Richtersveld Cultural and Botanical Landscape

Nature lovers bound for South Africa’s Northern Cape Province will likely find themselves being drawn to the Richtersveld. This mountainous desert landscape is unlike anything most people have ever seen – some even choose to describe it as ‘martian’. It is a place where craggy, sharp mountains rise steeply from flat, sandy plains and where the dryness of these places is contrasted sharply with the lush vegetation growing on the banks of the Orange River. This all comes together to form the Richtersveld Cultural and Botanical Landscape.

The Richtersveld Cultural and Botanical Landscape in South Africa is indeed a place of contrasts. On first glance it seems as if nothing could live here, but when you look more closely you find a number of mammals, birds and reptiles living in this unusual wilderness area. Altitudes dive from a whopping 1377 m to a mere 60 m at various points in the reserve. This unusual landscape is special for a number of reasons – most of which should be sought out if you do manage to spend some time here.

For starters, the Richtersveld is the only Arid Biodiversity Hotspot on the planet. It also features a lot of endemic plant, bird and animal life. One example of an unusual endemic plant is the ‘halfmensboom’ (Pachypodium namaquanum Welw.). Translated direction the name means ‘half-person tree’ and it is fitting since this is exactly what it looks like – half tree and half human. An odd grouping of leaves on the top give it the appearance of having a human head! Apart from this there are an impressive 650 recorded plant species in the area, making it the location of one of the world’s largest succulent collections. Living off these fascinating plants visitors may spot grey rhebok, steenbok, kudu, duiker, mountain zebra, baboon, caracal, vervet monkey and leopard.

Another attraction worth seeking out is that of the local Nama people who continue to live here in the semi-nomadic tradition of their ancestors. Their culture is not only stretches back millennia, but it provides a perfect example of how humans can co-exist with nature without destroying it. The Nama people also have many fascinating cultures – not the least of which is the way they make their traditional dwellings from finely woven mats of reeds. What is especially interesting to note is that the entire area is owned by the Nama people who work in conjunction with South African National Parks to manage the Richtersveld Cultural and Botanical Landscape. The combination of cultural and natural richness is why the Richtersveld was declared a World Heritage Site in 2007.

If you wish to explore there area there are a few things you’d do well to remember. The first is that the terrain is incredibly tough and you will need a 4X4 vehicle to successfully navigate it. The second is that the area is known for its incessant heat and dryness – temperatures soar to more than 50 degrees Celsius at midday and rain is a scarcity! Most often visitors would do well to approach a tour guide or travel agency and arrange tours through them, as they will do their best to make the trip comfortable and expose you to as many of the natural and cultural treasures found here as possible.