Namaqua National Park: The Complete Guide

Wildflower superbloom against a mountain backdrop, Namaqualand


Ann and Steve Toon / robertharding / Getty Images

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Namaqua National Park

Address
South Africa
Phone +27 27 672 1948

Located on the northern stretch of South Africa’s remote west coast, Namaqua National Park offers something very different from the traditional safari experience. Instead of Big Five animals and rolling savanna plains, the park affords the opportunity to lose oneself in a majestic, arid landscape, where sweeping scrubland is interspersed by towering granite outcrops and hillsides studded with lonely quiver trees. Expect out-of-the-ordinary wildlife that has adapted to survive in an almost waterless environment, magnificent sunrises and sunsets, and the kind of stars that only exist in wildernesses with zero light pollution. 

Above all, though, Namaqua National Park is known for its annual wildflower superbloom, a natural phenomenon that sees its seemingly barren vistas transformed overnight into a profusion of color created by millions of short-blooming wildflowers. It was for the area’s botanical diversity that it was proclaimed as a national park in 2002, although its cultural heritage dates back to the time of our distant ancestor, Homo erectus. Today, it spans some 544 square miles and welcomes a relatively small number of intrepid visitors each year, who come to drive, hike, and mountain bike amidst its scenic splendor. 

Things to Do 

The top activities in Namaqua National Park include viewing the wildflowers during the annual August to September blooming season and enjoying the spectacular scenery of its various driving routes. Game viewing is popular, too, although the animals that live here are very different from the iconic African safari species most visitors are familiar with. There are several hiking routes throughout the park that offer spectacular scenery, making it a popular choice for visitors looking for an active way to experience what Namaqua has to offer.

Best Hikes & Trails

The Skilpad Walking Trail and the Korhaan Walking Trail both depart from and return to the main office at Skilpad Rest Camp. They are three miles and just under two miles in length, respectively. A third trail, the Heaviside Hiking Trail, ranges for just under four miles along the remote Namaqua coastline. former is especially popular during flower season, as it takes hikers through the very best of the wildflower carpets. Along the way, you’ll hike along a white sand beach, explore tidal pools, and have a good chance of spotting Heaviside dolphins and humpback whales from shore. Humpback season lasts from June to November every year. This Heaviside trail starts at the Abjoel viewing deck near the Groen River office, and is not circular. You’ll need to arrange a pick-up at the other end, or make time for the return journey.

Mountain bikers are also welcome to explore any of the roads or tracks that are open to the public, but must bring all of their own equipment with them. 

Wildflower Viewing

Namaqualand, of which Namaqua National Park is part, is famous for its annual wildflower superbloom. Triggered by the seasonal winter rains, the bloom appears almost overnight in the first or second week of August, then lasts for approximately one month before disappearing as suddenly as it came. During this glorious period, the park is a jaw-dropping sea of color, with a blanket of pinks, whites, oranges, yellows, and purples stretching as far as the eye can see. There are several ways to make the most of the superbloom. The Skilpad and Korhaan Walking Trails offer close-up views, as does a seasonal circular drive with special flower viewpoints. You can also choose to stay in one of two temporary flower camps (more on these below). 

Because the wildflower season is so short and accommodation in the park is limited, it’s advisable to reserve as far in advance as possible if you wish to visit at this time of year. Even outside this brief season, the park is a wonderland for botanists. It is part of the greater Succulent Karoo Biome, one of 34 global biodiversity hotspots. The biome supports some 6,350 plant species, of which approximately 3,500 can be found in Namaqualand. More than 1,000 of the Namaqualand species are endemic (can be found nowhere else on Earth) and 17 percent are rare Red List species. This incredible diversity is the result of several unique factors, including the combined effects of reliable winter rainfall and occasional drought, and the chemical composition of the park’s bedrock.

Scenic Drives

Namaqua National Park is still remarkably undeveloped, and as such, there’s just one main driving route with various 4x4 tracks and detours looping off it. This is the Caracal Eco Route, which starts at Skilpad Rest Camp and takes visitors through the park’s many different habitats. From mountain passes to grass plains and fynbos flatlands, it runs all the away to the Groen River mouth – a distance of between 110 and 125 miles depending on whether you choose to take any of the detour loops. It takes between six and eight hours to drive one way; at Groen River, you can exit the park and circle back around on a tarred road to the entrance and accommodation at Skilpad. This adds another two hours to your journey. Roads in the section of the park closest to Skilpad are accessible with a sedan or 2x4 vehicle, but the off-road tracks and coastal section require a 4x4.

