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Richtersveld 4x4: drive through sheer mountain desert

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Vastness, openness, mountain desert, steep hills, pointy rocks and narrow gaps... The Richtersveld is the rugged bad boy of 4x4 destinations. 

You won't find any tented camps and quaint little lodges in this part of the world when you are undertaking that long awaited Richtersveld 4x4 adventure.

 A lot of people think the |Ais|Ais section is the main destination but there is so much more to this mountain desert. A 4x4 is, of course, essential for driving here.

Travel writer Toast Coetzer went on a 4x4 trip with well-known guide Rey Janse van Rensburg through the Richtersveld earlier this year and discovered just how big it is. Rey is from Namaqualand and has been leading tours into the Richtersveld since the 1970's. He shares his priceless knowledge...

According to South Africa Nation Parks (SANParks), a startling discovery awaits as the mirage dissolves into human like half mens (half person) and the fauna proves to be a treasure chest of discovery. Half mens is the name of the type of tree that take on human stances as they grow "arms" and their tops look like heads. The top consists of thick, crinkled leaves, that looks a lot like the human head, the unusual appearance being the inspiration for its name.

The Richtersveld is the only place where the Pachypodium namaquanum (Half-mens) grows.                                                                         Photo: Geoff Levey

Towns in the Richtersveld

Alexander Bay, Eksteenfontein, Kuboes, Lekkersing, Port Nolloth, Sanddrift and Steinkopf are the towns in the Richtersveld and each one proves to be a great destination to park the 4x4 and stretch some legs. Below is a map to give an idea of where each town lies.

                                                                      Map by: Richtersveld National Park

Nestled in the hills of the Richtersveld, Lekkersing is on the road to Kuboes and offers many interesting finds for the discerning traveller. Discover how tombstones are cut to quartzite or take a guided tour to the Skurwehoog caves. Learn how to make "riempies" chairs, "velskoene" (shoes) and dresses and "kappies" at "Rusoord" the local craft and community workgroup.

Above: Lekkersing                                                                    Photo by: Lekkersing

Kuboes, lying on the periphery of the Richtersveld National Park, is situated in the heart of the Richtersveld and is described as an arid wonder. Here you might find the elusive klipspringer, a Smith's red rabbit or a majestic Gompou on the sand plains. There is a guest house if you want to take a break from the old two man tent. 

Camping in the Richtersveld National Park

Campsites are like gems you find a long the way and each one has something special to offer. You need to traverse a couple of passes to get to the Richtersberg campsite, but according to those who have camped there, it is totally worth it. Other equally great camps are Pootjiespram, De Hoop, Sendelingsdrift and Kokerboomkloof.

Things to keep in mind while camping on your Richtersveld 4x4 trip

  • Don't camp right on the riverbeds. There is a terrible sandlouse that comes out at night and the flash floods is said to be very dangerous.
  • Mind the extreme temperature changes. 
  • Richtersberg is the best campsite in the summer because there is less wind than most of the other campsites.
  • Kokerboomkloof is the place to camp in the winter. There are granitic structures which are best experienced when temperatures are cool.
  • According to Richtersveld National Park, the best view in the park is from Tatasberg, a relatively easy climb. 

Not about game viewing

You don't go to the Richtersveld to see wildlife. It is more about the small things. The guides offer a lot of interesting facts about the fauna and flora of the dramatic landscapes of the Richtersveld. Here are a couple of things you have to see and take photos of on your Richtersveld 4x4 trip.

Five things to look out for in the Richtersveld

1. Rock Hyrax

                                         Photo by: seagers

2. Ground Squirrel

                                           Photo by: John K

3. Jackal buzzard

                                                Photo by: Blyzz

4. Half mens (half human)

                                    Photo by: RTActivist

5. Hartmann's Mountain Zebra

                             Photo by: Martin Heigan

Enter the |Ais|Ais/Richtersveld Transfrontier Park 

Millions of years of exposure to elements have caused the |Ais|Ais/Richtersveld Transfrontier Park's landscape to be harsh and not for the hesitant. The park stretches into Namibia, which means visitors can cross from South Africa. Quiver trees and mountain desert as far as the eye can see awaits.  Just when you start to get tired of the aridness, the shimmering waters of the Orange River, which meets you as the road meanders to and from it, cools the eye down. Wild animals roam the plains. Likely to encounter are springbok, klipspringer, grey rheebok and steenbok. The cunning baboon also roams this part and you might also encounter the Hartmanns’s Mountain Zebra (a protected species) which are also inhabitants of this fascinating desert. The |Ais|Ais National Park is managed by Nama people and the South African National Parks. 

