Baboons, raccoons & midges: First time camping at Augrabies Falls National Park

Camping is thrilling. You should definitely try it out, they said. So what better way to experience first-hand camper life than at Augrabies Falls National Park in Upington.

Let’s be honest. Camping is not for everyone. We all have our preferred travel experience yet there’s nothing wrong with getting out of your comfort zone and roughening it up a bit, right?

When I was in primary school, I belonged to a club called Land Sevice where we would camp ever so often during the year. It was one activity I enjoyed as a youngster but it fazed when I got older.

Courtney said he’ll never go camping after his own experience. During primary school, on a camping outing, he slept next to a friend and, a rain spider crawled on his face. That was the end of camping for him.

When Glamping arrived, it was a game-changer. For years, I tried convincing Courtney to at least consider pitching a tent and, he refused. So we were fortunate enough to glamp a few times with AfriCamps. Actually, this was me easing Courtney with the idea that “camping” is awesome.

What he didn’t know is that I had booked and paid for a camping spot in nature’s finest getaway locations; Augrabies Falls National Park.

*Thank you, Anje. I owe you for the recommendation!

After doing much research about camping, in general, and the gear one requires to take along, we borrowed a tent and sleeping bags from family instead of purchasing any; just in case we hated the entire experience and wasted all our money on items we won’t need in the future.

Checking in at Reception was a breeze. You simply show your booking form, pay the conservation fee, and get handed a map to direct you to your house for the night.

Out came the tent. We never in our lives assembled one before but, how hard can it be? A whole hour later in the blistering sun, we had some form of a tent going. As long as the tent doesn’t collapse, we winning.

Because the air is so warm, being attacked by midges is the norm. In your face, next to your ear. Just full-on onslaught mode. All we did that afternoon was drench ourselves with Doom, Peaceful Sleep and, Tabard.

Around 17:00 pm, what became our worse nightmare became a reality. A troop of baboons descended on our campsite. Alpha ones, mothers with baby baboons on their packs. The whole family arrived. And, it’s quite obvious that they in search of food.

They a clever bunch, might I add. Baboons know how to rattle you up. One would approach from one end so while they think you being distracted, the other one would be coming from the other side.

It was touch and go for a moment. Not only did you have to fight off midges, being a guard was now a role in order for baboons not to steal your belongings.

At 18:30 pm, they swiftly moved away and we managed to get a fire going to make supper on the braai. We stood like soldiers preparing for war; listening to every sound we thought might be them coming for revenge. I never in my life ate so fast the way I did that night.

While the sun dozed off, the stillness sunk in; listening to nothing more than the sounds of the river and birds chirping in the background. It’s certainly an underappreciated sound we take for granted. We made ourselves cozy on our camping chairs while Courtney made a fire to keep us warm.

Next thing I know, Courtney screams, “Shine your light there!”. I quickly search for the torch button on my phone, point in the direction, and out of nowhere, a raccoon is sprinting towards us! A big, strippy looking one. That’s when we called it quits and, went to bed.

In the first two hours of being huddled in the tent, you really become paranoid. You have no clue what might be lurking around your tent at night. Every noise we heard made us believe something is coming.

I was out like a light. Courtney, well, only went to bed at 03:00 am.

Morning came and, because we were ill-prepared for camping life, Courtney had to drive to the Quiver Tree Restaurant at the Reception to buy coffee. I mean, who has time to bring a whole kettle?

The midges gave us only 30 minutes to gather ourselves before swarming around in our faces. They rather rude insects if you ask me. But the sun rose in full force by 07:30 am.

We sat on our camping chairs outside our tent, savoured the moment that we were still alive and, realised that camping is not so bad, after all.

How to get to Augrabies Falls National Park

Augrabies Falls National Park covers an area of 820 km² and stretches along the Orange River. It’s an area that’s arid which implies low annual rainfall and extreme variations of temperatures.

For this trip, we drove from Upington via the N14; about 1h30 away from the Park. However, you can fly to Upington Airport, hire a car and drive to the Park.

Augrabies Falls Entrance and Camping Fee

South African citizens and Residents (with ID):
Adults: R53.00 per person
Child: R27.00 per child

SADC Nationals (with passport):
Adults: R105.00 per person
Child: R53.00 per child

Standard Conservation Fee (Foreign Visitors):
Adult: R210.00 per person
Child: 105.00 per child

The camping fees are R286.00 per night. There are various chalets if camping is not for you that you can view here. You can only book directly on the SanParks website for accommodations.

Things to do at Augrabies Falls National Park

Viewing the waterfall – There are various viewpoints along the marked paths next to the Reception area to view Augrabies Falls.

Game and Self-drive – If you came with your own vehicle, doing a self drive through the Park is ideal. There are sunset game drives which are subject to availability.

Hiking Trails – There are two hiking trails to choose from:

  • Klipspringer Hiking Trail: It’s a 3 day, 2 nights with a maximum of 12 persons per group, and a minimum of 2 persons per group. Advance booking is essential. Please note that it’s closed between October to March due to heat.
  • Dassie Nature Trail: This trail is a 5km self-guided hiking trail that leads you on a circular route starting at the Rest Camp, following along the gorge to Arrow Point, then heading out into the veld by the Potholes and Moonrock before heading back to the Rest Camp.

Mountain biking – You allowed riding inside the Park with the provision that you ride on official roads.

Wilderness Road – If you own a 4×4 vehicle, take the 94km journey which takes approximately 6 hours to complete. There is a scenic picnic spot halfway along the road with ablution and braai facilities.

What to Pack if you Planning to Camp

If you a first-time camper like myself, don’t panic. Augrabies Falls National Park is well equipped with the following:

  • Clean showers and toilets
  • Laundry area
  • Two plate stoves
  • Plug outlets

Here is a list of items you need to bring along if you planning on living in a tent:

  • A Tent
  • Sleeping Bags and Pillows
  • Blow-up mattress
  • A Braai Grid (if you planning on braaing)
  • A Cooler Box
  • Insect Repellent
  • A medical box
  • A kettle for coffee
  • Cooking essentials (if you plan on using the two-plate stove)
  • Torch
  • Camping chairs
  • Toilet paper
  • Sunscreen, sunglasses and, a hat (it’s extremely hot)

It’s daunting to think that you’ll be in the middle of nature; camping while wild animals roam but once you in it, there’s no turning back and you just have to embrace the adventure.

Would I go camping again? The answer will be, yes. How else will I get to tell crazy stories like this?

WATCH THE FULL CAMPING EXPERIENCE

Until the next adventure.

Stephanie Marthinus Blog