Augrabies Falls is about 120km west of Upington in the Northern Cape. Although the average water flow is about 40-60 cubic metres per second, during the January 2011 floods some 4 800 cubic metres of water raced over the falls every second. It’s a place of unusual landscapes and quiver trees. Here’s what to do with 48 hours at Augrabies waterfalls in South Africa.
Not far from the entrance and main camp is Moon Rock, a massive rounded granite mound. This will be your first stop during your 48 hours in Augrabies Falls National Park. Yes, I know this park has the best waterfalls in South Africa, but there’s plenty of time for that later. Leave your car at the bottom and walk up to the top for a view of the landscape all around. Then drive to Ararat and Echo Corner, two viewpoints where you can look out over the Orange River gorge. The road takes you through some stark rocky landscapes that are nevertheless beautiful. Stop at Swartrante – black hills of igneous rock – and swivel to see the view in all directions.
Now take the road to Oranjekom, where you’ll find Gorge Cottage underneath the viewing platform - by far the most exciting Augrabies Falls accommodation. This is your home for the night. Once other visitors have to leave the viewpoint over the gorge to return to camp by sunset, you’ll have the place to yourself. When we visited in March it was very hot (though management has since installed an air cooling system) but it was wonderful to watch the way the light softened as the sun set, to see the view across the gorge even from inside the cottage, thanks to its walls of glass.
See more about Gorge Cottage
Wake to the panoramic view of the gorge again and enjoy coffee and rusks while you soak it all in for the last time. Pack up and head further west into the park to Hartmann’s loop. Take your time to enjoy the different landscapes and rock formations, see if you can identify the shepherd’s tree, wild tamarisk and especially the quiver tree – named after the San tradition of hollowing the fibrous branches to use as quivers for their arrows.
Along the way you may spot animals like Hartmann’s mountain zebra, klipspringer, eland, kudu, gemsbok, springbok and giraffe. The park is also home to raptors like Verreaux’s (black) eagle and pygmy falcon and other birds like sociable weavers and the colourful swallow-tailed bee-eater.
After your game drive and lunch, cool off with a dip in one of the main camp’s three swimming pools, then walk along the boardwalk to the viewing decks above the falls. See the water boil over the rock lip and rush down a 56m freefall into the gorge below. The deafening racket will remind you that the Khoi word Aukoerebis (Augrabies) means ‘place of great noise’. Look out for Augrabies flat lizards and dassies on the rocks, take photos of this powerful place and watch the sun set over the falls.
[Update October 2020: sadly, the park has decided that there will be no more guided drives at Augrabies.] Sign on for a guided a night drive into the park. In summer it’s the best time to see animals because it’s too hot for them to be out and about during the day.
With guide Richards Okkers, we saw spotted eagle-owls, small-spotted genets, Cape hare, scrub hare and Smith’s red rock rabbit, as well as giraffe and antelope like springbok, gemsbok and hartebeest. The chance of seeing eland drinking at the waterhole are also good at night.
We also saw two pairs of klipspringer, which Richard compared to ballerinas walking on their toes. ‘They have great grip on the rocks, like ABS brakes, and the males have a scent gland under the eye to mark their territory. The scent lasts about two weeks,’ he said.
If you’re lucky, you might spot and aardvark or leopard, which also live in the park.
On our way back to camp he stopped on a hill at Swartrante so we could admire the Milky Way and masses of other stars in a very dark sky before the moon rose. Magic.
You should get back from your night drive by 21:00 or 21:30 (earlier in winter), enough time to take a quick look at the illuminated falls before the lights switch off at 22:00. Just remember to take a torch with you to find your way back to your Augrabies Falls accommodation – either in one of the main camp’s air-conditioned self-catering chalets, or in the shady campsite.
Your 48 hours at Augrabies Falls is nearly over, so get up early and walk the Ebony Trail before you have to leave the park. It starts just past the day visitors’ site outside the main camp and is 2.8km or 90 minutes long. Happily for those who enjoy shade in this hot, dry environment, the trail takes you under some indigenous trees. If you want to learn what species they are, read the ID tags. Bring your binos so you can spot eland, giraffe or a bird party in the bushes.
A trail for those with more time and energy is the circular 5.5-7km Dassie trail, which takes you to Arrow Point, Twin Falls and Moon Rock before returning to camp.