Game Viewing

Several species of large antelope, including red hartebeest, gemsbok, and springbok, have been reintroduced to Namaqua National Park. However, the indigenous wildlife is comprised primarily of smaller mammals. Look out for baboons and klipspringer or steenbok antelope in the mountain passes. Black-backed jackals are frequently spotted, while nocturnal predators include bat-eared foxes, Cape foxes, caracals, and African wild cats. The largest predator in the park is the leopard, although these majestic cats are rarely seen due to their nocturnal and secretive nature. Be sure to look for the endangered speckled padloper, too, a Namaqualand special and the world’s smallest tortoise species. The park bird list is typical of the arid, mountainous regions of western South Africa. Karoo endemics range from the Karoo lark to the Karoo korhaan, while predominant raptors include black harriers, booted eagles, and Verreaux’s eagles. 

Where to Stay Nearby

  • Skilpad Rest Camp: The park’s primary accommodation is located near the main entrance and reception at Skilpad Rest Camp. Here, you’ll find four self-catered chalets, all located on top of the plateau with astonishing views across the valley below. Each one has a separate bedroom with two single beds, and a 3/4 sleeper couch in the open-plan living room and kitchen. Enjoy meals out on the enclosed veranda, or cook al fresco in the outdoor braai area. In winter, the living room’s wood-burning fireplace is a particular highlight. The kitchen includes all of the amenities required to self cater, although you will need to bring all groceries with you, including bottled water. 
  • Luiperdskloof Guest Cottage: For those who want to get even further away from civilization, Luiperdskloof Guest Cottage is a rustic option situated a 2.5-hour drive from reception. It is only accessible with a 4x4 vehicle, and has no electricity and limited cell reception. Instead, the kitchen appliances are gas operated, and candles are provided for illumination after dark. Bring a good torch, firewood, and all of your food and drink for the duration of your stay. The cottage has three bedrooms and one bathroom, an open-plan lounge and kitchen, and an outdoor braai area. Best of all, it also includes exclusive access to several short hiking trails and picnic sites. 

Where to Camp

  • Coastal Camp Sites: If you wish to camp, Namaqua National Park has nine wild campgrounds situated in the coastal section of the park and accessible all year round. These have between two and 12 sites each, and are kept deliberately primitive to maintain the pristine wilderness of the northwest coastline. None have water or ablutions, although some have enviro-loos. There is no cell reception. Bring everything you need with you, and make sure to reduce the air pressure in your tyres before tackling the soft sand roads that lead to the campsites. All campsites are only accessible to those in 4x4 vehicles. 
  • Namaqua Flower Camps: For four weeks a year during the annual wildflower superbloom, the park also plays host to two temporary, luxury camps. These are the Namaqua Flower Skilpad Camp (in the heart of the park, with stunning mountain vistas), and the Namaqua Flower Beach Camp (with panoramic ocean views). Both offer the same set-up: space for 30 guests in 15 private luxury tents, all with queen beds, electric blankets, hot showers, and generator-powered electricity. Communal areas include a bar and lounge, a fireside seating area, and a restaurant where gourmet meals are served. During the day, embark on guided flower walks and flower safaris, with experts who can provide a deeper insight into the wildflowers and the insects that live in symbiotic harmony with them. These camps must be booked online via a third-party operator, Chiefs Tented Camps. 

How to Get There

The nearest town to Namaqua National Park is Kamieskroon, located roughly 14 miles southeast of Skilpad Rest Camp. To get to the park from Kamieskroon, simply head north on Main Street, and then turn left onto Ou Hoog Weg. The town is on the N7 highway, 43 miles/45 minutes south of Springbok and 305 miles/five hours north of Cape Town

Accessibility 

Namaqua National Park is still being developed and as such, accessible features are limited. However, one of the four cottages at Skilpad Rest Camp is designed for guests with impaired mobility, while the ablutions at Skilpad Visitor Centre are also accessible.

Tips for Your Visit 

  • There are two gates to the park: the main gate at Skilpad Rest Camp, and a second gate at Groen River. The latter provides access to the park’s coastal section and is accessible to 4x4 vehicles only. 
  • The gates are typically open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. 
  • Visitors are required to pay a daily conservation fee. This is currently listed as R96 per adult, and R48 per child. Major discounts are available for SADC nationals and South African citizens and residents, with proof of ID.
  • Although rainfall is limited in the park, the wettest season is during the winter (June to August). Average winter temperatures rage from 45–66 degrees, while average summer temperatures range from 68–108 degrees. Bring adequate water and sun protection whenever you travel. 
  • Snakes (some of them venomous) and scorpions are prevalent in the park. Always wear closed shoes and be aware of where you put your feet. In the morning, check that your shoes aren’t harboring any new residents before putting them on. 
  • This is a wilderness destination, with no gas stations, ATMs, restaurants, or camp stores. Bring everything you need with you. The closest fuel pumps and ATMs are located in Springbok, some 43 miles away. 
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Namaqua National Park: The Complete Guide