Planning Your Time
To get the most out of this province, plan to visit between mid-August and late September, which would allow for a visit to Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, a couple of days following the Orange River between Upington and Augrabies National Park, and taking in the culture and flowers of Namaqualand. Ten days would let you see the highlights. Most people have less time and choose to do one of these in two or three days.
3 Days: If you have three days, spend them soaking up the history and culture of Kimberley. On your first day, tour the town and its landmarks, perhaps starting your morning with one of the reasonably priced registered guides. Day 2 can be spent taking an underground tour of a working diamond mine, followed by an afternoon of diamond-rush history at a mine museum. To rest your weary feet, ride on a historic restored tram. On your third day take a side trip, either northwest of town toward Barkly West, where you can see alluvial diggings with a guide or view ancient rock engravings, or south of Kimberley to the evocative Anglo-Boer War battlefield Magersfontein. Take a picnic and have it under one of the ubiquitous thorn trees scattered across the battlefield.
5 Days: If it's spring (August–September), it's worth sharing five days between the florally quite phenomenal Nieuwoudtville, Springbok, and Port Nolloth to get the best of Namaqualand.
If you visit between mid-May and late July (winter in South Africa), head for the huge spaces of Kgalagadi, then spend a night along the Orange River between Upington and Augrabies Falls National Park. Some excellent accommodation and wining (this is serious grape country) and dining establishments have set up in the region in recent years, and these are viable alternatives to the better-known Cape Winelands. Take note that the Northern Cape is a renewable energy hub, and that Upington has a large solar energy project under way. Next try a few days of roughing it in the ruggedly beautiful Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, cooking your own meals and driving your own vehicle in search of the black-maned Kalahari lions and the beautifully symmetrical gemsbok. Then head for the decadent luxury of two nights at Tswalu Kalahari Reserve, where you'll appreciate the game drives, bush walks, and attention to detail all the more for having roughed it for the past few days. A worthwhile, more affordable and geographically logical luxury option is Tutwa Desert Lodge, outside Augrabies Falls.
If you visit between October and mid-May, Port Nolloth makes an excellent entry point for the Richtersveld, South Africa’s last true wilderness. The Port Nolloth region is undiscovered country of shipwrecks, diamonds, and crayfish, and is well worth at least two nights and a day in itself. Crayfish season begins in October, so during this time you may want to find a crayfish braai (barbecue) on the beach somewhere. This is off-the-beaten-track stuff. But note: there is no fresh fish in the winter months.
In summer Upington is a good base for day trips to Pella and Klein Pella (visually arresting date-palm plantations), Witsand (wildlife and white sand dunes), the occasional wine estate on the banks of the Orange River, and Augrabies Falls, but be sure to make your visits in early morning or late afternoon, leaving time for a rest or a swim in the midday heat.
7 or More Days: If you enjoy huge, empty spaces, take a week to drive from Kimberley to Springbok, taking in the Kalahari en route. There are some memorable places to stop and stay along the way, but beware: this is a long and lonely trip and really should be considered only if the flowers will be in bloom when you get to Namaqualand (July–mid-October). From Kimberley drive past Upington to the vast Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park some two hours north. Return just past Upington again and head for Kanon-Eiland in the middle of the Orange River, where your guesthouse experience can be as good as it gets Visit a local award-winning brandy and wine estate for lunch before or afterward. Then head north to visit Augrabies Falls National Park, where five-star accommodation has finally found its way. On Day 5 drive to Springbok, the heart of Namaqualand. Stay two nights here or in nearby Okiep, using this area as your base for exploring the picturesque towns of Leliefontein (and the nearby Namaqua National Park) to the south and Port Nolloth to the northwest. Head south down the N7 to Cape Town, where the madding crowds will catch you by surprise after the loneliness of the beautiful Northern Cape.