Easter Part 1: Potjiespram, |Ai-|Ais/Richtersveld Transfrontier Park, Northern Cape

Place: Potjiespram, |Ai-|Ais/Richtersveld Transfrontier Park, Northern Cape
Closest (significant) Town: Hmm…Alexander Bay? (110km)
Facilities: Rustic campsites with basic ablution facilities, cold water showers, no drinking water

Water: On the Orange (or !ariep) River (but cannot see it from the campsites) 

Surroundings: Rugged and dry Richtersveld Mountain Desert 

Turf: Dusty & sandy with most campsites nestled in the river bushes/trees for ample shade 

Distance from CT: About 898km 

Privacy: Considering the campsite layout, you can mostly find a secluded spot, but within the general vicinity of neighbours 

Highlights: Goats that roam, a potential hyaena roaming the river bank 

Cost: R155 per campsite per night (includes 6 people), R45 per day conservation fee (2011) 

Contact: www.sanparks.org 

GPS Coordinates: -28.076827,16.953278 

Orange River
Our campsite at Potjiespram

Our campsite at Potjiespram

Our campsite at Potjiespram

View Potjiespram Camp, Ai-Ais/Richtersveld Transfrontier Park, Northern Cap in a larger map

Of the three camps we stayed at in the Richtersveld, I think this was my least favourite. This is why:

I didn’t like its proximity to Sendelingsdif (the official entrance to the park/border crossing/mining town) and the ugly Alexkor mine operations- a reminder that this remote landscape is not so remote, free and liberated from capitalist greed. I was secretly disgruntled that the road that continues along the river from Potjiespram is a no-go zone because of mining- another insult to a landscape that exudes freedom. I didn’t like that all the camps are nestled in the trees and bushes when a few metres away is the spectacular !ariep/ Orange River with a brilliant desert mountain backdrop. And admittedly, I got frustrated when those reliable evening winds blew all that fine dust into my everything.

But then, I’m particular. And have a confession.

In summer, those shady bush caves must be a godsend and at any time of the year they function as pretty damn good neighbour-proofing, not to mention their effectiveness at protecting eyes, ears, noses, tents, food, hair, water, beers, wine, everything from the dusty gusts of wind at dusk.

Sunset on the Orange River

Second, and in fairness, it’s just a short walk or drive to open river where you can set up day camp and stare, swim, absorb, feel, see and experience the very essence of the Richtersveld.

Our Campsite
My confession is that we chose the most open campsite precisely because it had the only access to a pristine spot on the river bank with uninterrupted views of everything I had gone there for, but which naturally made it slightly more vulnerable to dust showers.

It’s also convenient if you can’t decide whether to go left or right in Eksteenfontein, which results in an eventual arrival at a time of day not conducive to the 3-hour drive to your desired camp.


The Richtersveld: |Ai-|Ais/Richtersveld Transfrontier Park

Richtersveld National Park
We decided to head north after leaving an Easter weekend booking a tad late and refusing to be part of the weekend camping masses closer to town at places still available. We managed to book camping for 5 nights across the Richtersveld National Park. We didn’t really have a choice of campsites and didn’t quite know what we were in for, so settled for a variety, which would require ample travelling in between.
The Richtersveld
The Richtersveld is splendid. Its dry ruggedness and rustic camping spots certainly wouldn’t be everyone’s cup of tea and it is only accessible to vehicles with a high ground clearance or off road capability. The benefit of this, however, is an escape guaranteed to be sparsely populated and that still retains a sense of forgotten-ness and isolation.
The drive from Cape Town was longer than we anticipated (12 hours getting there), considering our maps omitted a good 130km on dirt road before reaching the park, after spending too much time buying Hanne Louw’s Tamatie Blatjang and rusks in Garies and ice and over-priced wood in Springbok, and then deciding to take a short cut that wasn’t shorter and included several drives through the tiny town of Eksteenfontein to figure out which was the right dodgy-looking dirt road to go on.
De Hoop Camp, Richtersveld
We got there eventually, but without enough time to get to our first campsite, De Hoop, so we were obliged to stay at Potjiespram for the first night. The next few entries give a rundown of each campsite we visited.

