Year in the Wild Blog

YITW 2013-14 – Richtersveld National Park in summer

I’ve been to the Richtersveld National Park a few times, but I never get tired of going. The scenery is unique in South Africa – desert mountains that surround massive sandy plains, and of course the Orange River (or Gariep, as it’s known locally by the Nama) that flows through the gorge. If it wasn’t for this river, then I imagine the Richtersveld would be almost impossible to visit in summer time. Park manager Nick de Goede says that his record high is 62 degrees Celsius.

My own record is 57 degrees Celsius, recorded in January a few years ago. Without the river to drink from and to cool off in, the heat is too intense otherwise, and the river makes human habitation possible (the local Nama community are allowed to graze their goats in the park – in fact, the park’s land actually belongs to the communities, and SANParks rents the land from them for conservation purposes).

Nevertheless, the weather can be fickle. One morning while staying at the beautiful Tatasberg Wilderness Camp, ranger Seth Domrogh and I left early to walk up Tatasberg mountain itself. This is a 1 000 metre high granite pluton, with thousands and thousands of massive granite boulders piled on top of each other. We left before sunrise to drive to the bottom of the mountain, and at that stage there was not a cloud in the sky. As we started walking up, the wind picked up, and we could see the fog bank rolling in from the cold Atlantic Ocean, which is about 150kms to the west.

Within half an hour, the mountain was shrouded in mist and we battled to keep our balance in the howling wind. We bided our time, and after a few hours, the clouds lifted enough for us to see the stupendous views.

The cold Atlantic is the reason for the desert conditions. The heavy air hardly ever gets a chance to rise, making condensation and rain cloud formation difficult. The only moisture comes from the fog which sometimes rolls in.

Looking across the Springbok Vlaktes to Rosyntjieberge

Ranger Seth Domrogh - a self-taught botanist, who has an exceptional knowledge of the area.

The view from half way up Tatasberg...

Scorpion country...I think this is Parabuthus villosus, also known as black-hairy thicktailed scorpion! One of the more venomous species.

Ranger Seth Domrogh with a particularly fine specimen of a Giant Quiver Tree (Aloe pillansii)

From the top of Tatasberg, looking across the Springbok Vlaktes towards Rosyntjieberge

Ranger Seth Domrogh on top of Tatasberg

Looking west, towards the fog bank rolling in...Seth battling to keep his balance in the wind!

The fast moving clouds made for some cool landscape photography...

Waiting for the fog to clear...

As the sun rises, the fog burns off pretty quickly...

The view in the distance from Tatasberg Wilderness Camp...

Bark of a quiver tree...

This huge specimen is at the bottom of Tatasberg...quiver trees are superb survivors, and in many ways are the kings of this desert region. Several animal species rely on them for survival.

This swallow-tailed bee eater was cooling off in a tamarisk tree...

And the weavers were divebombing my pronutro in the mornings!

Early mornings are the best for photography in summer. This is the view from my campsite at De Hoop, and that is Tatasberg on the horizon.

Nothing quite like a full moon rising in the desert

My campsite at De Hoop...during winter, it is quite busy with campers, but in summer, you've got the whole place to yourself. I have been really impressed with my new Eezi Awn Bat awning, which extends 270 degrees around the car, providing plenty of shade. Together with my Eezi Awn tent, and a large camel thorn tree, camping in the Richtersveld in summer is a real pleasure.

Late one afternoon at De Hoop, I decided to explore the mountains behind the campsite, and made my way up to this viewpoint, which was about an hour and a half walk. This view looking northwest towards Namibia across the Gariep River.

And this is the view from the same mountain top looking south-east towards Tatasberg on the horizon.

My campsite at De Hoop...probably one of my favourite places in southern Africa

There were plenty of juvenile yellow fish which sheltered in the reeds, but came out when I was rinsing out my bowl of pronutro in the mornings...there were several hundred of them. Great to see!

Skaapwagter Henry Cloete, one of several semi-nomadic Nama sheep herders that are entitled to graze their goats and sheep in the park. The park is owned by the local community, and rented to South African National Parks

Despite the desert conditions, there IS colour if you're willing to find it...

Double banded sandgrouse...these birds are so well camouflaged, that when a shepherd and his dogs walked past within a metre of the grouse, the dogs were unawares...

Park manager Nick de Goede...he's not shy to explore all corners and kloofs of the park.

The little chalets at the park entrance of Sendelingsdrif are really nice...on the banks of the Orange River, and in the shade of camel thorn trees. The only downside is that there is a mine nearby, and sometimes the vehicles and trucks detract from the natural beauty and sounds of nature.

Inside one of the chalets...trust me, after ten days of camping in the heat of the mountains, I was quite glad to have a shower!

The road into the Richtersveld...still very much a frontier atmosphere to this region...

For more, go to www.yearinthewild.com and www.facebook.com/yearinthewild. Check out my Flickr photos at www.flickr.com/scottnramsay and my Instagram photos at www.instagram.com/wildscotty. Twitter on www.twitter.com/yearinthewild.

Thanks to my partners Cape Union MartFord EverestGoodyear, and K-Way.

As well as WildCardEeziAwnFrontrunnerGlobecommHetznerNational LunaOutdoor PhotoSafari Centre Cape Town, Tracks 4 Africa, and Vodacom.

Conservation partners BirdLife South AfricaBotswana Department of Wildlife and National ParksCapeNatureEastern Cape Parks and TourismEzemvelo KZN WildlifeGorongosa National ParkiSimangaliso Wetland Park, Namibia Wildlife Resorts, Parque Nacional do Limpopo, South African National Parks and Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority.

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