The vast and diverse Northern Cape

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Mike Birch of Hunt the Sun Safaris takes us on a trip through South Africa’s largest province.

Possibly the most underrated hunting destination in South Africa, the Northern Cape offers hunters a wide diversity of species and habitats. Being the largest province in South Africa, yet with the lowest populace, already means that you are on the right path if you yearn for open country with big skies. The Northern Cape is a vast area with large parts being arid and seemingly inhospitable. The people are hardy and genuine, untainted by modern trappings.

  • Click here to see more of the Northern Cape’s people, places and wildlife.

The Kalahari is a well-known hunting destination with its red sand dunes and camel thorn trees, an area renowned for heavy-bodied springbok and herds of gemsbok. The Northern Cape, however, offers so much more than just the Kalahari. The distances in the Northern Cape are huge – many often don’t realise just how much so. To travel from Kimberley to Union’s End, the furthest northern point in the Kgalagadi Park where the Botswana, Namibia and South African borders meet is a distance of almost 1,000km (620 miles) and more than a day’s drive. Port Nolloth on our coastline is again almost 950km (590 miles) in a westerly direction.

Local fisherman in Port Nolloth

The Northern Cape contains six biomes: the Nama Karoo, Succulent Karoo, Savannah, Grassland, Fynbos and Desert Biomes. A biome is an area that is classified according to the plants and animals that live in it. Each biome can also have different ecosystems and vegetation types or groupings. Perhaps it is important to consider that in nature you seldom find distinctive lines separating biomes, and these areas are integrated with often wide transition zones. These zones are dependent on factors such as rainfall, aspect, soil substrate, and elevation. The Kalahari has been well described, and probably needs little introduction, as is the Karoo (part of the Nama Karoo biome) which is also well known. The Richtersveld, Bushmanland and remainder of the Karoo regions that make up the western part of the Northern Cape fall into either the Nama or Succulent karoo, and for the purposes of covering vegetation descriptions will not be discussed widely.

  • Click here to see people of Northern Cape.
  • Click here to see a typical town street in the Northern Cape.

This, however, does not mean that the areas do not have hunting. On the contrary, the greater part of the Karoo region offers incredible opportunities for hunters. Specialist hunting for scarce species such as klipspringer and the elusive grey rhebok make these areas highly sought-after. However, in this article I will concentrate on the region of Kimberley and its surrounding areas.

Kimberley is famous for it’s Big Hole mine

The area surrounding Kimberley falls largely within the Savannah and Grassland biomes, although some Karoo elements are evident. The landscape consists of wide-open grassy plains with scattered trees and scrubs. Dotted throughout the landscape are inselbergs which are locally known as kopjes. These rocky outcrops provide a unique and diverse array of flora in an otherwise flat landscape.

In areas where the substrate consists of deep red sands, the tall, characteristic camel thorn and umbrella thorn trees dominate, providing that authentic African savannah backdrop. Where the soil become shallower, the bush is denser and short, and the dwarf karroid shrubs that are present provide much-needed nutrition to the antelope.

  • Click here to see a picture of a San Bushman, the original inhabitants of the area.

An interesting feature in the area includes the Northern Cape salt pans that occur as small depressions. These are ephemeral pans that only contain surface water for short periods of time, filling only after high rainfall events. They provide unique transient habitats for an array of birdlife, including the lesser and greater flamingos that form a pink wave across the desert mirage.

So what makes this area so special? Its diversity. The area is a transition zone between the Savannah, Grassland and Nama Karoo biomes, each with a number of different vegetation types, as well as having South Africa’s largest two rivers flowing through before joining to result in a huge diversity of habitat. Few places offer such marked differentiation in habitat which, of course, allows for a wide variety of species to be hunted. On a hunt you could cover areas with deep-red Kalahari sands with huge camel thorn trees, kopjes, and thick stands of the aromatic Camphor bush or Karoo – all on one property!

All these vegetation types have a grass component, and this has led to the area being well sought-after by game farmers. Diverse vegetation coupled with good soil minerals produces healthy animals.

The Kimberley region has a mixed average rainfall ranging from 350mm – 550mm, usually increasing as you head north and decreasing as you head west. The temperatures oscillate between the extremes. We have measured -10° Celsius (14° Fahrenheit) in winter, but summer days can be unbearably hot, in excess of 45° Celsius (113° Fahrenheit).

Using a koppie as a good vantage point looking over the umbrella thorn veld. Note good grass diversity

Game species that have been introduced have generally adapted extremely well. Very few species are not suited to this region, and these are mainly browsers from warmer climates. Nyala have been widely introduced and tend to struggle in the cold winter months, with high lamb mortalities. A few bushbuck have also been introduced with mixed results. These animals, as well as blue duiker, red duiker, and suni are best hunted in the coastal areas where they naturally occur. Roan and sable are common, as well as introduced species such as impala, warthog, bontebok and common reedbuck.

Indigenous game includes blesbok, springbok, eland, red hartebeest, blue wildebeest, black wildebeest, duiker, steenbok, tsessebe, Burchell’s zebra, Hartmann’s zebra, mountain reedbuck, buffalo, black rhino, white rhino, gemsbok, and ostrich. Grey rhebok and klipspringer, although not naturally occurring in the Kimberley area, are found in parts of the Northern Cape. Strictly, these will not all be indigenous to all areas of the Northern Cape – they are treated as indigenous to the province for administrative purposes and for the purposes of this article.

So if you have not yet made a trip to the Northern Cape, you should do so. The big open skies and abundant game with herds of springbok, gemsbok and other plains game often numbering in their hundreds, are a sight to see. Hospitality is typical of the platteland (rural areas) and facilities range from simple farmhouses to upmarket catered lodges. Proudly Northern Cape!

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