As a professional Mountain Guide, I hike Table Mountain very regularly, so it is sometimes necessary to get away from the usual, and to find some terrain as different as possible from the familiar hiking Table Mountain.
So where will it be? Where can a Table Mountain local find the solitude of the wilderness, and an inspiring new landscape? Look no further than the desert wilderness of the Richtersveld, in the Northern Cape province of South Africa.
It’s only a seven hour drive north from Cape Town, where one is always kept company by the famous flat-topped summit of Table Mountain, but it is a completely different world up there. In the Richtersveld one gets the sense of a land where time stands still. It is not a well-known hiking destination, and should not be undertaken lightly due to its harsh nature, but the rewards are great as every step reveals a new and wondrous rock or plant.
The environment could not be more different to the fynbos found on Table Mountain hikes. Instead of the all-year-round green hues of the fynbos, the desert landscape consists of myriad hues of brown, grey, white, red and black. Only after the rare rains of winter does the area burst into a short-lived profusion of greenery and flowers. A close-up look however, is what is needed to reveal the real magic of the desert. The miniature lichens which cling to the rocks grow in shades of bright red, orange, yellow and purple. Every plant seems to cling desperately to the rocky earth, with each day a struggle for survival in this harsh landscape.
In the summer months in Cape Town, the maximum temperature one may encounter on Table Mountain hikes would be in the mid 30’s C. Out in the Richtersveld desert however, the temperature regularly gets up around 50 deg C in summer! This means that hiking is best undertaken during the winter and spring periods when it stays closer to 30 deg C, with frosty nights and occasional rains to keep you on your toes.
The Richtersveld region of South Africa holds many secrets which can reveal themselves to the intrepid traveler. A sojourn in the desert gives one a new perspective, a love of wide-open spaces, endless views and big skies. The heat, dust and rocks creep into your soul and restore your energy. Suddenly you are ready to get back to the lush green fynbos of Table Mountain.