The Start Of The Namaqualand Road Trip.

After a few months planning a +5000km road trip, booking accommodation and trying to navigate leave, getting approval the dates were finally set and I was finally able to get going.

I frantically had to tie up some loose ends at work on Thursday 13th December then I was good to go until the 2nd January when I was due back at work.


Gillitts to Clarens.

I eventually got on my way and left Kloof at just before 4pm filled up my car R 656 and headed straight for Golden Gate National Park. Not before around 500m from the entrance I was treated with the first reptile of the trip a large male Puff Adder stretched out across the road.

Puff Adder crossing road at 7:40pm 349 km the road was temp 27,7 degrees

Entrance of Golden Gate National Park.

I continued on without seeing any other reptiles or amphibians in the park on my way to Clarens. 391km down and I reached the Clarens Inn where I was spending the evening as I’ve done a few time son previous over nighters to the area very simply and basic accommodation but well worth it.

Namaquland Road Trip

What R250 a night will get you in Clarens.


Clarens to Augrabies Falls National Park

I had a good nights rest and made an early start  and left Clarens at 03:30am. I stopped and refuelled at Bethlehem – R 421

Not much happening along the way and stopped a few times to photograph some social weavers nests and take short stops to stretch the legs at the quaint concrete rest stops which are littered across the Northern Cape.

Refuelled at Groothookgat- R 589

One of the first social weavers nest I saw on the trip – they were everywhere after this!

There are loads of these little stops but the shaded areas do nothing for the scorching air temperature.

I carried on straight through to Uppington and stropped at Kalahari Mall to grab a few things before I headed out to Augrabies thinking I’d need a few cold things – the heat was insane in Uppington at 36 degrees at around 1pm if only I knew how it would progress! A quick 15min trip into the mall landed up taking about 45mins as none of the card machines where working inside the Spar but all I could do was wait it out.

I refuelled just outside of Aubgrabies at Kakmas – R 530 bought some more water as my supply from Kalahari mall was already depleting. A quick 40km and I had eventually arrived at the Park.

A much welcomed WELCOME sign!

Trying to avoid the heat like a tourist didn’t quite work!

An exquisite male Augrabies Flat Lizard.

After a really seamless check in process – the staff at Augrabies are really great and accommodating much like many of the SANPARKS reserves I’ve visited previously.

I went through to the camp site and the heat hit you much like opening an oven – straight to the face! I trained in vain to find a shaded spot to set up my tent but failed. Whilst setting up camp i had my first experience with the local monkeys and lost a packet of pasta to them after one shot straight into my car! Lesson learned! The campsite are clean and laid out well but the heat is unbearable so make sure if you’re staying there you’re prepared as their are no communal freezers/fridges like at many of the other SANPARKS reserves and the water from the taps comes out at about 34 degrees so not ideal

I was fully set up camp by late afternoon so i decided to take a walk around the park and spotted a few skinks and a couple Flat Lizards but in this heat I knew not much else would be moving around.

After avoiding the heat the rest of the day I put some dinner together and waited for darkness at around 20:05pm I made my way out not before seeing a few dozen Bibrons Geckos before I had event reached the camp gates.

Chondrodactylus bibronii

Bibrons Gecko, Augrabies Falls Campsite.

Chondrodactylus angulifer

Common Giant Gecko. Just outside Augrabies National Park

Chondrodactylus angulifer

Common Giant Gecko. Just outside Augrabies National Park

Chondrodactylus angulifer

Two young Common Giant Geckos from near Rievsmark.

The temperature at around 22:15pm was still relatively warm so I headed back to the park, often when temperatures are too high the snakes simply aren’t on the move or move much later in the night. I decided to photograph a few specimens and then head to search the rocky ridges bordering the falls just outside of the lightfall of the restaurant and campsites to search for some animals.

Within minutes i had seen several more Bibrons Geckos, Augrabies Geckos, a single gravid Haacke’s Gecko and a Weber’s Geckos which managed to evade capture!

