The Ai-Ais/Richtersveld Transfrontier Park is southern Africa’s largest mountain desert park; a hostile and seemingly desolate reserve straddling the sand swept border between Namibia and South Africa’s Northern Cape Province. Hauntingly beautiful and seared by a blistering sun, the park was proclaimed in 2003 when Namibia’s |Ai-|Ais Hot Springs Game Park was combined with South Africa’s Richtersveld National Park. Meaning ‘burning water’ in the local Nama dialect, |Ai-|Ais refers to the natural thermal springs found at the base of the mountain peaks at the southern end of the Fish River canyon.
The dramatic mountain landscape is a spectacular sight and can only be accessed by 4x4 or vehicles with high clearances (sedans not permitted).
Although the park appears to be devoid of life, a closer inspection reveals a collection of the world’s richest desert flora, of which several species occur nowhere else in the world. Tiny succulents, tall aloes, and quirky ‘half-mens’ trees form miniature gardens that cling precariously to rock formations. These desert plants, along with a remarkable range of small reptiles, birds, and mammals, are sustained by the moisture of the early morning fog (called ‘Ihuries’ or ‘Malmokkies’ by the local people) that rolls in from the cold Atlantic Ocean.
A large portion of the Richtersveld Transfrontier Park forms a buffer to the Richtersveld Cultural and Botanical Landscape World Heritage Site. This rich, diverse botanical landscape is shaped by the pastoral grazing traditions of the indigenous Nama community.
There are no ATMs or shops in the park, but fuel and a small general store are available at Sendelingsdrift. The shop is only open on weekdays and fuel is only available from 07:30 – 18:00 from Monday – Friday, 08:00 – 16:00 on Saturday, and 08:30 – 13:00 on Sunday.
- Spring flowering season is a spectacular experience (June - October, depending on rains).
- Bird watching of almost 200 species.
- Guided hiking trails such as Vensterval Trail (4 days), Lelieshoek-Oemsberg Trail (3 days), and Kodaspiek Trail (2 days) are available from 1 April - 30 September.
- Pontoon at Sendelingsdrif offers an unusual and convenient way of crossing the Garib (Orange) River between Namibia and South Africa. The pontoon operates from 08:00 – 16:15 (weather permitting).