The AI-AIS RICHTERSVELD TRANSFRONTIER PARK in northwestern Namaqualand – commonly known as the Richtersveld – covers an area roughly bounded by the Orange River to the north, the N7 to the east, the R382 to Port Nolloth to the south and the Atlantic Ocean on its western side. Here, the starkly beautiful park was formed in 2003 by the merger of South Africa’s Richtersveld National Park (by which name the new park is still known in South Africa) and Namibia’s Ai-Ais Hot Springs Game Park. Tucked along either side of a loop in the Orange, the landscape is fierce and rugged; names such as Hellskloof, Skeleton Gorge, Devil’s Tooth and Gorgon’s Head indicate the austerity of the inhospitable brown mountainscape, tempered only by a broad range of hardy succulents, mighty rock formations, the magnificence of the light cast at dawn and dusk, and the glittering canopy of stars at night. Annual rainfall in parts of the park is under 50mm, making this the only true desert – and mountain desert at that – in South Africa. In summer the daytime heat can be unbearable – temperatures over 50¬∞C have been recorded – while on winter nights temperatures drop below freezing.
The best time to visit is August and September, when the area’s succulents – representing almost one-third of South Africa’s species – burst into flower. There’s little fauna in the park other than lizards and klipspringers, although leopards are present, if characteristically shy.