One of the African Peace Parks, the Ai-Ais/Richtersveld Transfrontier National Park features some of the most spectacular desert scenery in southern Africa. Established in 2003, it joins Namibia’s Ai-Ais (hot springs) and Fish River Canyon National Park with South Africa’s Richtersveld National Park.
The Richtersveld is one of the most desolate areas you’ll find in southern Africa, but also among the most beautiful – if you’re into hot and barren. It’s a harsh landscape where the temperature sometimes reaches 50°C in the summer. It seems so inhospitable that it’s a wonder life can suvive here at all, but on closer inspection you’ll find that it does.
The Richtersveld contains the world’s richest desert flora. Tiny succulents cling to the rock faces and suck the moisture out of the air when mist rolls in from the cold Atlantic coast. The half-mens (‘half-person’) cacti sprout in phallic fashion from the rocky soil, along with quiver trees and aloes.
The transfrontier park then stretches into southwestern Namibia, a land that quickly becomes rocky and sandy desert. The main features are surely the Fish River Canyon, a spectacular jagged rift in the otherwise flat landscape that surrounds it, and the nearby Ai-Ais hot springs that provide welcome relief to the haggard feet of weary travellers.
This surreal landscape is best traversed in a 4×4, but vehicles with high clearance and difflock ought to manage too. Sedans are not allowed in the Richtersveld, and summers are excruciatingly hot, so go in winter (May – August).