Instagram made me do it. There, I said it!
Although the Augrabies Falls had been on my South African bucket list for a long time, it was the posts of the falls in full force flooding my Instagram feed over the past few months that spurred me into planning a trip there and I finally got to tick them off my bucket list.
However, Instagram posts cannot come close to the reality of standing over the 56 metre high falls and watching millions of litres of water thundering into the 18-km Orange River Gorge every second, especially when the river is in full flood. It is mind-blowing. Fortunately, there are many viewpoints from where you can get close to the falls and experience it’s might.
Known by the Khoi people as ‘Aukoerebis’, or “Place of Great Noise, from which the current name was derived, the falls are located in the Augrabies Falls National Park, around 120km from Upington, in the Northern Cape province. Established in 1966, the park spans an area of 820 km² along the Orange River, South Africa’s longest river. Several deposits of alluvial diamonds have been found along the river and there is a legend that the world’s biggest diamond cache lies in the swirl-hole formed by the rushing waters at the foot of the waterfall.
The road leading to Augrabies is lush and green, lined with vineyards and citrus orchards, but the landscape surrounding the falls is arid and rocky, with patches of green. It feels almost other-worldly. The terrain gives rise to some unique vegetation including the endangered quiver trees (known as kokerboom in Afrikaans), which were historically used by the San people to create quivers for their arrows.
Besides the waterfalls, there are many more things to do at Augrabies Falls National Park. Hiking is one of them. The weather wasn’t on our side and it was raining much of the time that we were there. However, we did manage to do the 2km Gorge Trail hike in spectacular surroundings which took us to Twin Falls and Arrow Point, two of the landmarks there. There’s also the 5 km Dassie trail , the 2.8 km Ebony trail which was closed during our stay and a 35km/ 3 day Klipspringer trail.
You can also visit the bird hide or go for a self-drive in the game area where apart from animals like mountain zebras, giraffes and antelopes, you can see interesting natural geographical features like Moon Rock, a huge exfoliation dome and Swartrante, the volcanic black rocks.
After all this activity, you can cool off in one of the park’s three swimming pools, or relax on your patio with a book.
Accommodation options include chalets, family cottages and campsites. Most of them are located near the park entrance; however for a special treat you can stay at the Oranjekom Gorge Cottage, which is located under the viewpoint of the spectacular Oranjekom Gorge, and offers breathtaking vistas of the Orange River flowing below. It’s only meant for two people though.
We stayed in a family cottage which was spacious and comfortable with 2 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms and an open plan lounge, dining and fully equipped kitchen area. The patio had braai facilities and overlooked the surrounding greenery. It was a short walk from there to the viewpoints overlooking the falls.
Although day visitors are welcome, staying in the park gives you the opportunity to explore the park early in the morning and late in the evening after the day visitors have left. You can also get to see the falls illuminated at night. Unfortunately for us, the rains came down at night during our stay so we didn’t get to see it.
Having seen the waterfalls, I can confirm that they are a must-see. In fact, they should be on every South Africa bucket list. They are certainly the most impressive waterfalls I’ve ever seen in South Africa, and I’ve been to most of them.
Good to know
You don’t need a 4x4 to see the falls but to get the maximum benefit out of your trip a 4x4 is recommended because a vast section of the park is accessible only by a 4x4 or a high clearance vehicle especially in rainy season.
The water in the taps is not safe to drink. Bottled water is recommended.
Take your own shampoo and beverages. If you don’t, you can get them at the convenience store which is located in the main building along with the reception area and a restaurant.
For more information and to book visit Augrabies Falls National Park .