Reasons to visit Northern Cape South Africa with kids

The Northern Cape’s vast expanse of wilderness provides outdoor adventure galore for all the family, especially within its many national parks. Get afloat on the Orange river and see the mighty Augrabies Falls. Go on a wildlife safari and listen out for the roar of the Kalahari lion. Walk in the footsteps of dinosaurs, discover Kimberley’s wild west diamond days and learn about the history of South Africa. See thousands of flowers in stunning technicolour and look at the cosmos through a telescope – or simply gaze up at the stars. Travel to the Northern Cape in South Africa with kids and you’ll find plenty of things to do.
Zebras at the Haak en Steek waterhole in the Mokala National Park of South Africa. Photo: Grobler du Preez/Shutterstock
Zebras at the Haak en Steek waterhole in the Mokala National Park. Photo: Grobler du Preez/Shutterstock

Diamonds at the Big Hole: Kimberley Mine Museum

A visit to the Big Hole: Kimberley Mine Museum provides an incredible insight into the area’s somewhat dark, diamond mining past. The Big Hole crater is the result of intense excavation some 150 years ago, using only simple shovels and picks, after word got out that there were diamonds to be found and fortunes to be made. You can peer down into the gaping hole from a platform suspended above.

There are also some fascinating displays, such as a simulated mine shaft – the audio visual effects cleverly conveying something of the horrible conditions the miners experienced, as well as a vault of actual diamonds to gasp at in the informative Exhibition Centre. Kids will love the old tram that runs to the other side of the Big Hole, as well as the partly restored and preserved Old Town. The open-air museum of restored buildings from the 1880s, including a church, a tobacconist’s, and boxing academy, brings to life diamond-rush era Kimberley.

The Big Hole in Kimberley. Photo: Jennifer Sophie/Shutterstock

Spectacular Augrabies Falls 

The Khoikhoi people named the falls Ankoerebis, “the place of great noise” for good reason. During the rainy season the thundering water from the full-flowing Orange River hurtles at full force along the gorge and plummets to the 56m drop below. It’s made all the more spectacular by the desert backdrop, especially if you see the falls at sunset. Get the kids to play spot the animals – there are mongoose and lizards around the falls, and you may come across various antelopes –  klipspringer, springbok, or eland – as you drive along the park roads. 

There’s plenty to occupy the whole family. Older children may be able to tackle the three-day hike along the Klipspringer trail, whereas the 5km Dassie nature trail may be more suited to smaller legs. 

Night tours to see game are always an exciting prospect for kids, or take a 4WD for the self-drive route. For the really adventurous there are rafting and canoeing options, including the “Augrabies Rush”, a half-day, 9km rafting trip with Kalahari Outventures. You can pick up information on all activities at the park’s reception.

 Augrabies Falls. Photo: Andre Klopper/Shutterstock

Big cats at Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park

Big cats capture children’s imaginations. Here, they get the chance to see them for real. Cheetahs, leopards, and the black-maned Kalahari lion all prowl the wide open, red desert land of the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park of South Africa and neighbouring Botswana. Other animals to spot include hyenas, blue wildebeest, gemsbok, as well as amusing meerkats. Keen bird watchers may get to see eagles and vultures, ostrich and bustards. 

Twee Rivieren, Mata-Mata and Nossob restcamps each have a swimming pool, perfect for overheated kids (and parents) to cool off. In fact, it’s worth bearing in mind, especially if you have younger ones in tow, that summer temperatures are searingly hot, so best avoided. 

Black-maned Kalahari lion. Photo: JMx Images/Shutterstock

Join a tour of the Kalahari 

When travelling around South Africa with kids it can be easier – and more relaxing – to leave the expedition and adventure planning to those with specialist knowledge. And when driving these huge distances, it’s perhaps more enjoyable for parents if they can sit back and enjoy the scenery (as well as be on hand to dole out snacks and deal with siblings squabbles). There are several operators offering a range of tours in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park in the Kalahari Desert and surrounding areas, including Augrabies Falls and the Riemvasmaak hot springs, with camping safari options. They also offer a variety of adventure activities, such as canoeing, kayaking, falls rafting and fishing. Kalahari Tours & Travel, Kalahari Outventures, Kalahari Safaris, Tata Ma Tata Tours are all reliable companies. Kalahari Tours & Travel declares a commitment to responsible tourism, respecting wildlife, conservation and local communities. 