Our highlights:
·         An ostrich chasing a springbok for almost a kilometre
·         What sounded like a roaming Hyaena not far from our campsite at potjiespram
·         The African Wild Cat at our campsite in Kokerboomkloof
·         Incredible, ancient and vast landscapes
·         De Hoop campsite on the river
·         Watching people ponder and scout for the best campsites
·         A pretty relaxed camping policy
What to watch out for:
·         If your first night isn’t spent at Sendelingsdrif or Potjiespram, then aim to arrive at least 3 hours before dark, so you’re allowed to travel on to the camps further away (Kokerboomkloof closer to 4 hours)
·         Bring plenty water
·         It’s survival of the fittest- the earlier you leave, the earlier you get to a camp for a better choice
·         The loud people from Joburg we encountered at Sendelingsdrif
·         The Pontoon for entry into Namibia may not be open at Sendelingsdrif if the river has been flooding- check this if needed
I wouldn’t hesitate to go back.

Kokerboomkloof, Richtersveld

To find out more about the park visit: SANParks
To find out more about the area and the local inhabitants, visit: Explore the Richtersveld

Bulshoek Dam Resort, Bulshoek Dam, Western Cape

Place: Bulshoek Dam Resort, Bulshoek Dam, Western Cape

Closest Town: Clanwilliam (19.4km)
Facilities: First come first served campsites, fully equipped single ablution block with hot water
Water: On the Bulshoek Dam
Surroundings: Dam, small Cederberg Mountains
Turf: Ample shade. Mostly grass, unless you decide to avoid the masses like us and head for the only quiet spot under a tree, which happened to be sandy
Distance from CT: 247km
Privacy: Granted it was the start of Easter weekend, but this looked more like a music festival
Highlight: Being told we don’t have to pay because of arriving late and leaving early
Cost: It’s hard to say, really (didn’t give us a price on the phone either)
Contact: Website, Landline: 027 482 2635 Cell: 072 124 7747, Email
GPS Coordinates: –32.036675,18.820267

Bulshoek Dam Resort Campsite
Bulshoek Dam Resort Campsite

Our site

Resort = Caravan = Prejudice

I have to be honest, it’s difficult to give an accurate account of this campsite when the criteria for camping here was straightforward. As an overnight stop before heading to the Richtersveld, we needed a spot close to the N7 that was a decent distance out of Cape Town.
Next, I have a confession: I find that the word, resort, immediately makes me prejudice. Resort connotes all sorts of terrifying things that one really doesn’t want to have to confront while camping.
Easter Weekend Campers

I also have a newish policy: never go camping close-ish to town over Easter weekend. Everybody else does. And Bulshoek Dam Resort was no exception. Unfortunately, we had little choice and didn’t want to waste money at some random B&B or dodgy hotel in one of those strange towns after Vanrhynsdorp. On Thursday night at 7pm, Bulshoek Dam Resort was already packed and buzzing to the sounds of mattress and boat pumps, children screaming, peg hammering and caravan reversing…and to the sight of blindening spotlights, family wagons, trailers, blow-up water toys and a city of tents all competing for territory closest to the dam.

Our semi-secluded spot
Luckily instinct had suggested we turn left to find a deserted spot under a tree- a spot away from the dam and holiday fest, but ironically, the closest to the ablutions.  For what it was, it was perfect.

I’d likely not return, particularly on a long weekend. Admittedly though, I can imagine this would be a great spot on a normal weekend if you wanted a pleasant grassy campsite and some shade near a dam, especially if you have a boat.
Besides a brilliant shower, I guess the highlight would have to be having the farmer refuse our payment because of our fleeting stay.

