The Richtersveld is a vast and unforgiving environment; stark and dramatic, yet strikingly beautiful. This route is for the self-sufficient 4x4 traveller only and it is highly recommended that you travel in a convoy as you traverse this largely uninhabited part of the Northern Cape.
It is a mountainous desert situated in the north-west corner of South Africa. To its west is the cold and rough Atlantic Ocean, while the remarkable Orange River, the largest river in South Africa, winds along its northern border. The Richtersveld has the highest diversity of succulent plants in the world (4 849 species, of which 1 940 are endemic), as well as eerie coastal mists, alluvial diamonds and truly indigenous cultures.
While many people already know about the Richtersveld National Park, few realise there is an equally large protected area to the south, previously called the Richtersveld Community Conservancy. This area is the last refuge of the Nama people, living what is known as the transhumant lifestyle – to migrate seasonally with their livestock from mountains to the river and so make sustainable use of the fragile succulent ecosystem. In recognition of this vanishing lifestyle, and of the rare botanical diversity it helps protect, the conservancy has been declared the core of a new World Heritage Site – one of only eight in South Africa. Each small village in the Richtersveld has distinctive features and characteristics. The traditional culture of the inhabitants should be explored and enjoyed. Visiting these hospitable and friendly people is an essential part of any trip to the area.
The Ai-Ais Richtersveld National Park is unique in that it is a contractual park – jointly managed by the local community and South African National Parks. Stock farmers may continue to graze their livestock in the park, thereby maintaining a centuries-old tradition.