The Richtersveld Chronicles will take readers on a journey from the itty bitty critters to the miracles of the landscape. When you hear ”desert” you usually think of sand, rocks and a lifeless, hot and desolate landscape. The Richtersveld landscape might be unforgiving, but it is not dead. It is a biodiversity hotspot.
If you know where to look, it is easy to see many little creatures: some cute, some scary-looking and some just plain strange. Once you get to know them, you truly develop a sense of admiration for their adaptability and tenacity to live in conditions as harsh as this.
The Bushmen called the Orange River the Gariep, meaning “Dark river” or “Great River”, depending on which translation you choose. They too lived and thrived in the area. The Bushman had admiration and respect for life and the earth embedded in their culture. They understood that everything is connected.
The river changes with the landscape. It is quite clear on the section where we raft from (The Growcery), because of the grass and reeds which filter out all the impurities. When you float on a raft in the current, you can see some exotic fish, including the famous largemouth yellow fish.
It is an exciting sight to see a school of fish zooming past underneath the raft, occasionally trailed by one of the harmless river monsters like the sharp tooth catfish. Sometimes, when you look carefully, you can see shrimp and many other exciting water creatures.
The plants are also fascinating, some with medicinal value, for example, the quiver tree. There is also the “Bushman's Poison Bush”. The Bushmen used it to make poison arrows for hunting. To go on a hike and to learn about these plants is fascinating and you can almost imagine going back in time to when the Bushmen still walked the area.
If you go for a hike, you just need to walk a few hundred meters to experience a silence which you cannot find in the city. On windless days, you can get to know the meaning of deafening silence, occasionally broken by the rustle of a bush, a bird swooping overhead or eagle in the distance.
Experience the Richtersveld on foot by joining us on our Guided Hiking Trail
The birdlife is fantastic! The area boasts almost 200 species. Believe it or not, if you go for a hike in the surrounding hills and mountains, you may even see a canary or two. The herons and birds of prey are also a sight to behold, especially when a fish eagle decides to make a meal of a heron!
Birding is a high activity when paddling down the Orange River. Sometimes you can sneak up on a Malachite Kingfisher hiding in the reeds. That is if you're quiet enough. Wintertime is an excellent time for birding. Because it is not as hot, the birds are more active, and one can easily observe a few dozen bird species per day.
The Richtersveld generates its wind, and in combination with the river, you can cool down even on the hottest of days. As warm as it gets in summer, the winters can become icy at night. Winter mornings are sweet and crisp, and by night, it can be winter in the real sense of the word.
This is a great time to visit if you do not favour heat. The skies are clearer during the winter months. Therefore one can get a fantastic view of the Milky Way and stars. The Richtersveld is hundreds of kilometres from all major cities in South Africa. This means clean air and no light pollution.
A great way to experience a bit of everything the Richtersveld and Orange River has to offer is to join us on an Escape Into the Wild adventure. You get to paddle the river in a raft or kayak, hike the surroundings, camp on the banks of the river and sleep under the stars.
This has only been an introduction on what there is to experience in the Richtersveld. I will elaborate in much more detail about the indigenous cultures and wildlife of the area in the coming articles.