COUNTRIES: Namibia, South Africa
AREA: 5,920 km2
STATUS: Category A: Treaty signed on 1 August 2003
/Ai/Ais meaning ‘burning water’ bringing to mind the Transfrontier Park’s hot springs and hinting at the soul of this arid environment. A true desert wonderland, this stark desert landscape hosts a number of natural gems including natural springs, lava rock formations, and scorching sweeps of desert. Nestled among this harsh environment in vivid patches of green and blue, is an abundance of plant life – a full third of all succulent plant species in the world. Here, life seems more vibrant because of the very nature of the desert environment within which it thrives.
The /Ai/Ais-Richtersveld Transfrontier Park (ARTP) measures 5,920 km. and spans some of the most spectacular arid and desert mountain scenery in southern Africa. It includes the /Ai/Ais Hot Springs Game Park in Namibia and the Richtersveld National Park and Richtersveld World Heritage Site in South Africa. There are plans underway to merge the ARPT with one of the newest National Parks in Namibia, Tsau llKhaeb (Sperrgebiet) National Park. This National Park is a desert area encompassing 26,000 km. that was closed to the public for nearly a century due to diamond mining activities.
The Transfrontier Park is renowned as a biodiversity hotspot and boasts some of the richest succulent flora in the world. It also features the world’s second largest canyon, the Fish River Canyon, which zigzags between spectacular cliffs characteristic of the desert landscape. An MOU was signed by Namibia and South Africa in 2001, after which the international Treaty formally established the ARTP on 1 August 2013. Joint activities between the Namibian and South African components of the ARTP started in 2010, including joint patrols by park managers and the introduction of a border permit. The permit allowed officials from both countries to easily cross the border while on duty within the boundaries of the ARTP. With cross-border operations well in hand and successful, the attention turned to increasing visitor numbers to the ARTP. This is being realised by developing unique cross-border tourism products.
Natural and Cultural Heritage
The 350-million-year-old and erosion-rich Orange River gorge that separates Namibia and South Africa abounds with history, folklore and grandeur. Animal paintings are found in caves, some estimated as being over 25,000 years old. ARTP is part of the succulent karoo biome which has the richest succulent flora in the world harboring about one-third of the world’s approximately 10,000 succulent species, with new species being discovered on an ongoing basis. The ARTP is one of only two entirely arid ecosystem hotspots.
Sparse rainfall occurs in winter due to passing cold fronts falling as light mist, with an annual rainfall of between 50 – 100 mm. The only permanent source of water is the Orange River. Two trees are particularly associated with the ARTP: the bastard quiver tree, Aloe pillansii, and the half-mens (halfhuman), Pachypodium namaquanum, which the Nama people revere as embodiments of their ancestors, half human, half plant, mourning their ancient Namibian home. The Orange River mouth is a wetland of international importance and designated as a Ramsar Wetland Site.
Wildlife found in the area is adapted to withstand the arid climate, with many species concentrated in the denser vegetation around the Orange River. The ARTP harbors 56 species of mammals, including six species endemic to the southern African sub-region and at least 194 species of birds. The programme by South African National Parks (SANParks) to re-introduce wildlife to the ARTP started in 2007, when they brought in 40 gemsbok and 80 springbok. Leopard, caracal, brown hyena and black-backed jackal are some of the predators found in the area. The only breeding pair of augur buzzards in the region nest on the high cliffs. Jackal buzzards and African fish eagle are other common raptor species to see.
The People of ARTP
The /Ai/Ais-Richtersveld Transfrontier Park is one of the last areas preserving the Nama people traditional lifestyle of nomadic pastoralism. Richtersveld National Park is a contractual park which means that the land belongs to the community and is managed by the government agency SANParks on behalf of these communities. While some community members continue to reside in the park and are entitled to graze a total of 6000 head of livestock, the majority choose to live in four settlements adjacent to Richtersveld National Park.
After the Governments of Namibia and South Africa signed the international Treaty in 2013, they established a joint management board. The board includes community representatives and government officials, ensuring joint decision making and benefit sharing in the ARTP.
- Fish River Canyon: The second largest canyon in the world, after the Grand Canyon in America. The Fish River Canyon viewpoint is accessible from the Hobas Camp in /Ai /Ais National Park and offers an internationally acclaimed five day, self-supported hike down the canyon from Hobas to /Ai /Ais. From the Boplass campsite on the Orange River, it is a short hike to the mouth of the Fish River as it enters into the Orange River.
- The Orange River run 2,200km (1,400 miles) from it’s source in the Drakensberg through Lesotho and along the borders of South Africa with Namibia and Botswana, before exiting into the ocean at Oranjemund. There are many exciting kayaking and fishing options along the river.
- /Ai /Ais Hot Springs
- UNESCO World Heritage Site
- Night skies: The ARTP is a large wilderness area, isolated from the light pollution of big cities, offering spectacular night skies for the astronomy enthusiast.
- Remote locations
- Mountainous landscapes
- Experience the oldest Desert in the world
- Hiking: There are many hiking trails available in both the Richtersveld (South African) and /Ai /Ais (Namibian) sections of the park. The Namibian side of the park is best renowned for the 5- day, self-supported Fish River Canyon hike, this is a seasonal hike, please check details before booking. On the Richtersveld side, the following options are available:
- Vensterval Trail (4 days, 3 nights)*
- Lelieshoek-Oemsberg Trail (3 days, 2 nights)*
- Kodaspiek Trail (2 days, 1 night)*
*The above mentioned are only available from 1 April to 30 September
- Mountain biking: Various mountain biking trails and options are available in the area, with some single track and plenty of gravel roads available for mountain biking enthusiasts. The Desert Knights Mountain Bike tour is a five day, fully catered tour offering the best of ARTP mountain biking.
- Kayaking: Inside the park Desert Kayak Tours offer 1,2 and 4 day fully catered and guided kayaking tours down the Orange River through the ARTP.
- Enjoying the Hot springs
- Fishing and fly fishing
- Cape Town International Airport, South Africa to ARTP – 818km
- OR Tambo International Airport, Johannesburg, South Africa to ARTP – 1,202km
- Hosea Kutako International Airport, Windhoek, Namibia to ARTP – 803km
- Charter flights to Oranjemund Airport, Namibia – 248km to ARTP
- Regional flights to Upington Airport, South Africa – 415km to ARTP
The /Ai/Ais-Richtersveld Transfrontier Park is easily accessible thanks to the Sendelingsdrift Tourist Access Facility, which shortens the route between the Richtersveld, the Fish River Canyon and the hot springs by almost 500 km. Alternatively, the quickest route to the ARTP is to take the N7 (South Africa) and B1 (Namibia), turn off at Steinkopf and enter the ARTP through the Port Nolloth and Alexandra Bay route.
- 4×4 and Self-drive
- Tour Operators