NAMAQUALAND is another Northern Cape region whose name conjures up images of both desolation and magic. According to an oft-quoted saying about the area, in Namaqualand you weep twice: once when you first arrive and once when you have to leave. This is the land of Khoikhoi herders called the Nama: the Little Nama, who lived south of the Orange River, and the Great Nama, who lived north of the river in what is now Namibia. Sparsely populated, the region stretches south from the Orange to the empty Knersvlakte plains around Vanrhynsdorp, and from the Atlantic coast to the edge of the Great Karoo. Above all, Namaqualand is synonymous with the incredible annual display of brightly coloured wild flowers that carpet the landscape in August and September, one of South Africa’s most compelling spectacles. Even outside flower season, swathes of orange, purple and white daisies emerge, and there is a tenacious beauty about this dry, empty landscape of mountain deserts, mineral-bearing granite hills and drought-defiant succulents.
The N7 highway between Namibia and Cape Town cuts across Namaqualand, offering one of the most scenic drives in the country. At its northern end, at the junction with the dusty N14 from Upington and the Kalahari, lies the region’s capital, Springbok. This is the best base for flowers – the nearby Namaqua National Park provides reliable displays even in years of low rainfall, when displays elsewhere may be muted – and for visiting the Province’s remote northwestern corner: the Diamond Coast, stretching from Port Nolloth to the Namibian border. The harsh but spectacular Richtersveld Transfrontier Park stretches inland, bisected by the Orange River – rafting on which ranks high among the region’s attractions.