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|Ai-|Ais/Richtersveld Transfrontier Park, Northern Cape Province, South Africa.

Canon EOS 1DX with Canon EF 24-70 mm f/2.8L II USM lens @ 50 mm. ISO 400. Evaluative metering, 1/400 sec @ f/11  in Manual exposure mode

I have just undertaken a fantastic trip to the Richtersveld through Namaqualand. Not quite sure why I never visited the Richtersveld before, as it is a unique experience and a photographic  wonderland.

The above image typically illustrates the rugged beauty of the Richtersveld. The “koppies” are not shaded by clouds. The dark patches on them are intrusions of a different type and colour of rock. Many of the rocky outcrops, hills and small mountains have this distinct feature with red, dark grey and green shadings.

The |Ai-|Ais/Richtersveld Transfrontier Park (“Richtersveld”) straddles the Northern Cape border of South Africa with Southern Namibia, with the Gariep River traversing the park on its journey to the Atlantic ocean.  A desolate and forbidding landscape belies the fact that the Richtersveld has the world’s richest desert flora. Miniature rock gardens, perfectly designed by nature, cling precariously to cliff faces. Tiny succulents, mere pinpoints against a backdrop of surreal rock formations, revel in the moisture brought by the early morning fog rolling in from the cold Atlantic Ocean.

Rugged kloofs, high mountains and dramatic landscapes that sweep away inland from the Gariep River give way to the vast mountain desert that is the |Ai-|Ais/Richtersveld National Park, an area managed jointly by the local Nama people and the South African National Parks.

A staggering assortment of plant life, some species occurring nowhere else, is to be found here, with gnarled quiver trees, tall aloes and the tall “half-mens” plant keeping vigil over this inscrutable landscape. For me, the most interesting aspect of the Richtersveld was its unusual geological formations.

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Near Domorogh Pass, |Ai-|Ais/Richtersveld Transfrontier Park

Canon EOS1DX with Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM lens @39 mm. ISO 400. Evaluative metering,1/320 sec @ f/11 in manual exposure mode.

The rock colour, form, shape and composition varied tremendously. Sedimentary rocks, interspersed with conglomerates, granitic outcrops and quartzite intrusions abounded. In a small area there would be shales of red and yellow and then large rocks of  greys, greens and nearly black. There was also , what looked like, pitch black coarse volcanic particles.

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Canon EOS1DX with Canon EF 24-70 mm f/2.8L II USM lens @ 70mm. ISO 200. Evaluative metering, 1/500 sec @f/9 in manual exposure mode. 82mm Zeiss circular polarising filter used.

 Getting there

We had not originally planned to time necessarily our visit to the Richtersveld with the annual flower season in Namaqualand. We had rather just chosen a good time to be in the Richtersveld. As it turned out the rains had been early and heavy resulting in the 2013 flower season being earlier than usual and expected to be a real bumper one.

There are a number of ways to get to the Richtersveld, the most common being via Port Nolloth to Sendelingsdrif, which is the only entry point into the South African section of the |Ai-|Ais/Richtersveld Transfrontier Park. We were not that keen to go there and back the same way, so we decided to enter the Park at Sendelingsdrif, but via the Namibian side of the Gariep river. This meant entering Namibia at Vioolsdrif, then generally following the course of the Gariep river on the Namibian side (the C13 road), crossing the Gariep river by pont at Sendelingsdrif and entering the Park. We would return using the more conventional route through Port Nolloth, but exiting the Park via the Helskloof Pass road.

From George, this meant overnighting in Ceres and Springbok. What a wonderful interlude. The Matroosberge formed a snow capped background to the emerging fruit tree blossoms.  The drive from Ceres to Citrusdal  (R303) through the extensive fruit farming area was an awesome sight. Accommodation was self-catering at Chantilly Guest House, which was well-appointed. Bed not that comfortable!

The weather was warm and as we drove past Clanwilliam the flowers started opening – in profusion. This persisted all the way up to Springbok where we overnighted at Olive Tree B&B. This turned out to be an excellent overnight stop. People were friendly, accommodation very comfortable and a hearty breakfast served to send us on our way to cross the border at Vioolsdrif in the morning.

Namibia

Although I have visited Namibia on numerous occasions, the trip along the Gariep River, crossing the Fish River (then dry) was an eye opener. There is extensive development on the eastern end of this section of the river with vast areas of grape farming bordering the river – something like the Upington area much further upstream. The scenery gave one an indication of what could be expected on the other side of the river in the Richtersveld.

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 Northwest of Noordoewer, Namibia

Canon EOS 1D Mark IV with Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens at 160mm. ISO 200. Evaluative metering, 1/400 sec @ f/9, EC = +2/3 stop in Aperture Priority mode

The road closely hugs the Gariep river for much of the journey to the pont crossing at Sendelingsdrif. Border formalities at Vioolsdrif were pretty unfriendly with an officious border controller finding it difficult to understand that we would only be in Namibia for a few hours. The reception at the Sendelingsdrif control post on the Namibian side being quite the opposite with an extremely friendly and helpful lady in attendance.

