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Augrabies Falls National Park — our greatest waterfall is an all-year destination

Augrabies Falls National Park — our greatest waterfall is an all-year destination
Augrabies Falls out of flood season – a masterpiece of rock and water. (Photo: Chris Marais)

The Augrabies Falls National Park is a stony, otherworldly place. When the Orange River is in full flood, the unrelenting roar of the falls can be heard kilometres away.

In the late South African travel writer TV Bulpin’s estimation, there are six great waterfalls in the world. Of these, some are feminine in their natural beauty – the Victoria Falls being “Queen of them all”, with her soft, intensely green, personalised rainforest.

The Augrabies, on the other hand, is “is essentially masculine – ruthless and brutal in a harsh and fearsomely arid landscape”.

Its name is from the Nama word !oukurubes, which means “the noise-making place”. When the Orange River is in full flood, the unrelenting roar of the 56-metre-high Augrabies falls can be heard 40km away.

The Orange River is a fascinating waterway, winding from its source in the moist highlands of the eastern Malutis and Drakensberg mountains through the hot semi-deserts of the Karoo and Kalahari to the icy Atlantic. Nowhere is the river more spectacular than here, in the Augrabies Falls National Park.

Augrabies

Another view of the Augrabies Gorge, part of one of the world’s most remarkable waterfalls. (Photo: Chris Marais)

Augrabies has long intrigued diamond hunters. There are enduring rumours that a fortune in diamonds has washed down the river over aeons, accumulating in the huge and dangerous pool just below the falls. Interestingly enough, an ancient Nama legend has it that a Great Snake lives in this “wonder hole”. It has diamonds in its eye sockets and its powers include a mysterious influence over all who behold it.

When the Augrabies Falls National Park was proclaimed in 1966, it covered a pitifully tiny 3,708 hectares, but it has subsequently grown to nearly 56,000 hectares. 

In recent years, the Orange River has often come down in flood and, especially in mid-summer, the Augrabies Falls in full spate has drawn thousands of overnight and day visitors to its thundering waters cascading down the gorge. But there is so much more to this incredible national treasure.

Klipspringer couple on the aptly-named Klipspringer Drive. Image: Chris Marais

A Klipspringer couple on the aptly named Klipspringer Drive. (Photo: Chris Marais)

The Shepherd tree – you’ll find them all over the Northern Cape. Image: Chris Marais

The Shepherd tree – you’ll find them all over the Northern Cape. (Photo: Chris Marais)

Augrabies

Giraffe encounters on a drive through the park. (Photo: Chris Marais)

Augrabies Falls National Park is a stony, otherworldly place. Pieter van der Walt starts his book Augrabies Splendour with the words: “There is a stoic tenor to the landscape shaped by the Orange River… A harshly arid land of slow change – a tribute to sublime desolation.”

The park’s austere setting wields a fascination for those who enjoy spectacular landscapes and who open their eyes to the little creatures. 

This is not a park to visit if you’re only interested in the charismatic megafauna. The scenery (including Moon Rock, Echo Corner and Ararat) is far more riveting in all its geomorphological glory, although you stand a good chance of seeing Hartmann’s mountain zebra, springbok, klipspringer and even giraffe, along with many special birds, and of course dassies (rock hyraxes). 

Look out for the endemic rainbow-tinted Augrabies flat lizard.

Apart from being technicolour, they also live a colourful social life and can sometimes be seen doing 360-degree flips to catch flying insects.

The most colourful resident of the Augrabies Falls National Park, the flat lizard. (Photo: Chris Marais)

The quivertree, one of the landscape icons of the Augrabies Falls National Park. Image: Chris Marais

The quivertree, one of the landscape icons of the Augrabies Falls National Park. (Photo: Chris Marais)

The walkways are well signposted and safe for elderly visitors. Image: Chris Marais

The walkways are well signposted and safe for elderly visitors. Image: Chris Marais

Augrabies Falls

A group of Augrabies Falls visitors head for the water. (Photo: Chris Marais)

Know before you go

Augrabies is relatively easy to access by physically challenged people although the trail leading to the walkways is a little uneven. There are several boardwalks, of varying lengths, leading to platforms with spectacular views. Depending on the season, you would often have a platform to yourself.

Accommodation in the park consists of self-cater chalets (for couples and families) and excellent campsites. Two chalets are wheelchair accessible. There are also many stayover options just outside the park. 

The signs all over the Falls area are clear – be sure to follow the warnings as well. (Photo: Chris Marais)

For travelling supplies, Kakamas has good shops and fun restaurants like the Pienk Padstal and Rose Café.

Insect repellent is advised for the summer months, to keep gnats (miggies) and mosquitoes at bay. Some visitors even wear mosquito head-net hats on outings (they are available at the park shop).

The nearest large airport is 120km away at Upington.

Useful contacts

Augrabies Falls National Park:

Tel: 054 452 9200

[email protected]

DM

For more stories on life in the Karoo, get the three-book special of Karoo Roads I, Karoo Roads II and Karoo Roads III (illustrated in black in white) for only R800, including courier costs in South Africa. For more details, contact Julie at [email protected]

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • JDW 2023 says:

    Gorgeous photos! Thanks for sharing.

  • Hilary de Villiers says:

    Some striking photos and an interesting to the legend of the diamond snake. However, for an article that touts Augrabies as one of the world’s major waterfalls it is very thin on substantiation. No photos of the falls in flood, no stats in the cumecs when in full flood. Also no photos of the beautiful camping facilities, the well appointed chalets, the restaurant and shop… What about the hikes, the mountain bike races, the honeymoon cabin below one of the view sites’ viewing platform? I am disappointed and feel that Augrabies National Park has been short-changed.

  • Alfreda Frantzen says:

    It’s a great regret that I won’t be able to visit here again – my age has its limitations. But I’ve been blessed to have twice stayed there to absorb and enjoy the wonderful attractions

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