The journey to Noup: Driving the coastline of the Northern Cape

Posted on Posted in Northern Cape, South Africa, Ultimate South African Road Trip

The Northern Cape has always been one of those places that has held a certain romance for me. I love the idea of a wide open land, wild and largely untouched, the horizon blurred by midday summer heat mirages followed by the extreme of negative temperatures during the winter months.

This is a land you can’t ignore. Simply closing the window won’t stop the dry heat from pervading your house or the hot strong wind from blowing sand under the door. Anyone who lives in this harsh and beautiful land must surely feel it inside of them?

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Visiting the Northern Cape was a definite highlight of our Ultimate South African Road Trip, and a destination we had looked forward to from the beginning. Armed with a rental 4×4 after losing Thomas, we set out north from Doringbaai.

northern cape dirt road

noup heat
With evening temperatures like these, the Northern Cape is definitely not for sissies!

The road to the Northern Cape

Our destination was Noup – restored diamond divers’ huts situated on the coastline between Kleinzee and Koingnaas in the Northern Cape. The easiest route to get there would be to follow the N7 freeway on its inland path from Cape Town to the border with Namibia. As a surfer though, it is hard to keep Bevan from the beach. Also, what good is a 4×4 on tar?! The idea of exploring an empty coastline was too much for the both of us to ignore, and we were quick to look for alternatives.

Northern Cape Landscape
The N7 is one of the few landmarks that interrupt the Northern Cape landscape

Google Earth showed a beachfront track that links Koekenaap to Hondeklip Bay via the bottom of the Namaqua National Park, but we were not sure what access would be like. This coastline has a number of diamond mining concessions and as you can imagine, security in these areas is tight. Chatting to a few Doringbaai locals however gave us the idea that it would be possible to drive this coastal track. Always being one for adventure, and not really thinking too hard about the potential consequences of getting stuck along a deserted road in our vehicle convoy of one, we set out.

Northern Cape Coastal Gravel Road
The alternative to the N7: Dirt for at least 200km!

An untouched coastline

What we found along this roughly 200 km stretch of sandy track was everything we had always imagined the Northern Cape coastline to be – wild, untouched and unbelievably empty. We took the drive slowly, stopping in at whatever sandy bay or rocky point caught our fancy. On the beach, our footprints were the first and probably only ones to be made. The startled cry of disturbed seagulls, unused to human presence, and the sound of the waves was all that we could hear. It was incredible.

Before setting out people had told us stories of going camping along this stretch of road. Not having experienced something like this before, I believed them but couldn’t picture it. How could it be possible to drive through privately-owned land and then just stop and set up camp wherever you liked without fear of bothering or being bothered by anyone else?

And yet it was true. The road passed through farm gate after farm gate, each with a notice to campers to please make sure the gate was fastened after them. We passed side roads that had an upturned bottle on a stick or some other such marker left by previous campers to follow on their return, and the odd fireplace complete with a pebble wall as a wind shield.

Deflating the tyres to drive on sand
The soft sand roads weren’t too much of a challenge once we let some air out of the tyres
Namaqua National Park Coastal Road
The sand track follows the coastline for close on 200 km
road to noup
The road less travelled has some rewards

Exploring Noup

Needless to say, our meandering meant an after-dark arrival at Noup. We followed the dirt road from Hondeklip Bay to Koingnaas, then the tar road to the turnoff to Noup and then it was back onto gravel. With no streetlights, and no anything lights it was a mysterious drive and one of those wait-til-morning kind of situations.

Sunrise revealed exactly where we had ended up, and that was in a stone cottage maybe 100 m from a wild rocky coastline. This Diamond Coastline is so-named because of the river diamonds that are mined from the seabed along vast stretches of coastline. Noup’s nine stone huts were built by surf zone diamond divers working in the area from 1989-1993, and have been restored to a basic yet comfortable level. This means electricity is supplied by a generator for a few hours in the evening, otherwise everything else is as simple and humble as you like.

This is the kind of place where you make of it exactly what you like. Not surprisingly, Bevan and I used as much of our time as possible to explore the coastline, discovering seal colonies, waving forests of kelp and stretches of beautiful sandy beaches as we went. Waking up and doing nothing more than reading a book or taking a gentle stroll down to the water’s edge would have been equally as gratifying however. The cottages also each have an indoor fireplace and I could picture how amazing it would be to curl up next to a cozy fire with the wind and rain lashing the building outside.

Noup huts on the beach
Stone cottages face the beach at Noup
Noup Beach Road
Sunset over the Northern Cape’s wild coastline

Noup was the final point on our foray along South Africa’s West Coast. After a few days spent exploring Noup’s vast coastline and feeling like we could have been the only people in the world, it was time to begin the journey back to Cape Town and the final leg of our Ultimate South African Road Trip.

 

Thank you to Mariaan and Charmane for hosting us during our stay in the Northern Cape. Noup was everything we could have hoped for!

Thanks also to Cape Town 4×4 Rentals for hooking us up with a beast of a 4×4 to get us through those sand roads.

 

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