Follow the road past rocky crags and you will find a welcome surprise at the end of your dusty journey. Here’s why you should visit the hot springs at Riemvasmaak. By Aslam Mxolisi Tawana
If you have never been overlanding in the Northern Cape, you are missing out. This is an overlander’s paradise. There are many gravel roads where you can put your 4×4 to the test. At Verneukpan, you can wild camp with only the stars for company. And, of course, there’s Riemvasmaak, which is a remarkable place.
I started the Black Boy Adventures channel on YouTube to introduce black South Africans to overlanding. I also wanted to showcase our country’s special spots. So last year I led a group of overlanders to Riemvasmaak to soak up the scenery, the warm water and the Nama culture.
The history of Riemvasmaak
Located on the border of Namibia, Riemvasmaak was always a bit of a melting pot. Nama, Damara, Xhosa and coloured people lived here from the 1870s. A hundred years later, in 1973/4, the entire community was forcibly removed. When South Africa became a democracy in 1994, the Riemvasmaak Communal Conservancy was the first case of land restoration. The name means to tie up with hide strips.
Into the mountains
On our expedition, we visited Riemvasmaak from Augrabies Falls National Park. The road runs from Blouputs, a lush area of table grape farming, to Vredesvallei, a Riemvasmaker settlement. So you go from the vibrant green of vineyards to an arid landscape of seeming emptiness. It’s like a mini Richtersveld with rock formations that are out of this world.
The route leads across the mountains by way of a number of passes. It’s not a great distance from Augrabies, but takes about an hour. The track is rather rocky with just a few sandy sections – very manageable in a 4×4. You don’t want to rush it, though, otherwise you won’t be able to take in the beauty of these parts.
Roosterkoek and stories
In the middle of this vast, unspoiled wilderness you will find Berg en Dal Coffee Shop. Owned by Norbert Coetzee of Voetspore fame, it’s a destination in its own right. I highly recommend their roosterkoek with jam and cheese. If Norbert is not off exploring with Voetspore, he will share stories of the place and its people.
Something interesting to order is skaapkop (smiley), a real delicacy. It’s prepared in the traditional way by slow cooking in a hole in the ground, with coals piled on top. Of course, it takes time to do that, so you have to order the skaapkop in advance. But spending time at Berg en Dal should be part of your itinerary. In any case, I recommend spending two nights at Riemvasmaak; one night just won’t do it justice.
The hot springs
The main draw card – the Riemvasmaak hot springs – you will find down in the valley. We enjoyed our drive along the gravel track which winds through the mountains, imposing rockfaces rising on either side.
The springs are said to be the result of volcanic eruptions, with deep underground activity still heating the water. It’s like climbing into a warm bath, perfect for relaxing. According to the Nama people, the water has healing powers. It might be a psychological thing, but I really felt much better after having a soak.
There are two pools where you can enjoy the springs. The first one is right by the camping area. This pool is usually in full sun and because the water is also warm, it can be a bit much. We went early in the morning when it wasn’t too hot. To get to the second one, the ‘cold pool’, you follow steps further down. It feels like a bit of an adventure as you walk past reeds to get to the pool. The pool itself is a hollow at the bottom of the cliff. Because it’s frequently in the shade, it’s more comfortable for spending a long time.
The opportunity for wild camping is what calls my name and there’s no place better than Riemvasmaak. The campsites are laid out in the dry Molopo riverbed. There are no taps or electricity – you have to be completely self-sufficient and bring your own water, wood and supplies.
At night, the sky is beautiful. Because you are so far away from civilisation and there are no lights, the stars are really bright. Looking from the springs, the outline of the cliffs seem to form the shape of Southern Africa in the sky. It is special to see this symbol of our home lit up with so many stars.
One of the best things to do in the evening is to sit around the campfire and chat to Henry Basson from the Riemvasmaak tourist office. He is a descendant of one of the area’s chiefs and extremely knowledgeable about Nama culture.
My favourite time to visit is in autumn, but right through winter and into spring is good. If it is your heart’s desire to get away from everything, Riemvasmaak is the place.
Good to know
Day visitor entry R70 adults, R35 under 16, children under 2 free
Camping R265 for a vehicle and two people, R75 thereafter
Contact 073 383 8812