Kromrivier, Cederberg Conservancy, Western Cape

Place: Kromrivier, Cederberg Conservancy
Closest Town: Towns are not close (Op-die-Berg, 74km)
Facilities: Standard fully equipped ablutions (toilets could cope better on an Easter weekend), cottages available
Water: On a trickling, stagnant river (end of summer), a little dam
Surroundings: Slight mountain plateau, typical rugged Cederberg scenery
Turf: Few shady spots, dry grass
Distance from CT: Roughly 210km
Privacy: Limited campsites, but fairly close proximity to neighbours
Highlight: the area, rather than the campsite
Contact: Rinda, E-mail: namapip@netactive.co.za, Tel/ Fax: (0)27 482 2807
GPS Coordinates: -32.536683,19.285984

Our campsite
Sunset on Kromrivier Farm

Sunset on the farm

Walk to Disa Pool

Disa Pool

The Kromrivier campsite left little impression on me except for the super-powered homemade farm bread, the fact that a resident cat had recently produced a proud litter of kittens and the owners fully support the Cape Leopard Trust. We found that there wasn’t too much to do around the actual campsite, the river was stagnant and suffering from summer dehydration and the dam just didn’t quite invite us for those swims that other flowing and moving bodies of water in the mountains so often do.

The recommendation: Get out of the campsite. It’s in reasonably close proximity to the highlights of the Cederberg Wilderness Area (Stadsaal Caves, Wolberg Cracks, Wolfberg Arch), which are certainly worth a visit. Also, it’s the base for a great walk to the pleasant Disa Pool along a very comfortable path for those with an aversion to too much effort.

Gifberg Holiday Farm, unofficial river campsite, Western Cape

Place: Gifberg Holiday Farm, unofficial river campsite
Closest Town: Vanrhynsdorp (though let this not determine your judgement)
Facilities: Nature all the way, baby
Water: A flowing river- the Doring
Surroundings: Rugged rocks and mountains typical of the Northern Cederberg
Turf: Sandy river bank
Distance from CT: Roughly 300km
Privacy: this is where the word originated
Highlight: You realise that time is an invention
Cost: R80 pppn and R50 vehicle fee
Contact: www.gifberg.co.za 027 219 1555, email:gifberg@webmail.co.za
GPS Coordinates: -31.866478,18.820696

Doring River
Superior Chilling
Our Rustic Camp

Find a spot, and settle

Early Morning on the Doring
On the way down to the river

The road to the river
This one’s slightly different. You don’t venture 4 hours out of Cape Town on a standard 2-day weekend, over a dramatic pass and eventually down a fairly taxing farm road and arrive at lush green pastures with scattered trees overlooking  a pretty river. And you don’t neatly unpack your camping gear and then have a hot shower before settling down in front of your campfire in its designated spot. No. 

It’s better.
Instead, it’s really what camping should be. It has nothing. Access is 4X4 only. It takes a few double trips down to the river from where you can park your car to offload your bits and pieces. It’s sandy. It lacks trees. It has no plug points. No ablutions. Nothing, really. And no one. Obviously, that’s the brilliance.
Unconventional hair wash
It’s just you, your company, the Doring River, and nothing else.

Admittedly, it’s quite a drive from Cape Town, but in a place where time is defied, worrying about and accounting for every minute of your planned weekend becomes irrelevant .

Suikerbossie Guest Farm, Koue Bokkeveld, Western Cape

Place: Suikerbossie, Kouebokkeveld

Closest Town: Citrusdal (30km, but not easily), Ceres (90km)
Facilities: Rustic, eco-friendly ablutions, basic camps, some fully equipped
Water: Situated right on the a river
Surroundings: Spectacular Koue Bokkeveld
Turf: Mostly lush grass, sandy at Waterfall Camp and Kuil Camp
Distance from CT: 209 km
Privacy: Limited campsites, fairly close proximity to neighbours, but not destructively so
Highlight: The setting, peach-picking in March, lounging on tubes/butterflies/explorers on the river, the nibbling fish
Cost: Varies per camp (have requested rates for September 2011)
Contact: Karin 0229213537
GPS Coordinates: -32.657876, 19.256973

Walking on the Farm
Afternoon mission

Rustic shower with a brilliant view!

