The Namib desert, the oldest desert in the world, is strewn with gorges and canyons, among others Sesriem and Kuiseb canyons. The colours of the dunes, especially at sunrise and sunset, the harmony and uniqueness of so many places, make it a must to spend some time in the Namib desert for anyone who truly wishes to discover Namibia. The red sand probably came from the Kalahari 3 to 5 million years ago. Transported by the Orange river to the ocean, it was carried Northwards by the Benguela current, and left along the coast. Over time, the dunes of the Namib were sculpted by the wind, creating strange and complex silhouettes. This seemingly arid landscape is in fact a complex ecosystem which can survive only because of the humidity brought by the precious mists that come in from the Atlantic ocean.
Only a few kilometres from KuanguKuangu, lies the NamibRand Nature Reserve, near the famous Sossusvlei dunes. This reserve is the fourth biggest private nature reserve in the world. This land was originally a number of separate farms formed in the 1950s to eke out an existence farming in the desert. Several severe drought years in the 1980s demonstrated that farming domestic stock here just wasn’t viable. There were allegations of farmers opening their fences to game from the Namib-Naukluft National Park, only to kill the animals for their meat once they left the park.
Game was the only option, and this survived well on the farm Gorassis, owned by Albi Brückner. In 1988 Brückner bought out two neighbouring farms and gradually the reserve was broadened from that base. Now, various shareholders have contributed money to the reserve, and different operators hold ‘consession’ areas, which they utilise for tourism. The NamibRand has a very rich flora and diverse fauna.
About one hour’s drive from KuanguKuangu, Sossusvlei, an old diamond-mining area, opened to the public 20 years ago, forms the centre of the « sea of dunes » with a height of up to 300 m, and with phenomenal colours, richer and more subtle than any artist’s pallet. A pure quartz sand gives the dunes a beautiful red colour.
Sossusvlei is reached via Sesriem and from there by a road, 64 km long. We recommend leaving Namibian Retreat very early in the morning, so that you can climb the dunes at Sussusvlei at sunrise. A dried-up lake (Deadvlei), except after exceptional rains, adds to the magic of the Sossusvlei area, and in the background the desert continues with the Naukluft Mountains stretching on. A tip: take a balloon flight over the desert for a stunning view of the dunes (1/2 day excursion).
Swakopmund, Namibia’s second biggest town and traditional “summer capital”, is one of the most surreal places in this surreal country. You approach the town through the endless expanses of the Namib Desert, one of the world’s largest wilderness areas. Then, through the mists (it is almost always misty in the morning and late afternoon) Bavarian spires and elaborate Germanic architecture rise through the fog banks. The boom of the surf on the notorious Skeleton Coast is an ever-present reminder of the icy Atlantic Ocean beyond. The town is an eclectic mixture of Bohemian and Bavarian, home to an intriguing mix of artists, hippies, strait-laced descendants of German settlers, stately Herero women in Victorian dress, and hard bitten miners, game rangers, safari operators and fishermen. Swakopmund exudes romance and history, a rich cultural melting pot of old and new.
Night time entertainment ranges from sophisticated spins on the casino’s roulette wheels, through raucous parties at the many pubs and restaurants, to an assortment of drama, music and cultural events. Once you’ve got over the shock of being in a little corner of old Bavaria wedged between one of the world’s harshest deserts and even harsher coastlines, the bewitching desert beckons. Just outside town is the extraordinary Moon Landscape, a seemingly never-ending series of bizarre hills that look like pictures taken of Mars, or the Sea of Tranquillity. It is best visited at sunrise or sunset. A bit further afield, in the bed of the Khan River, is the oasis of Goanikontes, a lush splash of water and vegetation in the barren Namib. For botanists, there is the lure of the fields of what have been called “living fossils”, the giant Welwitschia mirabilis. These extraordinary trees never grow more than two metres above the ground, but the bigger specimens have underground stems which are up to four metres wide. The tree has just two leaves, which droop in opposite directions. If one of the leaves dies, the plant dies. The oldest living specimen has been dated at 2 000 years old, while the average age of the youngsters is between 500 and 600 years old.
