The ultimate road trip from Cape Town to Augrabies Falls National Park

Posted by Imogen Searra on 19 February 2021

Cristine Wekenborg and her boyfriend hit the road for an epic adventure, with the goal of exploring the north of South Africa in the wake of the recent heavy rains.

Driving from Cape Town, to Sutherland, to the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park and ending off in Augrabies National Park before heading back to the Mother City, the pair set off on an epic adventure.

Wekenborg spoke to Getaway Magazine about their trip, what sights are worth seeing along the way and where to stay, if you’re planning to visit the roaring Augrabies Falls.

From Cape Town, the couple drove to Sutherland and stayed at Sterland Camping.

‘Unfortunately, the South African Astronomical Observatory (SALT) is not open for visitors at the moment. But we stayed at Sterland Camping and the owner has some telescopes himself, so he could tell us some interesting facts about our universe,’ said Wekenborg.

From Sutherland the pair continued north to Verneukpan, where they spent the night before being bombarded with locusts.

‘It is very isolated and we were a bit scared that our little Audi A3 would not make it to the pan. Once arrived, we were all on our own, raced the Audi for a bit and watched the sunset in the middle of the pan, absolutely stunning.

‘At nightfall we were surprised by millions of locusts (be aware of the rainy season). Our romantic night under the stars for my boyfriend’s birthday became a little war zone and we decided to have dinner in the tent.’

Picture © Cristine Wekenborg

A desert sunset. Picture © Cristine Wekenborg

Dinner prep. Picture © Cristine Wekenborg

Post-locust bombardment. Picture © Cristine Wekenborg

Blue skies and the open road. Picture © Cristine Wekenborg

From here, the couple set off for the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park via Upington. They spent two nights in Twee Rivieren and a night in Nossob and Mata-Mata.

‘The Kalahari was very green and we saw a lot of wildlife. Heavy rainfalls in the evenings flooded the camping areas, so be aware of where you pitch your tent, but it also made the roads very smooth for our little car to drive around.’

After leaving Mata-Mata, the pair travelled to Upington to shorten their trip to Augrabies National Park. Here, they spent the night on a springbok farm just outside the town.

Can you see the lioness? Picture © Cristine Wekenborg

Red soil and green grass, the perfect contrast. Picture © Cristine Wekenborg

Sunset in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. Picture © Cristine Wekenborg

Morning in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. Picture © Cristine Wekenborg

‘Augrabies was our aim for the next day. Luckily it cooled down to about 32 degrees Celsius, so camping was a more pleasant experience. We stayed one night inside the park. Unfortunately we arrived on a Sunday, which was also Valentine’s Day, so the park was flooded with day visitors. We spent the day around the camping site and waited until 4pm to see the falls.

‘It’s incredible how much water is flowing down the gorge. The visitor platforms are right next to the high water level, which makes it very exciting, but also a bit scary.

‘One platform is in the middle of a couple of streams, which makes it raining nonstop so your phone better be waterproof. In the afternoon one can see the rainbows around the waterfalls, which is just stunning, the morning rainbows are a bit weaker. The sunsets have all the colors. Due to the rain in the area and the dust/sand, we got an awesome pinkish/purple sunset,’ she continued.

The mighty Augrabies Falls. Picture © Cristine Wekenborg

Cristine Wekenborg overlooking the falls. Picture © Cristine Wekenborg

‘Half of the park is flooded and all other hiking trails and driving routes are closed at the moment. Only a small part of the park, which is the boardwalk around the waterfalls is open. All visitors concentrate on this little area. But if you stay in the park, you can visit the falls after hours (the park is only open until 6pm for day visitors, last in at 5pm). The light is also incredible after 6pm. Additionally, you can see the falls for sunrise, which is very special. Even most of the campers are only away after sunrise, so you might have the whole waterfall area to yourself, which is very special,’ said Wekenborg.

When the pot of gold is the Augrabies. Picture © Cristine Wekenborg

Powerful cascades. Picture © Cristine Wekenborg

A double rainbow! Picture © Cristine Wekenborg

‘The falls were incredible. I have seen the Victoria Falls, Iguazu Falls and Niagara Falls before, but this was special. The boardwalk has several lookout points, which are totally different. From far away you have a whole panorama view over the river, green bushes and parts of the falls. The middle part is like standing in the rain and you get completely soaked. The rainbow is kind of above your head and the massive amount of water is shooting through the gorge underneath your feet. The closer platforms bring you to the start of the waterfall, where you feel the water pumping down and vibrating. There is no other way than smiling and being happy to witness such a flooded waterfall.

‘I would have loved to see other parts of the park, but due to the flooding, it was not possible. Next time, I will come back in the dry season. There might not be a waterfall, but there is the possibility to explore the desert in a sandy and hot way. You cannot have both. But seeing the Kalahari and the Waterfall in full flooding was a lucky experience and I would not like to miss it.

‘From Augrabies Falls we made our way back to Cape Town. Our last night we stayed at Highlanders Campsite just north of Clanwilliam to shorten our trip,’ Wekenborg continued.