Ghoeboontjie Camp

Grass behind Ghoeboontjie Camp

View of the Koue Bokkeveld

Suikerbossie ‘Canyon’

Lounging on the river

Suikerbossie is spectacular! While it’s a slight mission to get to via Citrusdal without a decent set of wheels, the alternative 3 and a half hour drive via Ceres is well worth the effort, especially for a long weekend.
Picking Peaches
Not only is the setting beautiful, the campsites are varied and particularly well kept. Rustic shelters are provided at all sites, with some a little better equipped than others. The camp we stayed at, Ghoeboontjie, could be considered a slight cheat- it comes with a caravan and outdoor kitchen which is fully equipped. We did however still sleep in tents, so consider it facilitated camping. The advantage: forget that frantic packing.
The whole experience felt slightly surreal the first time a group of us visited. It was picture-perfect – a little like being on the set of a motivational lifestyle AV for a Nivea ad campaign or on the South African version of Dawson’s Creek. We spent hours innocently lounging on tubes or floating toys, playing cricket on the lush grass and telling ghost stories around the fire as the sun sank below the mountains.
Tarzan Swing
The second time we visited was slightly different. It was still cheesy and pretty and liberated, except that a couple new permanent camps had been erected, one of which was on our chosen camping spot from last time. Also, two camps down, a large and eccentric Gay and Lesbian army had settled, spilling out of their camp’s corner and taking over most of the riverfront and cricket pitch with parked cars and a dedicated shrine honouring  a horny adult version of a Ken doll. We had fun and quickly got over the shouted ratings  every time we launched ourselves off the Tarzan Swing into the water, joined in the festive late-night song singing and tolerated some very unashamed perving. Admittedly though, the campsite wasn’t quite as tranquil as it had been before.
To be honest, I’d limit the number of people per camp to maintain a very unique vibe, but all in all, I’d still go back. You know you’ve found a perfect spot when you head home and feel like you’ve been away for ages…even if you did spend Saturday night singing Mika’s Billy Brown as an initiation in to the neighbour’s Crazy Camp. 

Beaverlac, Grootfontein Farm/ Beaverlac Nature Reserve, Western Cape

Place: Beaverlac Nature Reserve, Grootfontein Farm, Olifants River Mountains
Closest Town: Porterville (24km)
Facilities: Basic, scattered ablutions with about 2 showers worth of hot water per day on a busy weekend, super-stocked shop
Water: A spectacular river (Olifants), and the Ratel river with many waterfalls and exquisite rock pools
Surroundings: Rugged rocks and mountains typical of the Western Cape
Turf: Relatively flat, attempted grass in places, sandy patches, increasingly shady (they keep planting trees)
Distance from CT: Roughly 170km
Privacy: Average. 1st come 1st serve. None over long weekends
Highlight: Scrambling up the Ratel River and its rock pools, and Olifants River Valley
Cost: R35 pppn and R10 vehicle fee, no bookings except for cottages
Contact: 022 931 2945 www.beaverlac.co.za
GPS Coordinates: –32.907262,19.067287

Olifants River
Ratel River rock pool

Ratel River

Main Pool


“Secret Pool”

Olifants River Valley

Ratel River rock pool

Olifants River

The Campsite

Besides the fact that I have voted Beaverlac my favourite farm in the Western Cape so far, and the fact that the setting is undeniably on par with my preference, this is objectively a true gem- its increasing popularity indicative of this.
What works: It is conveniently close to Cape Town- an easy 2 hour drive, except for the last farm road part (in a normal car). I like that you don’t have to book, a true compliment to spontaneity. I like that the farm and camping site are huge and that it has no defined borders between campsites. I appreciate that a large percentage of the folk who go there are lazy, preferring to lounge in their camping chairs or wallow in the Waterslangetjie-inhabited Main Pool, leaving the rest of the farm and rock pools relatively people-sparse. I love it in winter when nobody but a few cabin dwellers exist, and I love the fact that it is rock art rich, most of which likely remains undiscovered and hidden. The rivers and rock pools speak for themselves.
What is working against it: The no booking policy means that there isn’t necessarily a limit on the number of people who may decide to visit on a particular weekend and because the farmer seems to have cleared some new land for camping, it has opened up his farm even more to the long-weekend masses, totalling around 4000 people (excluding dogs). Spontaneous long weekends or holidays are no longer an option if you wish to truly appreciate everything the farm has to offer and if you find hearing your neighbour’s every move, snore or child-slap a little disturbing.
It’s a catch 22. Get rid of a great no-booking system or give up certain weekends and holidays in favour of other spots that are often more commercial and organised?
That aside, I love it- it’s a great default and certainly a camping destination of choice.