Just outside Swakopmund, a section of towering barcan dunes have been set aside for recreational purposes – sand boarding and skiing, quadbiking, camel rides and offroad driving. Swakopmund also offers a host of other attractions, including excursions by boat to see dolphins and seals, shorebased angling (some of the best in Africa), skin diving, surfing or just simply lazing on the beach. And, of course, the town is surrounded by the Namib Naukluft Park, one of the most bewitching desert wilderness areas in Africa, for one day trips or longer safaris for the ultimate desert camping experience.
The main attraction for tourists at Cape Cross is the seal colony and an interesting history of this place.
The first European landed on Namibian soil was Portuguese explorer Diego Cao (1486) who erected the first stone cross in honour of King Johannes of Portugal. It was the tradition of the Portuguese to build a cross where ever they landed. These crosses had various functions: symbol of Christianity, documentation of the rights of possession and landmark for passing ships.
The seal colony at Cape Cross is the breeding place of the Cape fur seals, which are actually a species of sea lion. Along the Namibian and South African coast there are 24 colonies with a seal population of about 650 000 animals. At Cape Cross live about 80 000 to 100 000 seals. They are slightly reduced every year because they are still desired and apparently they eat too much fish.
Reproduction. Outside the breeding period one hardly sees any bulls in the colony. They only come in October every year to mark their territory, which they defend for life or death against other bulls. Fully grown bulls can weigh up to 190 kg but at the beginning of the breeding period they weigh up to 360 kg.
The attraction of this remote area lies in the colour, changing moods and untouched profile of its landscape. Its aura of mystery and mightiness is largely due to the dense coastal fog and cold sea breezes caused by the cold Benguela ocean current from the Arctic, and bones scattered on its beaches from where the park's name derives.
The landscape in the park ranges from sweeping vistas of wind swept dunes to rugged canyons with walls of richly coloured volcanic rock and extensive mountain ranges. Its level coastline characterises the park, only occasionally broken by scattered rocky outcrops. The southern section consists of the gravel plains, but north of Terrace Bay high dunes occur in the immediate vicinity of the coast.
The remains of shipwrecks scattered along the coast bear witness to many ships, which have come to grief along these desolate shores.
This spectacular canyon is located on the road of Gamsberg.
The major part of the year, the ephemeral Kuiseb come down to a broad bed of sandy river. It sometimes happens to it to run two or three weeks per annum, but it never reaches the sea.
The Naukluft Massif, North of Sesriem is an imposing natural barrier, a wild place with impressive gorges. Opened at first under the name Mountain Zebra, it was later regrouped with the park. A protected area since 1964, the Naukluft section of the Namib-Naukluft park stretches out on a plateau traversed by steep gorges and overhangs the vast plains that join up with the dunes along the Atlantic coast. Peaks of over 2000 meters crop up from the expanses of white and pink sand.
Over the centuries, the fauna and flora have evolved, engendering the most remarkable ways in to survive the hostilities of the Namib desert. Three age-old rivers have their source in the Naukluft mountains : the Tsondab in the North, the Tsams in the West and the Tsauchab in the South. They are generally dry except in periods of heavy rain. These rivers have cut great canyons, penetrating deeply into the dolomite formations and have thus allowed for the survival of a rich desert vegetation. These few water streams formed small de basins in which one can swim.
The Fish River canyon, situated along the lower reaches of the Fish River, is one of the most impressive natural beauties in the southern part of Namibia. It developed predominantly during the pluvial times - rainy climatic epochs - many millions of years ago. With its depth of up to 550 metres, the Fish River Canyon is the second largest canyon in the world, following the Grand Canyon in America. The enormous gorge winds along a distance of approx. 160 kilometres through the fissured Koubis massif all the way down to Ai-Ais.
As the Fish River is dammed in Hardap, it usually carries only a small amount of water. However, after a heavy rainfall, it quickly turns into a raging torrent.
The Fish River canyon has become a popular hiking destination. Hikes require a good physical health, however, and should only be undertaken during the cooler winter months between Mai and September.
A permit from Nature Conservation in Windhoek must be obtained. The hike lasts for 5 days, the length is 86 kilometres. Much easier - but also bery attractive - hikes are offered in the bordering private "Canyon Nature Park".
Isolated, on a wind-beaten desert coast, Lüderitz surprises the visitor. Here, it seems time has stopped. Its deserted beaches are the territory of colonies of flamingos, penguins, and seals.