How to get to the park

The best way to get to the Park from N7 (RSA) and B1 (Namibia) is to turn off at Steinkopf and approach via Port Nolloth and Alexander Bay with only the last 80km being on dirt road.

If you want to take a detour and get a broader picture of the |Ais|Ais Richtersveld take the road from Vioolsdrift, via Kotzehoop, through spectacular scenery to Eksteenfontein and then on to Sendelingsdrift is one well worth travelling. Do keep in mind that the Kotzehoop farmers' crops gets affected from speeding vehicles.

Also note:

  • The park is only accessible by 4x4. Sedan vehicles are not allowed in this park.
  • No specific route can be booked in advance.
  • Driving in the park at night is not permitted.
  • If you want to experience this epic 4x4 excursion, you should start planning. An Equipped Toyata Hilux Double Cab would be perfect for this adventure. Watch our review on the equipped Toyata Hilux Double Cab.

The Richtersveld 4x4 challange: What you need to know

 This tour is 5 days and 4 nights and you drive about 900 km in total. You need a 4x4 and the terrain varies from steep passes to sandy river beds. 

You start and finish in Springbok and it’s best to book accommodation in town for the night before departure and again for the night of your return. You use your own vehicle or you can drive with the guides (at increased cost). All meals are supplied and prepared by the guides.

You have to pack your own sleeping bag and other camping kit (tents are supplied). Also pack your binoculars, magnifying glass and succulent or Namaqualand veld flower guide. And remember the muggies – get a protective net.

You can fill up in Springbok, Vioolsdrif, Sendelingsdriftt (a new Total will come in 2012, for now there is only diesel and lead-replacement petrol), Alexander Bay, Port Nolloth and Steinkopf.

Best time to go? April-November – it’s too hot in mid-summer.

Cost R750 pp per day (self-drive) or R998 pp per day (driving with guides in their vehicle), ie R3 750 pp for the whole 5-day tour (self-drive) or R4 990 (with guides). This price includes the park fees.

Contact  027 718 1905 or send an email to

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Cheréne Pienaar

Cheréne Pienaar Title: Blog Contributor
Affiliation: Drive South Africa Blog

Born and bred in Bloemfontein, this Free state gal is an obsessive reader and hiker and loves discovering... all the time. As an e-marketing assistant and copywriter she believes social media is the future and plans to conquer Africa one word at a time.

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7 Responses on this page.Add your own

  1. Gravatar Skytrax says:

    This is a great post. I love the photos and useful information. I really appreciate how you provide your readers with proper expectations while planning for trips to the Sheer Mountain Desert. I have read a good amount of blogs on the topic and found your the most useful. Thanks for posting.

    Reply to this comment
  2. Gravatar cherene-pienaar says:

    Thank you Skytrax!

    Reply to this comment
  3. Gravatar James Maré says:

    I came upon your site and appreciate your post. It really gives most of the information I am looking for.
    What I want to know is whether or not I will be able to tour the Reserve with a Toyota RAV 4. Will the ground clearance be enough for all the roads or will we be at least able to reach Tattasberg and Gannakouriep from Sendelingsdrift in the RAV4 even though we will be limited to the less rugged roads.

    Reply to this comment
  4. Gravatar Bianca van der Bergh says:

    Hi James
    Thank you for your enquiry. After phoning the Richtersveld office, it’s been brought to my attention that the RAV 4 is not the best vehicle to drive in the reserve. The road from Sendelingsdrift to Tattasberg is quite rough and it can be narrow at times (there’s a possibility that your vehicle could get scratched along the way). If you do decide to drive the RAV 4, it’s also advised that you don’t drive alone.
    Hope this helps you.
    Have a great day.

    Reply to this comment
  5. Gravatar Marius Janse van Rensburg says:

    Ek is beindruk met dit wat ek sien op die blad. Sal graag meer wil weet van verblyf opsies en toere, kan ‘n mens net verblyf bespreek en op jou eie ry deur die gebied. Alles hang mos maar van die begroting af.

    Groete Marius

    Reply to this comment
  6. Gravatar Peter Laurence Samuel says:

    Stel belang in ‘n toer na die Richtersveld saam met Rey. Is daar datums beskikbaar vir 2016? Is alleen en ry met ‘n Landcruiser bakkie.

    Reply to this comment
  7. Gravatar Vince Bradley says:

    We will be doing this trip with our own vehicles. What will be the cost etc.

    Reply to this comment

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