Stockfarmers on the move are conservation heroes
The Ai-Ais Richtersveld was chosen as a World Heritage Site, thanks to livestock farmers who still practice the custom of trans-humance.
The Richtersveld Cultural and Botanical landscape, a World Heritage Site, was established to protect the way of life of the wandering livestock herder.
The custom of wandering livestock herding, known as trans-humance, helps protect the Ai-Ais Richtersveld's rich culture and diverse landscape. Long a part of the region’s customs, trans-humance has been practiced for centuries by nomadic herders who understood that moving with the seasons would help protect their natural bounty.
"Here's a tiny glimpse into Richtersveld culture: it's a misty morning, and a dawn light pierces the band of white cloud that has settled on the Stinkfontein Mountains. At the Geelkrantz stock post, the head billy goat stands proud on the topmost rock and looks over a bustling herd of 60 goats and a small contingent of Dorper sheep.
Oom Kous Joseph finishes the milking session and his wife Tannie Sarah takes a small pail of warm goat's milk to the matjieshuis for a breakfast of tea and bread.
By midmorning, Oom Kous will be out in the veld with the family goats. Tannie Sarah will be preparing lunch and working on a patchwork quilt. And the springtime daisies will be slowly unfurling like millions of bright flags on the white quartzite outcrops.
In January, the Josephs will pack all their belongings onto a donkey cart and slowly trek with their livestock towards the banks of the Orange River for summer grazing. They'll move back to Geelkrantz again once they get word that the first spring rains have fallen.
This ritual, part of the Richtersveld culture and Richtersveld history for at least 2 000 years, is called trans-humance. It is one of the reasons this dramatic mountain desert has been declared a World Heritage Site. Its official name is the Richtersveld Cultural and Botanical Landscape, but it is better known as the Ai-Ais Richtersveld.
Trans-humance was once practiced all over South Africa. The trekboers, for example, used to settle for a while, then move on with their sheep and cattle once the grazing was depleted. In some ways, they paralleled the ever-moving wild herds of springbok and black wildebeest across the Karoo.
It was a way of life that gradually disappeared, but not among the Richtersveld community."
The only way to get there is by car, preferably a vehicle with good height clearance. Take the N7 north from Cape Town.
Again, by vehicle. All the roads in the Richtersveld conservancy are gravel.
In late winter and spring (August to October) the flowers are spectacular if there have been good rains. Temperatures are more moderate then too.
Once you're in the Richtersveld, stay for 3 or more nights to extract the true flavour of the place.
As in all deserts, the Richtersveld can be very chilly at night, and hot during the day, so pack for both. Don't forget a hat and plenty sunblock.
There are guesthouses at Eksteenfontein and Khuboes. Lekkersing, on the edge of the conservancy, has rooms.
Ask the local people about ash bread and pot bread, and also about the wild food plants – veldduimpies and baroe.
"Richtersveld Conservancy Tourism Information Centre
Tel: +27 (0) 27 851 7108
Another tradition in the Richtersveld is the Nama Stap dance, used during celebrations
The Richtersveld culture of trans-humance conserves the region
The Richtersveld culture of wandering livestock herders helped make the area a World Heritage Site