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NORTHERN CAPE REGION

Of all South Africa's provinces, the Northern Cape covers the largest area, and is the most thinly populated.

It stretches 900 kilometres from the Atlantic shoreline eastwards to the scrublands around Kimberley on the great central plateau, and from the Western Cape north to the borders of Namibia and Botswana - an area of some 360,000 square kilometres, which is nearly three times the size of England. 

Most of the region is hot, dry, sandy, barren-seeming in places, and often beautiful in its huge emptiness. To the south of the Orange River (recently renamed the Gariep, which means ‘Great' in the indigenous language) is the Great Karoo, a flattish, largely featureless land of lonely homesteads and windmills and of scanty but sweet grasses that nurture a high percentage of the country's 30 million sheep.

Beyond the Orange lies the Kalahari, a wilderness of scrub and grassland that turns to true desert in parts of the Kgadikgadi Transfrontier or ‘Peace' Park - the first of the new-breed sanctuaries that transcend national frontiers. The Park ranks as one of Africa's finest game-viewing venues.  

There is more desert to the west, in regions known as Bushmanland and Namaqualand. But the latter - the narrow strip of arid sandveld that runs up the Atlantic shoreline - has a very special quality: bleak and windswept for the most part, it comes to life in springtime, when wild flowers in their millions bring a riot of colour to the hills and plains. 

The Northern Cape's most prominent physical feature is the Orange. South Africa's largest river, it rises far to the east, in the high Maluti Mountains of Lesotho, and gathers volume as it flows on its 2,250-kilometre journey across the country.

En route it passes through the magnificent Augrabies gorge, close to the Namibian border, before negotiating the final, desolate stretch to the Atlantic seaboard. All along its course it brings life-giving water to the irrigated farmlands - to fruit plantations and fields of lush lucerne and cotton and much else. At the river's mouth, the land is rich in alluvial diamonds. 

Kimberley, in the east, is the Province's Capital and largest urban area, famed for its once-rich diamond ‘pipes' (the best known of these is the ‘Big Hole', now worked out and half filled with water) and for the part it played in the Anglo-Boer War of 1899-1902, when it survived a lengthy siege.

Other centres are Upington, a pleasant and rather isolated place on the banks of the Orange (its airport has the southern hemisphere's longest civil runway); Kuruman, born of 19th-century Christian missionary zeal; and Springbok, Namaqualand's modest but, for a few weeks in spring, flower-bedecked main town.

 

Calvinia
Colesberg
De Aar
Kimberley
Kuruman
Springbok
Upington

         
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