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Northern Cape Tourism Information

Quick Facts: Northern Cape

  • Capital of the Northern Cape: Kimberley
  • Languages: 68% Afrikaans, 20.8% Setswana, 2.5% English
  • Population: 1 089 991 (2006)
  • Share of South Africa’s population: 2.3%
  • Area: 372 889 square kilometres
  • Share of total South Africa’s area: 30.5%
  • Population density: 3 people per square kilometre
  • Gross regional product: R 29.7-billion (2003)
  • Share of total South Africa’s GDP: 2.4%

Introducing Northern Cape

The immense and dry Northern Cape in South Africa is by far the largest province.  It is somewhat bigger than Germany and takes up nearly a third of South Africa's land area. Yet, the Northern Cape has South Africa’s smallest population with approximately 1-million people, and an extremely low population density of three people per square kilometre. The Northern Cape is situated to the south of its most important asset, the mighty Orange River, which feeds the agriculture and alluvial diamonds industries.

The Orange River forms the border with the country of Namibia in the north, while the Molopo River is at the border with Botswana to the northeast.The Northern Cape landscape is home to vast arid plains with outcroppings of haphazard rock piles. The cold Atlantic Ocean forms the western boundary of this South African province.

The capital city of the Northern Cape in South Africa is Kimberley which is located on the province's eastern border. Other cities and towns in the Northern Cape include  Upington which is the centre of the karakul sheep and dried fruit industries, and the most northerly wine-making region of South Africa.  Springbok, in the heart of the Namaqualand spring flower country while Kuruman s founded by the Scottish missionary Robert Moffat and De Aar is the hub of the South African railway network. 

Sutherland is the site of the southern hemisphere's largest astronomical observatory, the multinational-sponsored Southern African Large Telescope, or SALT. The largest part of the Northern Cape falls within the Nama-Karoo biome, with a vegetation of low shrubland and grass, and trees limited to water courses.  This region of South Africa is well known internationally for its spectacular annual explosion of spring flowers which, for a short period every year, attracts thousands of tourists. This biome contains a number of fascinating plants, including the elephant's trunk ‘halfmens’, tree aloe ‘kokerboom’ and a variety of succulents.

Size of the Northern Cape, South Africa

With a total area of 372 889 square kilometres, the Northern Cape in South Africa covers about 30.5% of the country’s land area, with an approximate population of 1.1-million people.

Languages spoken in the Northern Cape, South Africa

About 68% of the people living in the Northern Cape speak Afrikaans, with other languages being Setswana, isiXhosa and English.

Northern Cape culture: San (Bushman) people

The last remaining true San people who are referred to as ‘bushman’ live in the Kalahari area of the Northern Cape.  The area, especially along the Orange and Vaal rivers, is rich in San rock engravings. A great collection can be seen at the McGregor Museum in Kimberley. The San (Bushmen) were the original inhabitants of South Africa, but are now mainly confined to a small area of the Northern Cape.  This particular South African province is also rich in fossils.

Climate of the Northern Cape

Apart from a narrow strip of winter rainfall area along the west coast, the province is a semi-arid region with little rainfall in summer. The weather conditions are extreme - cold and frosty in winter, with extremely high temperatures during the summer months, which are November to April.

National parks and conservation areas in the Northern Cape

The Northern Cape is home to several national parks and conservation areas. The Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, Africa's first cross-border game park, joins South Africa's Kalahari Gemsbok National Park to the Gemsbok National Park in Botswana. It is one of the largest conservation areas in southern Africa, and is one of the largest remaining protected natural ecosystems worldwide. The Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park provides unfenced access to a variety of game between South Africa and Botswana, over its land area which spans more than 3.6 hectares.

The Ai-Ais-Richtersveld Transfrontier Conservation Park reaches the border with Namibia, with some of the most spectacular scenery of the arid and desert environments in southern Africa.  Bisected by the Orange River, it comprises the Ai-Ais Hot Springs Game Park in Namibia, and the Richtersveld National Park in South Africa.  Distinctive features include the Fish River Canyon, which is often referred to as the Grand Canyon in the US, and the Ai-Ais hot springs.

Nowhere is the Orange River more impressive than at the Augrabies Falls, which ranks among the world's greatest cataracts on a major river. The 19 separate falls cascade over a granite plateau, dropping a total of 191 metres to a 43-metre-deep pool gouged out by the force of the water.

Industry in the Northern Cape, South Africa

The Northern Cape in South Africa is rich in minerals, with the country's major diamond pipes found in the Kimberley district. Alluvial diamonds are found on the western side of the province, washed westwards by the Orange River into the Atlantic Ocean, where they are extracted from the beaches and sea between Alexander Bay and Port Nolloth.

Until recently, the majority of alluvial operations were concentrated along or near the Vaal River system in the east. With the rapidly depleting deposits available for mining, there has been a gradual shift towards the Orange River system.

The Sishen Mine near Kathu in the Northern Cape is the biggest source of iron ore in South Africa, while the copper mine at Okiep is one of the oldest mines in the country. Copper is also mined at Springbok and Aggenys.  Other minerals found in the Northern Cape are asbestos, manganese, fluorspar, semi-precious stones and marble.

Northern Cape’s agriculture

The Northern Cape is enjoying a tremendous growth in value-added activities, including game-farming.  Food production and processing for the local and export market is also growing significantly.  Underpinning the growth and development plan of the province are the investment projects that link up with the existing plans of the Namaqua Development Corridor. The focus is on the beneficiation and export of sea products.

The economy of a large part of the province, the interior Karoo, depends on sheep-farming, while the karakul-pelt industry is one of the most important in the Gordonia district of Upington.  The province is rich in fertile agricultural land. In the Orange River Valley, especially at Upington, Kakamas and Keimoes, grapes and fruit are predominantly cultivated. Wheat, fruit, peanuts, maize and cotton are produced at the Vaalharts Irrigation Scheme near Warrenton.