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Issue 16
Africa Travel> Issue 16
UPDATED: June 2, 2015
Place of Great Noise
The mournful song of the ancient, shifting sands of the Kalahari Desert in the Northern Cape of South Africa will call you back time and again
By Jo Kromberg

Natural design of the unique Plato Lodge (JODY MARAIS)

My South African Airlink flight is smooth as silk and the hour and 15 minutes literally fly by from Johannesburg in Gauteng to Upington in the Northern Cape Province of South Africa. I breathe in the hot, dry desert air as I alight the plane. The Northern Cape holds within its borders a section of the Kalahari Desert after all.

Ed Smith from the transfer and adventure company Tata Ma Tata Tours picks me up at the tiny airport and regales me with entertaining tales about the history, culture, development and nature of the area. Ed's company offers unique and bespoke itineraries like camping, 4x4 trails, game drives, quad biking and extended safaris in this part of the world. We arrive at Augrabies National Park at about 2.30 in the afternoon. Without much ado and with very friendly staff I am checked in and shown to my huge 2-bedroom chalet, which is spacious and clean with nice modern touches and a lovely kitchen. It also features air conditioning and satellite TV. The Park is completely self-catering but there is a restaurant and shop for your convenience – not cheap though. An alternative is camping in the Park and offers a wonderful and cost-effective option to enjoy the great outdoors.

The thundering angry water of the Augrabies Falls (TATAMATATA.CO.ZA)

Thunderous Augrabies Falls

My friend arrives later and we go on a long-awaited walk to the Augrabies Falls. There are many concrete walkways to the Falls over boulders the size of zeppelins. The environment feels like you're on another planet and suddenly the Falls in all its ferocious beauty reveals itself about 80 metres below us in a gigantic canyon. I have been to the Tugela Falls, the Niagara Falls and the Victoria Falls, but this is a different experience. The Khoi people called it 'Aukoerebis', or place of Great Noise, as this powerful flow of water is unleashed from rocky surroundings characterised by the 18km abyss of the Orange River Gorge. The ferocity and force of the masses of water makes the impact of it even more spectacular against the dryness of the boulders which are almost 200 million years old. The roar of all this water is intense. I imagine that few sights are as awesome or a sound as deafening as water thundering down the 56 meter Augrabies Waterfalls when the Orange River is in full flood.

Quiver trees stand like sentinels at dusk (JO KROMBERG)

We have a traditional braai (barbecue) that evening on the veranda of my chalet and the full moon rises over the desert in spectacular fashion. The next morning I take in the full glory of the Falls. There are lookout points and a long meander along the river, but it can be dangerous, so the advice is never to stray off the walkways. We go on a game drive that evening during the last light of the day and the clouds above are black and pink, welded onto the sky like a Monet painting. In the distance a soft orange colored cloud formation rises upward and outward, resembling a dancing volcano. Quiver trees stand in stark silhouette against the African sky, silent sentinels in a strangely unique environment where only those that are able to adapt ultimately survive. The 55,383 hectares on both the northern and southern sides of the Orange River provide sanctuary to a diversity of species, from the very smallest succulents, birds and reptiles as well as many buck species. Our guide Richard describes the rich bird and animal life and we spot springbok, giraffe, klipspringer, an owl, Oryx gazelle and the elusive "aardwolf" or civet hyena. We also have the privilege of seeing the African wildcat. We stop and get out as Richard points out some of the constellations in the beautiful black firmament with its immeasurably astonishing bright stars. They feel so close you can almost pluck them from the sky.

Orange River escapade

The game drive is a great experience but perhaps just half an hour too long and by the time we get back the restaurant is closed and so is the other closet restaurant about three kilometres down the road. A German family who was with us on the drive had to go hungry – it is not like you can just shoot down the road here to the closest fast-food outlet! This was 9.15 at night and I don't think the Park should allow this sort of negative impression with our international guests. Early the following morning it's up and at 'em with an Orange River trip, courtesy of Kalahari Outventures. I am joined by a couple and their three young children and they have the time of their lives splashing about, laughing and fishing. There are only two or three Class-2 rapids to negotiate, so the trip is meant to be a slow, relaxing meander. The day is glorious and the river wide and calm. We have two professional guides with us to point out the rich fauna and flora along the banks of the river and to make sure guests are safe and comfortable at all times. A spot of fly-fishing is also enjoyed by all. This mild, approximately 4-hour trip is followed by an adrenaline fuelled rapid trip called The Rush, which kinda speaks for itself. The trip comprises of Class-2 and 3 rapids but I have to decline this adventure since we are on our way to our next destination, Plato Lodge.

Unique Plato Lodge

We drive out of Augrabies at about 2 pm further into the desert and the distant rains on the horizon. The grey, and white clouds form insane patterns against the blue sky and we are the only vehicle on a dirt road that stretches into forever. Beyond in the distance the veil of rains resemble gigantic shades of grey curtains billowing above the black, jagged mountains. We pass quiver trees in myriads of shapes and sizes as well as a couple of gemsbok (Oryx) on the plains. We carefully negotiate the road as we are caught in the midst of a rare desert thunderstorm. Plato Lodge is in the middle of nowhere. Well, actually only about 55 kilometres from Augrabies, but the dirt road and the isolated wonderment of the surrounds make it seem out of this world. The lodge stands unassuming and almost hidden between the red hills of the Kalahari. It is not yet two years old, consisting of only five thatched rooms to date. The views are breathtaking, inviting eyes to linger over the rugged, mountainous area and the endless raw wilderness. Plato Lodge is completely off the grid and environmentally friendly solar panels power the entire place.

