The Augrabies Falls National Park was established to protect the Augrabies Falls, which rush through the largest granite gorge in the world. 'Aukoerebies' means 'the place of the Great Noise' in the Khoi language. The Orange River is the Augrabies National Park's focal point, flowing first over a series of rapids, then through a narrow gorge before dropping 56m over the main waterfall. This is, without doubt, one of the most spectacular scenic sights in South Africa, and is particularly impressive when the river is high. The lesser expansive yet considerably higher Bridal Veil waterfall, which you will find on the northern wall of the gorge, falls 75m down into the river.
At the main complex near the entrance to the park is a shop, restaurant, and bar. Various pathways depart from this area and lead down to the falls. Visitors can also explore the 39km Klipspringer Trail in the southern section of the Augrabies National Park, which affords superb views of the gorge and surrounding desert. Trips down river in a rubber dinghy and tours of the park's northern section (where black rhino may be seen) are also on offer.
In what seems to be one of the most uninhabitable places on the planet, the ancestors of the modern world made their living along the waters of the Orange River for thousands of years since the Stone Age. Their descendants, the Nama people, still reside in the area. Over the years,they have adapted to weather all sorts of changes, and acquainting yourself with their story is well worth the time.
Within the wide open spaces and the rugged rocky formations of the Nama Karoo, the Orange River and its fresh waters are set in stark contrast to the harsh climate and environment. The water carries the important message of life from its source in the Drakensberg in the east, through the wilderness of the Kalahari to the Augrabies Falls.
It is impossible to imagine anything growing in this semi-desert, rocky environment, but various plants have admirably stood up in defiance to the hardships of the Nama Karoo. The giant aloe is probably the most renowned; standing up to 5 meters tall, it is truly a sight for sore eyes. In summer, these trees reach the epitome of their boldness as bird and beast enjoy the sweet nectar of their fruit.
The Augrabies National Park is situated in a remote area of the Northern Cape, therefore your journey to the park will always first start at either OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg, or Cape Town International Airport, where you will fly domestically to Upington Airport conveniently situated 120km from the park.
At African Sky, we understand that your time in South Africa is limited. The 10-11 hour drive from our major airports through the Karoo is a daunting experience for any traveler. That is why we ensure that your guided, private, air-conditioned vehicle is waiting for you at Upington Airport, a mere hour and a half from your final destination.
The park is located in a semi-arid region. During the winter season from the end of May to the start of September, the area is bereft of rain and the evenings are frosty and cold. The summer season is characterized by extremely high temperatures and occasional rainstorms, often branded with lightning and thunder.
Although the vegetation is in full bloom and the animals nurture their young during the wet, summer season, it is best to visit the Augrabies National Park between March and May. After the summer rainfall, the river flows at its maximum aptitude and the temperature also drops slightly to provide some reprieve from the heat of the day.
The Augrabies Waterfall was named in 1799. It is derived from the Nama word “Aukoerebies”, which translates to the “Place of Great Noise” - perfectly named after the deafening sound of the water rushing through the gorge and cascading down the 56m drop Adapting to the harsh conditions seems impossible, and yet people have been living here for thousands of years, dating back as far as the Early Stone Age. Evidence has been found indicating the development of weapons, working tools and even primitive graves. Augrabies is home to one of the oldest population of humans on earth.
Today, the local people are referred to as the Nama tribe. Their traditional houses may be seen along the dotted plains, and are a true testament to their ingenious adaption to the severe climate. The rounded huts, locally called ‘matjieshuise’ (which translates to ‘mat houses’) are made from the stems and stalks of local plants. During the summer they provide much needed shade, and the gaps allow the wind to pass through. During the winter the stems expand, filling all the gaps to keep the warmth inside. The Augrabies and its surroundings are a place where history comes alive, and you can feel yourself being transported to a time lost to modern culture.
Even though the Augrabies is most popular for its spectacular scenic views set among grandiose geological formations and the infamous waterfall, there are many living creatures that call it home. The park is particularly well-known for its birdlife, with over 280 species recorded, and it is set in the breeding grounds of the black stork and Verreaux's black eagle. Other birds include Ludwig’s bustard, pygmy falcon, brown-throated martin, the Karoo long-billed lark, African fish eagle, pale chanting goshawk, rosy-faced lovebird, Karoo chat and fairy flycatcher. One can also find an isolated population of the double-banded sand grouse.
The rock hyraxes are a common sight in the area, and may be seen lounging on the rock faces during the day. Klipspringers, giraffe, eland, steenbok, springbok, gemsbok and kudu are amongst the antelope that can be found in the park, as well as the threatened Hartmann’s mountain zebra - the smallest of its kind. One should also be on the lookout for snakes and reptiles, such as the Broadley’s flat lizard that is endemic to the area. At night, when the temperatures drop, the aardwolf, bat eared fox, African wild cat, spotted genet and black footed cat come out to hunt. If you are very lucky you might even see the elusive leopard.
The Nama Karoo biome is the second largest of the South African biomes and, contrary to popular belief, it is a species-rich desert vegetation type of which only 1.5 % is under formal conservation. The Augrabies Falls National Park conservation constitutes 1% of this 1.5%. The scenic views are some of the best in the country: granite boulders strewn amongst the open veld, shrub-lands speckled with giant aloes and immense gorges that accompany the shimmering waters of the Orange River make for an incredible sight.
Despite the harsh conditions, various plants have admirably stood up in defiance to the hardships of the Nama Karoo, with nearly 70 species of grass, shrubs, herbs and trees that can be found. The giant aloe is probably the most renowned; standing up to 5 meters tall, it plays a critical part in the eco-system, providing vital sugars through its flowers to the various animals and insects during the summer. The camel thorn, sweet thorn, shepherd’s tree and Namaqua fig are also commonly found in the area, and construct striking silhouetted figures against the backdrop of the arid environment, which is especially beautiful to behold when the sun sets.
When visiting Augrabies, there are a myriad panoramic viewpoints that one can visit which include the Augrabies Waterfall, Echo Corner, Moon Rock, Oranjekrom & Ararat, Swart Rante and Arrow Point. The park is also renowned for its birding, and it's at the Oranjekrom & Ararat viewpoint that you can look for the Verreaux's (black) eagle preying on the rock hyraxes commonly known as ‘dassies’. Game and bird viewing drives can also be arranged, and are especially popular at night when the predators come out to hunt and it is cooler outside. There are also various hiking, walking and biking trails available.
The park swimming pools are available during the heat of day, and visitors are welcome to take a refreshing dip to cool off and relax. Adventure activities are also available, such as hot air ballooning and canoeing, and can be arranged at your request. It is very important to remember that this area can become extremely warm. If you are planning on being outside, be sure to drink enough water and reapply sunscreen throughout the day, and remember your hat.
When exploring Augrabies National Park on the edge of the Kalahari, you will be able to savor both the solitude of this remote region as well as the deafening roar of the Falls themselves. Relish uninterrupted views in this uncrowded corner of the world.
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