Located on the border of South Africa and Namibia, austere, arid Ai-Ais/Richtersveld Transfrontier Park is situated in a mountain desert. Established as a conservation area in 1968, the park was in 2003 founded via international treaty as a peace park. Today, the Richtersveld portion is managed by South African National Parks, and the Fish River Canyon is overseen by the Namibian Ministry of Environment and Tourism; in addition to being linked by treaty, the two sections--split in two by the Orange River—are connected by pontoon boat at Sendelingsdrif. The 6,045 km² (3,756 mile²), two-country mashup proffers the 161 km (100 mile) Fish River canyon, the Kokerboom Forest to the north and thermal hot springs to the south.
Ai-Ais/Richtersveld Transfrontier Park is the driest area in the northern cape, and it shows; the park is marked by rugged conditions and a moon-like landscape. Though the area’s only water source comes from morning fog blown in from the Atlantic Ocean—60 km (37 miles) away—diverse plant life avails itself of the park’s peaks and kloofs. The park’s botanical treasures include botter booms, quiver trees and stone plants, and endemic succulents cling most earnestly to ground and mountain. The park houses approximately 200 types of bird, and desert denizens include bats, hares, porcupines, foxes, jackals and mongooses as well as the Vervet monkey, the Chacma baboon and Hartmann’s mountain zebra.
Gorge(ous) hikes, hot-springs soaks, 4x4 travel and the examination of some 360 flowering plants await visitors keen for adventure. Those not stymied by remote locations, arid climes and cold and dewy nights will find pristine, succulent beauty in the forbidding.
The park is accessible by 4x4 only (no sedans), and travel by convoy is highly recommended. Spring visitors have the opportunity to visit a flowering desert, and guided walks leave from the Hakiesdoring hiking camp between April and September.
Namibian Side: Due to summer temperatures, which frequently rise above 45 degrees C (113 degrees F), the hot springs and hiking trail are closed during the summer months (November to mid-March for the hot springs; October to April for the trail). Because of its remote location, the park discourages single-day visits.