The rooms are unpretentious but luxurious, with the en-suite bathroom boasting a luxury double shower. There is also a mini-bar with limited but very reasonably prices drinks. The rugged red rocks and boulders and the mountains in the distance make this view one of the most spectacular I have seen. The beauty here is the total isolation. The décor is earthy yet fun and the lodge is built with natural materials like wood, thatch and stone. And just as quickly as it started, the rain stops and the sun illuminates this strange land. The dying thunder echoes far off as a faint reminder of one of the rare sounds of desert silence. Immersed in the barren, naked nature, you are transfixed. Almost as still as a quiver tree. And your soul almost as old.

We have delightful dinner of oxtail, sweet potatoes and rice followed by malva pudding. The lodge is family run and managed and that makes a big difference in the quality of service. We chat late into the evening with co-owner Eugene (quote from Eugene: "We cater to the sick here. We heal you.") before sinking into deep and restful sleep. We sleep late and I wake up to this most fantastic view of the mountains in the distance before a hearty breakfast of toast, muesli, bacon, sausage and eggs, coffee and fresh orange juice. Hosts Eugene and Lea take us for a drive to the river later and we enjoy a spectacular sunset from the highest cliff in the area, surrounded by valleys and mountains as far as the eye can see. The wind blows softly ruffling the white tufts of grass as the mountains swallow up the vermillion sun. "It makes you miss people you don't even know," says Lea wistfully. For the intrepid traveller, Plato offers a host of activities like sand boarding, hiking, river rafting and 4x4 and echo drives, mountain biking and fly-fishing. Wildlife on the 9000 hectare farm includes eland, kudu, Oryx, springbok, steenbok and klipspringer. In this area the leopard still stalks the wild and 65 000 hectares (which includes Plato Lodge) is a leopard reserve.

Tutwa Lodge – desert luxury

The following morning we take the road to Tutwa Lodge, about 40 kilometres further on. Tutwa is hidden between the rocky outcrops at the foot of one of the tallest hills in the area. It is truly the last word in desert luxury. After a welcome drink from reservations manager Julia, the wonderful and charming lodge manager Charmaine gives us the grand tour of this intimate 5-star Kalahari retreat. Furnishings and finishes attest to sophisticated interiors, yet the lodge seamlessly blends into the environment. Nestling on a 16000 hectare private farm, it is back-to-basics here - rest, reading books, game drives or walks and sumptuous dining.. On game drives you will discover a wide variety of game like leopard, giraffe, zebra, numerous antelope species, abundant birdlife and rare flora with professional rangers on open game viewers. Nocturnal game abounds and you are likely to enjoy sightings of some of South Africa's elusive nocturnal creatures in their natural environment e.g. aardvark, aardwolf and bat-eared fox.

At about $350 per person per night, the lodge is good value for money considering that includes all activities (apart from scenic flights), luxury accommodation, all meals and local drinks. Exclusive access to 24 kilometers of Orange River frontage makes the Lodge one of South Africa's most ideal destinations to experience top-end adventure in a unique and magnificent environment with activities like fly-fishing, river rafting and birding. In terms of conservation, Tutwa is actively engaged in a leopard protection project, in addition to other conservation initiatives aimed to conserve the natural flora and fauna of this fragile environment. The lodge is also committed to conservation on the Orange River. Accommodation wise, the ultra-luxurious suites are spacious, air-conditioned and dressed with fine linens, along with full bathrooms, personal bathrobes and indulgent amenities. All suites have their own verandas and balconies and after a deep, refreshing afternoon nap, I wake up to the scene of the desert changing hues to night outside through my wide glass doors. I have a bath looking out at the arid, mystical desert beyond with its quiver trees and wide open landscape in the fading, quiet light. So unspoilt, so far away, so achingly beautiful and isolated you can hear your own thoughts echo off the rugged outcrops. Dinner is a splendid affair with springbok carpaccio as starter, rack of lamb as main course and the most wonderful lemony concoction as dessert. High-tea is also on offer daily with delectable sweet and savoury morsels, all prepared by superwoman Charmaine herself. Service here is impeccable and the ambience is more that of a very upmarket yet relaxed home than a grand, pretentious lodge.It is with a sad heart that I leave this desert utopia behind me to catch my Airlink flight in last rays of the dying sun the next afternoon. There is immense beauty in the rarely seen. And there is profound soul-stirring in the way the Northern Cape Augrabies region will leave you feeling – and you will never be cured again.

It is with a sad heart that I leave this desert utopia behind me to catch my Airlink flight in last rays of the dying sun the next afternoon. There is immense beauty in the rarely seen. And there is profound soul-stirring in the way the Northern Cape Augrabies region will leave you feeling – and you will never be cured again.


Augrabies Falls National Park:


Kalahari Outventures:

Craig Eksteen



Plato Lodge:


Tutwa Lodge:


Getting there:


Airlink flies to Upington from Johannesburg daily. Choose Airlink to connect you to 35 destinations in 9 African countries. Through their alliance with SAA you can enjoy convenient connections with SAA, their Star Alliance Partner airlines and other carriers throughout southern Africa and the world.

Earn Voyager Miles and book your flight direct on the website or contact your Travel Agent or SAA Central Reservations on +27 11 978 1111


Transfers with Tata Ma Tata Tours:

Tel: +27 (0) 54 452 9200

Fax: +27 (0) 54 451 5003


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