- Augrabieswaterval Nasionale Park
In 1775 a Swedish mercenary soldier, Hendrik Wikar, deserted from the garrison at the Cape and wandered off into the wilderness of the north.
The place of great noise
On 6 October 1778, after 3 yrs of wandering, he became the first European to see the great waterfall on the Orange River at what the Hottentots called Aukoerebis meaning 'the place of the great noise'. In that month the waterfall would not have been in full spate. At a peak flood, 405 million litres of water go over the falls every minute in a direct drop of 145 m, with a cataract fall below the direct plunge of 54 m. In such a flood there are 19 individual waterfalls tumbling nearly 92 m into the upper end of a prodigious gorge eroded into a massive granite barrier. The circular crater-like pool below the falls is 92 m in diameter.
The contrast and clash between immovable granite and the surging flood of new season water, irresistibly forcing a way through the ancient rock, is breathtaking!
At peak flood the scene is obscured by heavy mist. At medium flood, with the river concentrated into one fall at the head of the gorge, the area is more approachable and more easily seen. As the flood increases so additional waterfalls appear over the lip of the gorge until, at full spate, the 19 falls send such a mass of water crashing its way down the gorge that the granite trembles, a vast column of spray rises into the air and the roar of the river is strangely brutal.
The gorge is 9 km long and 260 m deep. It is full of rapids and minor falls with an unplumbed hole at the foot of the main fall. In this hole, legend has it, there is a treasure in diamonds which have been washed down the river, over the waterfall and trapped in the gravel at the bottom of the pool. Reports of the sighting of a river monster in the gorge have freuently been made but are probably a fanciful account of shoals of giant barbel who reach about 2 m in length.
A national park is born
In 1967 the Augrabies Falls National Park was opened. This preserves 9 000 ha of river landscape. There is a rich variety of plant life including the kokerboom tree, lithops, haworthia, wild olive, Karoo thornbush, Cape Willow and wild olive, as well as numerous birds, monkeys, steenboks, wild cats, otters and squirrels. The bird life in the park includes water plovers, swifts, siskins, warblers and wagtails.
The Augrabies National Park is centred on Klaas Island, which has a restaurant, caravan park and curio shop built of decorative stonework, with an attractive thatched roof and there are observation points along the verge of the gorge. In earlier days the locality of the island and the waterfall was the resort of Hottentots and Bushmen. The last of the Hottentot leaders to rule here was Klaas Lucas, from whom the island takes its name.
In former years it was impossible to reach the gorge during peak floods because the river spreads out, overwhelming all approaches. With the development of the national park a tarmac road was built with a series of bridges to link the main bank with the island. The waterfall can now be reached at all seasons and provides visitors with one of the most dramatic scenes in Africa. The barren surroundings, the enormously powerful river, the ominous roar of the waterfall, the chaos of contending rocks and water in the gorge, the eerie atmosphere and the ceaseless, darting flight of numbers of swifts that live in the gorge all contribute to a stunning scene.
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