I spent a good hour or two making my way across the rocks along the river face searching for more geckos, many of which had regrown tails or where missing tails completely so I didn’t spend to much effort in photographing those. On my way back to my campsite I heard the unmistakable sound of a toad calling at a very dried pond in close proximity to the camp. I headed to bed after a LONG day at 01:15am.


Augrabies Falls National Park

Today was my first full day at the park – the sunrise was ridiculous at around 04:30am I had a really uncomfortable night everything is hot the moment you enter the tent I slept with just the mesh screen of my tent it was that bad. I photographed a few specimens I had collected the previous evening but had a tough time lost a gecko tail which really puts damper on things! I went down the walk way and attempted to photograph a few of the Flat Lizards before the heat got out of hand this was at 7:48am which was successful at least although these lizards are rather habituated towards people but busy on the walkway people would often scare them off.

Hardly a bad view waiting for the lizards to make an appearance

Platysaurus boradleyi – Broadley’s Flat Lizard

These lizards are exceptionally well designed for living amongst the tight rock cracks and are fast as lightning.

Platysaurus boradleyi – Broadley’s Flat Lizard

These lizards are exceptionally well designed for living amongst the tight rock cracks and are fast as lightning.

Platysaurus boradleyi – Broadley’s Flat Lizard

These lizards are exceptionally well designed for living amongst the tight rock cracks and are fast as lightning.

After photographing the Flat Lizards I decided the go back to my tent and pack everything up – I was totally done with this heat! I worked out If at the office they can comp my nights camping and cancelled my camping for the following week I will pay in the difference and stay in one of the self catering units (which have AIRCON and fridge/freezer) which was a great idea and only cost R612 extra which by this stage I would have paid the full price regardless, anything to avoid another night in that tent.

The chalets are fantastic and just the quality I’ve come to know from previous stays at SANPARKS accommodation across the country. I spent the next few hours making use of the aircon and couch to avoid the heat which is searing from 10am-5pm at least.

Spent some time following these Horned Adder tracks but couldn’t find the owner.

It’s almost as hot as it looks here at around 19:20pm

Natural Habitat around the walk ways

Now after a leisurely afternoon I sorted out some dinner and headed outside of the reserve to road cruise for some geckos and hopefully a few snakes at around 8pm. The best thing about Augrabies Falls National Park is they have a 24hr gate and if you get a daily entry/exit permit you’re free to come and go which was ideal! The temps where still high at around 9pm there was little wind so it was deathly warm – too warm perhaps for snakes to be on the move. Nevertheless I found a few more geckos and a new species I’d not managed to find the previous night.

The roads were pretty quiet I was hoping to turn up a  few more species and of course a couple of snakes but no luck unfortunately. I headed back to the the chalet and did I notice that air conditioning! I dumped a few things and got some fresh batteries for my torch and headed back to the rocky ridges along the falls to search fro more geckos. I saw loads of Bibrons Geckos, Augrabies Geckos, Webers Geckos and of a number of Common River Frogs which had all congregated in a small pool in-between the rocks. Nothing new to add to the list in terms of reptiles but the frogs although common where a nice addition. I headed back and was in bed by 2am – no early nights where going to come out of this trip the next 10 days thats for sure.

Tips from the first leg:

  • Visit Golden Gate National Park and Clarens this year it’s a real hidden gem of the Eastern Free State (about 300km from Johannesburg and 340km from Durban) why? Because it’s beautiful that’s why.
  • Invest in a reusable aluminium water bottle (because plastic sucks) I bought this one from KWAY many of the supermarkets have water stations whereyou can refill your own bottles without having to buy more plastic bottles.
  • When travelling through the Northern Cape take loads of water you’ll need it.
  • Sunscreen high SPF the sun is no joke so project yourself.
  • Refuel when you can – don’t play the fuel light game you’ll regret it!
  • If you’re going to camp at Augrabies be prepared for the monkeys (they’re rather hectic and will destroy everything you own).
  • In relation to the above point – If you’re not prepped for extreme summer heat do not camp rather book into the self catering – trust me!

Adios from Augrabies Falls National Park.

Thanks for reading, still to come are parts two and three with loads more reptiles and road trips to come.

by Tyrone Ping

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