October 26, 2020

It can be challenging to know where to begin planning your Northern Cape adventure to Namaqualand.

Melanie van Zyl took the new Hi-Tec AW Leo Collection and lightweight Stella W sneakers to develop this ultimate guide to Namaqua National Park.

Everyone knows about the bright blooms that carpet Namaqualand come spring, but did you know that the Namaqua National Park consists of two totally contrasting sections? Or that a dune belt stretches through it? Or that you can hike and walk there? Neither did I! Until I got to planning and prepping for a wildflower adventure with two other women.

After several years of mediocre display due to severe drought conditions, 2020 saw the return of technicolour wildflowers across the ordinarily barren Northern Cape landscapes. Luckily, provincial borders opened up just in time for locals to see them safely.

Nevertheless, even without wildflowers on such magnificent display, this rugged park will satisfy any adventurous inklings you might have to get off the beaten track.

How to explore Namaqua National Park

Many travellers only visit Namaqua National Park to see the annual spring flower spectacular. Ochre orange, egg yolk yellow, lovely lilac, peach, crisp white - myriad colours emerge with the sun in the northern section of the park. 

How to see the Namaqualand Spring Wildflowers

To see endless fields of flowers, enter the Skilpad entrance gates from the town of Kamieskroon, which sits roughly 20 minutes away down an easy gravel road. Kamieskroon is 500 kilometres north of Cape Town on the N7.

This section - the Skilpad Wildflower Reserve - is easily accessible in a sedan, and the park has developed a short one-way, five-kilometre self-drive route that soaks up every angle of the wildflowers. Keep that foot off the accelerator and cruise about in second gear. You'll likely stop often! Pull over to enjoy views from high granite rocks, such as the aptly named roof of Africa, then step out of the car (best for photographers like me) on a deeper immersive walk.

The Skilpad Nature Reserve was proclaimed on 29 June 2001 to conserve the rich diversity of succulents in the area, which gets fed by the coastal mists and drizzles of the Atlantic Ocean. With this winter rainfall, Namaqualand flaunts the richest bulb flora of any arid region in the world. What does that mean? More than 1000 of its estimated 3500 plant species are found nowhere else on earth.

There are two trails to choose from in the Skilpad section of Namaqua National Park to see these beautiful botanicals best up close. The Skilpad Walking Trail is a five-kilometre long circular route that passes windmills buried in blooms, meandering walkways and plenty of birdlife. The Korhaan Walking Trail is shorter at three kilometres long in a different, denser bushier area. Give yourself two hours to complete either trail and pack a post-walk picnic to enjoy beside reception. 

Cruising the coastal section of Namaqua National Park

Although impressive, the wildflower section makes up just a speck of the greater Namaqua National Park. The rest of the reserve spreads south and encompasses parched mountains clad with Quiver trees, pristine coastal landscapes and sandy roadways accessible only to 4X4 vehicles. There's a further 220-kilometres worth of roads to explore. 

Us three women entered the park from the southernmost point at Groenrivier, a 45-minute drive from the N7 highway. The only accommodation available here are eco-friendly campsites that perch right on the coastline. It is wild, free, open to the elements and absolutely gorgeous. 

We set up camp at Delwerskamp, the first of eight campsites spread out along the coastal route, and the only one accessible without a 4X4. Each site has a rocky windbreak, braai place and pit loos, but no showers or other ablutions. You need to bring firewood, drinking water and all other essentials with you. Want to bathe? There's a big blue ocean for rinsing off.

Thankfully, the weather was on our side with bright skies and a calm breeze. We spent a night of bliss chatting around the fire below the stars, ocean waves crashed through our dreams that night and we completed the coastal 4X4 route the following day. 

First, I let air from the tyres taking us down to the SANParks recommendation of 1,2 bars. Our map from the gate marked troublesome sandy sections, so I knew when to anticipate a need for momentum, but with four-wheel drive engaged, we comfortably managed the deep beach sand track.   

It took us about six hours (with plenty of photo stops for tortoises, flowers, ostriches and meerkats on the way) to drive from Delwerskamp, crossing the road to Hondeklipbaai, through Soebatsfontein heading right up into the Skilpad Nature Reserve. 

Tested while camping along the West Coast 

I wore Hi-Tec's new Leo Movement Long Leggings and matching Leo Escape 1/4 Zip Top for our camping adventure along the West Coast. You might think this kit is better suited to a yoga lesson than outdoor exploring, but I beg to differ.

For travel, this athleisure fabric is tops. With camping kit taking up plenty of precious packing space, the items don't crease, fold up neatly into a compact travel bag and still look seriously swish. Both the tights and top are made for movement. It's exactly what you need when pitching tents, hopping in and out of a vehicle, crouching down to capture up-close photographs or frolicking amongst the flowers.

I enjoyed the mix of mesh and solid fabric on the Leo Movement Long Leggings, making them simultaneously permeable and protective against the bracing ocean breeze. The high hip design on the tights also ensured the tights stayed comfortably in place, and I'm a big fan of the overall fit, which combined maximum fabric strength with stretch.

Inside, the nifty Leo 1/4 zip top bears fine fluffed fleece for a cosy feel and also bears longer sleeves with a handy thumb loop that kept my hands and wrists warm. Both items proved to be good seasonal in-betweens, offering just enough warmth for chilly mornings and breathability for hot days. 

I teamed these athleisure items with the Hi-Tec Stella W shoes. Again, not your regular outdoor walking selection, but due to all the driving planned, I wanted a lightweight and comfortable wear that could still deal with a little trail. These delivered nicely. The cushioning made these shoes feel more like slippers than sneakers and the soft uppers moulded easily to my foot without stifling it. The grey and white did tend to show the dirt after a day exploring but proved simple enough to wash and rinse. Ready again for a repeat. 

Namaqualand's need-to-know 

  • Do not pick or damage any flora. It is an offence to pluck flowers or to remove plants from the park.
  • Entry to Namaqua National Park costs roughly R50 per person.
  • You can either enter the Skilpad section as a day visitor and stay at the Kamieskroon Hotel (basic budget accommodation) or spend a night inside the park at one of four self-catering chalets that boast uninterrupted views of the remote coastline.
  • A four-wheel-drive vehicle is essential for visiting the southern coastal section of Namaqua National Park.
  • Roads are sandy but manageable. Lower tyre pressures to avoid getting stuck in soft powdery tracks and ask for driving route updates at the entrance gate.
  • Bargain six hours to drive from Groenrivier entrance gate to Skilpad entrance gate. We didn't have time on this trip, but I'd easily return to hike the six-kilometre Heavisides trail in the coastal section. Named for the rare dolphins that inhabit these waters, the Heaviside Hiking Trail follows the coastline following dunes, rocks, tidal pools and bright white sands. 

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