This arid landscape – resplendent with ochre dunes, Van Gogh fields of flowers during spring and quiver trees skylines – makes the town of Augrabies (and Marchand next door) a must-see. But as the old Afrikaans saying goes, a trip here will be for the collar rather than the dog.
It is the landscape surrounding the dusty selection of houses and shops that draws the visitors, who come here for the lunar rock formations, weird flora and expansive skies. The dorp itself borders the eponymous national park, which means that tourists seldom stop here, but rather head straight into the arid swathe of wilderness beckoning 10km beyond the town.
Established as a conservation area in 1966, the centrepiece of the park undoubtedly remains the impressive Augrabies Falls, and even the locals will agree that this grand natural spectacle offers way more on the wow-scale than anything in their main street. Below the falls, a colossal gorge gashes for a good 18km through the granite-gneiss bedrock.
Augrabies lies north of Kakamas upon the very edge of the Kalahari Desert, an endless sand basin stretching all the way from the Gariep River to Angola. Most uncharacteristically, the town itself is surrounded by flourishing orchards and vineyards, with most of the inhabitants working at Orange River Wine Cellars, (the second-largest co-operative wine cellar in the world).
On your bike
Mount up and get spaced out in a place where kokerbome and lunar rockscapes rear up from plains as old as the continent itself. This is Planet Aukoerebis, but, even though this means ‘Place of Great Noise’ in Khoi, chances are you’ll hear little else besides the slash of gravel below your bike tyres.
Crank off from Main Camp along this undulating dirt ride, taking care when pedalling across the low-water crossing just over a kilometre out of camp as it is covered in a generous slather of slippery moss! A few gentle climbs will bring you to the turn-off to Moon Rock – turn right to explore this magnificent magma mound shrugging up from the arid scrub.
Scan the camelthorn gullies for kudu and eland, pedalling back to the main road and on to the Ararat viewpoint. Don’t miss this: a slip-n-slide dirt chute bangs you down onto the precipitous edge of the Augrabies Gorge, from where an end-of-the-world view lurches along the chaotic rock canyon. The return climb links you onto a dogleg right towards Oranjekom for a swashbuckling free-ride and another spectacular panorama –take a breather, take in the view and revel in the hard rock splendour of this amazing place.
Once you’re back on the main road, turn right and spin along for 2.3km – here the road forks left towards the Fonteintjie Lookout and right towards Echo Corner. Do the Fonteintjie Lookout first, cruising the sandy flats to fully synch into desert mode. Then it’s onto the piece de resistance; the rollicking ruckus of a run down into Echo Corner. Howl to your heart’s content into the vastness of the surrounding plutonic rock or tune into the immense sounds of silence. By now, the sun will be well into the big noon-day burn, so heed the call of the swimming pool and head back to camp.
Off the bike
Here the mighty !Xhariep (Orange) River is at its most impressive as it thunders through a ravine and into a pool walled by sheer granite, creating the world’s sixth largest waterfall. Your options are myriad: shoot ‘Big Bunny’ and the ‘Chicken Run’ on a raft, do the Klipspringer Hiking Trail, or opt for a horse or camel ride à la Lawrence of Arabia.
A major attraction in Augrabies Falls National Park is the Gariep 3-in-1 Adventure featuring a combination of gravel road biking, gorge canoeing and desert hiking. Also on the outdoor to-do list: the Aukoerebis 4×4 Eco-Trail and the 3 day/2 night Klipspringer Hiking Trail, game-viewing, superb birding and a number of day hikes. River rafting and flat-water canoeing may be arranged through the Kalahari Adventure Centre while the town of Kakamas is famed for its dried fruit. To book accommodation within the park, contact SANPARKS Reservations of +27 (0)12 343 1991.
Route information: Augrabies Falls National Park
Telephone: +27 54 452 9205
GPS: 28°35’35.6” South / 20°20’14.7” East