The Augrabies Falls are roaring. Picture © Cristine Wekenborg

Breathtaking. Picture © Cristine Wekenborg

A true force of nature. Picture © Cristine Wekenborg

‘I definitely recommend this trip. As a Karoo lover, this trip was one of the best trips we ever made. Although we sometimes felt like fighting the Egyptian plagues with all the heat, floodings and locusts. Camping in this rural areas, seeing so many lions in the Kgalagadi, wine tasting on the orange river and feeling the power of South Africa’s most magical waterfall. On this trip one highlight follows the next,’ Wekenborg added.

‘There is no break in between, as every day brings so much adventure. It might have only been 10 days, but it feels like I made memories for much longer,’ she concluded.

The trip in a nutshell

The trip was 10 days/ 9 nights in total.

  • 1 night Southerland
  • 1 night Verneukpan
  • 4 nights Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park
  • 1 night Upington
  • 1 night Augrabies
  • 1 night Clanwilliam

Roundtrip distance:

2863 km (around 3000km incl. game drives and grocery shopping)

What you shouldn’t leave behind:

A raincoat and mosquito repellent

Swimsuit and cold beer

Map outline of the trip:

Cristine Wekenborg’s recommendations for accommodation and places to visit along the way:  

  • If you have a 4×4 or a high clearance car or you are just as mad as we are and willing to take your little car up there (which was no problems apart from some sections in Kgalagadi), you can drive the same route as we did.
  • We spent some time in Namaqua National Park in September, that’s why we didn’t choose to go there again, but if you have time, definitely check out their coastal campsites. If you have a 4×4 and time, drive through the 4×4 routes of the park from the N7 towards the coast: sand dunes, remote beaches and an awesome flora & fauna.
  • Unfortunately most of the Orange River Accommodation around Vioolsdrift are closed due to the floodings
  • If you have less time for the trip and willing to take 2 driving days in, the trip is also possible in a shorter period of time

Sutherland

  • Sterland Camping (R150ppn, stargazing R150pp/Sundays R200pp)
  • SALT (when open again for visitors, not in Level 3)
  • Restaurant: The White House (beers R22)

Verneukpan

  • Verneukpan Camping (R150ppn)
  • No restaurants around, BYO

Kgalagadi

  • Twee Rivieren, Nossob, Mata-Mata camping (between R280-350pn)
  • Pools, Restaurants are closed at the moment, shops with basic groceries available, laundry only in Twee Rivieren

Upington

  • Kalahari Monate Lodge (R150 ppn), 12 km north of Upington
  • Red Ox Steakhouse (R95 breakfast, R48 craft beer)
  • Orange River Wine Route
  • Orange River Cellars (cellars aren’t open on Saturday afternoons and Sundays) This winery gets their grapes from 300km along the Orange River, therefore there are 5 wine tasting options along the river, we went to Kakamas, just outside Augrabies Falls (30 min). Wine Tasting R10 for 5 wines or R0 when you buy some wine (price range R35-R180 per bottle)
  • Die Mas van Kakamas: This winery is also in Kakamas and has an awesome terrace overlooking the orange river. Wine Tasting R30 or R0 if you buy some wine (from R60 per bottle). There are also Brandy and Gin Tastings available
  • Other wineries of the Orange River Wine Route are Bezalel (Upington) and Landzicht (Douglas)
  • Upington is awesome for filling up, buying groceries or fixing your car (lots of garages) on the way to and from Kgalagadi/ Augrabies
  • There might be floodings in Keimoes, so you might have to cross a river with your car (or plan some more time to drive around it)

Augrabies

  • Campsite (R285 pn)
  • Pools, Shops with basic groceries available
  • They have a lot of availabilities for spontaneous people. For weekends, it’s better to pre-book 7 days in advance

Highlanders Campsite (Trawal, just north of Clanwilliam)

  • Campsite (R150ppn)
  • Pool, no restaurant or shop

Traveller tips:

  • Have Roosterkoek/wine tasting at Piekenierskloof (N7, south of Citrusdal)
  • If you are driving N1 (direction Southerland), start early and have your Breakfast at Du Toitskloof wines (or in the area)
  • Lots of people stopover also in the Cederberg (I met some people who stopped over in Kliphuis or Ceres or Calvinia)
  • Most people took the R27 up (to not drive the N7 twice), we met a British couple who planned on driving through Namaqua on the way to Cape Town
  • No one ever heard of Verneukpan (we were the only ones there and the last booking, according to the guest book, was January 4)
  • It can get very hot during the day, be prepared for temperatures sometimes over 40 degrees Celsius
  • It can rain a lot in a very short time period, be prepared for that and choose your camping spot wisely (we had 38mm in 2h at Mata-Mata Camp, the whole area got flooded)
  • A 4×4 is not necessary for the roads, but you might want a bit higher car to see the animals (we could sometimes not see over the savanna grass)






yoast-primary - 1004431
tcat - Activities
tcat_slug - activities
tcat2 - Travel news
tcat2_slug - travel-news
tcat_final - adventures