landscapes and craggy mountain ridges of the Karoo. We could go almost an hour at a time without seeing another car on the road or passing through a settlement!
Tip= Stop at the Kakamas Pienk Farmstall. Try their homemade ginger beer and apple pie!
We chose to stay at Khamkirri and we loved it there. Our little wooden chalet overlooked the orange river which was a vibrant oasis compared to the dusty landscape we’d seen all day. After a long hot day in the car, treat yourself to a refreshing dip in the river. It’s pretty chilly, but so refreshing!
End the day by enjoy an amazing African sunset.
Day 3: Waterfalls and dassies
It’s time to explore the Augrabies Falls National Park! Pack a picnic, don’t forget your camera and put on some comfortable hiking boots. Make sure you get to the park nice and early to beat the crowds. Start the day at the main falls. Stroll along the board walks to the different view points and enjoy watching the river below you.
If you're feeling energetic and wish to see more of the park by foot, the Dassie nature trail is a must do. A 5km hike that takes you high above the canyons, through sandstone formations and along streams. Beautiful!
Go past Twin Falls and Moonrock view points. cool down in the river. Jump in the car to see a few more view points before leaving. Ararat and Echo Corner both both give impressive views of the canyon.
Day 4: Continue north
Leave the greenness of Augrabies behind and continue north to Askham. Stop in Upington for a BIG shop. You can buy a few necessities in Kgalagadi, but it is much easier and cheaper to make sure you have most of your food beforehand.
We stayed at Molopo Kalahari lodge which is only a short 30 minuet drive from the Gate at Two Rivers- the entrance of Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park.
Day 5: Safari time!
Leave early and get to Kgalagadi (Two Rivers) gate at opening time. Make sure you have all of your bookings handy and it will make the process a lot faster. You then have the rest of the day to enjoy driving through the park to Nossob camp (182km). It is approximately a 3 1/2 hour drive straight through, so there is no need to rush. Take your time and stop for lunch at one of the picnic spots for a leg stretch.
Tip= A lot of our trip was off road- either on gravel or sand single tracks, so a 4X4 would be preferable.
Day 6: Nossob
Spend the day exploring the roads around Nossob.
Nossob is known as being a great location to spot lions. We had our best sighting of the trip nearby! A male Kalahari black-maned lion right by the side of the road. We were lucky enough to be the only people watching him for almost half an hour! He was so relaxed and didn't seem at all bothered that we were just watching him.
Day 7: Nossob to Mata Mata
Make the drive across the park (170km) to Mata Mata.
We stayed at the Kalahari Tented Camps just a few kilometres from the bigger camp at Mata Mata. This was my favourite place in Kgalagadi. Situated high up o the red dunes, our tent overlooked a waterhole in the dry bed of the Auob River. We spent hours just watching the animals from the balcony. And with no light pollution, the starry skies at nigh were a real treat.
Day 8: Mata-Mata
Enjoy your last full day in the park. Take in all those views and snap any pictures you want for memories!
Day 9: Mata Mata to Two Rivers
Try and leave the park by 3pm and start you drive back down south. This makes the final day of driving more manageable. Book an overnight stop in Upington. We stayed at the Kalahari Lion’s Rest where we enjoyed dinner out at Bi-Lo Bistro and relaxing evening in the room.
Day 10: Home time
Pack up your car and start your long drive back to Cape Town! If you want to extend the trip then you can add an extra day to almost any spot on this itinerary. If I was to do it again I would spend more time at in the Cederberg or Augrabies, both of which have so many beautiful hiking trails to explore.
That’s it! Another South African road trip to add to your list. This country blew me away, yet again, with its stunning scenery and abundance of natural beauty. This road trip took in such diverse landscapes from the luscious green banks of the orange river to the rolling red dunes of the Kalahari desert. The Northern Cape is a hidden gem in a beautiful country and I couldn’t recommend it enough.
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