The Richtersveld Park

The Sendelingdrif camp was better than expected. We had been told that it would be busy and noisy from nearby mining operations, but this was not too intrusive and the accommodation in our chalets very comfortable. We only overnighted there on our way to spend three nights at Tatasberg Reed Cabins Camp. The trip from Sendelings drif to the Tatasberg camp is about 85km via Akkedis Pass and Maer Poort. The shorter route via the river was closed and this necessitated the longer way around via the RT7, RT18 and RT8 points. In fact this is a better way there, as you experience a more varied landscape. However, if you want to experience the surroundings, the journey will take about 6 hours.

Richtersveld-201308_Z2Q2815“Hand of God”, off Akkedis Pass road.

Canon EOS 1DX with Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM lens @ 44mm. ISO 400. Evaluative metering,1/400 sec @ f/11, manual metering mode.

Richtersveld-201308_P7C4421Tall Kokerboom (Quiver tree)

Canon EOS 1D Mark IV with Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens @135mm. ISO 200. Evaluative metering,1/250 sec @f/9, EC =+1 1/3 stop using aperture priority mode

One of the highlights of the road to Tatasberg was Maer Poort. As you crest a section of the road, this vista opens out in front of you. The hills and mountains roll out as far as you can see with all their varied colours and forms.

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Vista at Maer Poort, |Ai-|Ais/Richtersveld Transfrontier Park, South Africa

Canon EOS 1DX with Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM lens @ 53mm. ISO 200. Evaluative metering, 1/500 sec @f/11 in manual metering mode

Tatasberg Reed Cabins

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Tatasberg Reed Cabins on the bank of the Gariep River, |Ai-|Ais/Richtersveld Transfrontier Park, South Africa

Canon EOS 1DX with Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM lens @47mm. ISO 200. Evaluative metering, 1/200 sec @f/11 in manual metering mode

Situated on the South African side of the Gariep River, Tatasberg Reed cabins are amongst my best locations in South African National Parks – much like Gharagab in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. Isolated and remote! It is nestled above the river with a wonderful panoramic view. I spent a lot of time photographing from just in front of our cabin at night. These efforts resulted in some unusual and different images.

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Pre-dawn image across the Gariep River at Tatasberg Reed cabins, |Ai-|Ais/Richtersveld Transfrontier Park, South Africa

This image, facing East, was captured about an hour before sunrise. To get enough detail in the foreground without losing the stellar detail in the morning sky was tricky to say the least. Exposure data: Canon EOS 1DX with Canon EF 24-70 mm f/2.8 II USM lens @24mm. ISO 3200. Evaluative metering, 20.0 sec @f/11 using manual metering mode.

The shutter speed limit to keep the stars from showing movement is about 20 seconds – so this is at the limit. To obtain a reasonable depth of focus, f/11 was selected. This necessitated an ISO setting of 3200 to get a good exposure. This meant a fair amount of post-processing in Photoshop CC and using the Neat Image ® noise reduction plug-in. Jupiter can be clearly seen as the brightest of the stars. I did try a few images with lighting up the rocks with an LED flashlight, but they looked, in my opinion, too artificial.

SEE NIGHT AND ASTROPHOTOGRAPHY IMAGES [CLICK HERE]

Plants, flowers and insects

The Richtersveld has one of the richest desert flora on the planet. Plants seem to grow out of rock. In the smallest crack or cranny, a plant emerges and Euphorbias dot the rocky outcrops. Halfmens and Quiver trees are synonomous with this part of the country. Usually appearing singly, they make a stark contrast to the rocky hills.

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The image on the left looks like fairly innocuous grains of sand, but on closer inspection (right side image) a “locust type insect” can clearly be seen. Camouflage at its best.

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It is difficult to do justice to the rock formations in the space within a blog,. This is a sample of one of the unusual fractures of large rocks seen as they break-up and weather over the aeons.

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A fractured outcrop near Tatasberg Mountain, |Ai-|Ais/Richtersveld Transfrontier Park, South Africa

Canon EOS 1D Mark IV with a Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens. ISO 200. Evaluative metering, 1/640 sec @ f/10, EC = -1/3 stop, in Aperture Priority Mode

Exit from the Park

We initially thought we would have to re-trace our steps to get back out of the Park via Sendelingsdrif, but you can exit via the Helskloof Pass road. The scenery along this way is varied and once again you are treated to different landscapes with more open areas at times.

It was a wonderful journey and a place I would like to revisit. The weather was excellent. Never too hot or too cold and beautiful deep blue skies with some cloud on one of the days which added an additional dimension to the landscape images.

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Helshoogte Pass, |Ai-|Ais/Richtersveld Transfrontier Park, South Africa

Canon EOS 1DX with Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM lens @50mm. ISO 400. Evaluative metering, 1/320 sec @ f/11, in manual metering mode

ONE LAST IMAGE

This interesting huge rock, sitiauted on the road up to Tatasberg Mountain, probably got shaped by breaking away from the top of one of the hills and then rolling down into the river bed – but then it is anyone’s guess!!

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Canon EOS 1DX with Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM lens @ 50mm. ISO 320. Evaluative metering, 1/400 sec @ f/11, in manual metering mode

DON”T FORGET TO LOOK AT THE NIGHT IMAGE [HERE]