Hiking in the Augrabies Falls National Park. Photo: Andre Gie/Shutterstock

Marvel at Late Stone Age rock art at Wildebeest Kuil

Seeing an image of an elephant, buffalo or antelope that was carved into rock thousands of years ago is fascinating – whether you’re a child or an adult. The 400 or so animal engravings on the rocks and boulders around the site at Wildebeest Kuil, near Kimberley, were created by people living in the area during the Late Stone Age. The site is owned by the local !Xun and Khwe San people who provide excellent guided tours, with access to the rocks via a series of boardwalks. There’s also a shop where you can buy San artwork and crafts. 

Gaze at the stars

The clear unpolluted skies around Sutherland are ideal for stargazing, and at the  Observatory, a series of silver domes on a hilltop, you get to peer into deep space through telescopes. It’s essential to book for the night sky tour and talk, but it’s worth it. During the day you can go on a tour to see the South African Large Telescope (SALT), although large is an understatement – this is the biggest optical telescope in the southern hemisphere. 

If you have budding astronomers in your family, why not continue stargazing at Sterland Sutherland in town? Local amateur astronomer Jurg Wagener runs informal tours most nights –  a presentation followed by the chance to pick out various constellations through five telescopes. 

Milky Way seen from Sutherland. Photo: Alexcpt_photography/Shutterstock

Wildlife at Mokala National Park

Mokala is the Setswana name for the camel thorn trees that punctuate the sandy hills and plains at this 48,000-acre National Park. Although there are no big cats here, there are plenty of other plains animals to catch sight of, including black and white rhinos, buffalos, wildebeest, giraffes and zebras. Overhead are all kinds of birds, including various types of eagle, goshawks and vultures. 

There are guided tours available in the morning and at sunset, as well as night time drives, or you can make your own way around the park in your own vehicle. Kids will love playing in the swimming pool at Mosu Lodge or Lilydale Rest Camp if you stay overnight – and Lilydale has great fly-fishing spots, for the keen anglers in your family. 

Zebras at the Haak en Steek waterhole in Mokala National Park. Photo: Grobler du Preez/Shutterstock

Canoe down the Orange River in the Ai-Ais Richtersveld Transfrontier Park

Hellskloof, Devil’s Tooth and Skeleton Gorge...appropriate names for such a stark, but striking landscape, of rust-coloured desert, rugged rock formations and plains. Careful land grazing by the indigenous Nama community has helped to sustain the diverse vegetation that grows here. In fact, the botanical and cultural importance of Richtersveld has earned UNESCO World Heritage status.

It’s more of a park for outdoor adventure – hiking, and fun on the Orange River. Bushwhacked Outdoor Adventure offer multiday rafting or canoeing trips, which are pretty mellow, so kids (over the age of six) can enjoy it too. Spending the night sleeping under stars adds to the sense of adventure. 

Richtersveld National park. Photo: Vincent van Oosten/Shutterstock

Walking with dinosaurs

We all know kids love dinosaurs. At the Gansfontein farm palaeo surface in Fraserburg they can put their hand next to an actual dino footprint. Oh, and it’s been there for about 255 million years. The Bradysaurus that left its mark in the mud so long ago was a large lizard-type creature that used to roam these parts.  

As well as the star-of-the-show footprint, you’ll see countless other prehistoric marks, including squiggly worm trails, as well as learn about the Karoo landscape back when these creatures roamed here. Book the fun and educational tour from the Ou Pastorie museum in Fraserburg. They have an interesting fossil collection and kids can go on a fossil hunt.

Brilliant blooms at Goegap Nature Reserve

One of the most amazing sights in Namaqualand is the Kaleidoscopic burst of colour across the landscape, as wild flowers bloom during August and September. The Goegap Nature Reserve, 15km east of Springbok, grows around 600 indigenous species of flowering plants – so it’s a great place to visit during the season. 

You can drive the 17km circular route, or stroll the shorter hiking trails. These vary in length from 2km to 8km, so even young kids can get walking. Keep a look out for the reserve’s wildlife population too, such as the aardwolf, springbok, Hartman’s Zebra, ostriches, and black eagles, among others. 

Namaqualand flowers in full bloom. Photo: Marie-Anne AbersonM/Shutterstock

Discover South African history at the McGregor Museum, Kimberley

You could easily spend an hour or two in this former sanatorium, now a wonderful museum – and there’s plenty to keep children engaged, particularly older ones. The eclectic exhibits include Kimberley’s diamond history, the Second South African War (also known as the Anglo-Boer War), and an absorbing display which charts the struggle for democracy in South Africa. There’s also the standout Ancestor’s Gallery, which traces the diverse ancestry of Northern Cape inhabitants back millions of years.

Find out more about the Northern Cape and start planning your trip.