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Namibia Namibias Southern Region

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The Southern Region

Touring Namibia’s South with Yourself for Company
In soft waves the red and yellow sand mountains of the Namib Desert stretch all the way to the horizon and beyond. At dazzling depths the gorges of the Fish River Canyon cut into vast plains. With untamed pride the rugged mountains of the Naukluft rise into the brilliant blue sky.

Travelling through these stupendous landscapes you will not only look about in wonder but you will also look into yourself with very different eyes. Only occasionally will you spot a farm far off the gravel road; villages and towns are even rarer. You will see surface water only in the shape of the Orange River (Gariep), Namibia’s southern border, and in a few dams; rain is scarce and falls in small quantities. It is this very austerity which makes the south so fascinating. Unique plants like the quiver tree, halfmens or resurrection plant have adapted to this habitat. This is the home of Springbok, Oryx and Ostrich. Man, on the other hand, is often merely a guest, tolerated temporarily, like the deserted diamond settlements Pomona or Kolmanskuppe.

The following descriptions and details are not in alphabetical but in geographical order, in line with the general travelling route from the capital, Windhoek, in the centre of the country down to Keetmanshoop in the east, to the Fish River Canyon, then west to Lüderitz on the Atlantic coast and from there back north to Sossusvlei in the Dune Namib.
 
Rehoboth
The beginnings of this settlement date back to 1845 when the Rhenish Mission Society founded a mission station for the Swartbooi-Nama in the vicinity of a hot spring. In 1864 the station was abandoned, however. In 1870 Kaptein (leader) Hermanus van Wyk settled in Rehoboth with about 30 families. The settlement expanded around Paul’s Church, built in 1907, but did not develop a real centre. The hot spring is still there and supplies 'Reho Spa' with thermal water. The former lodgings of the postmaster of 1903 house a museum, where you can learn more about the Baster and other peoples of Namibia.

Oanob Dam, which supplies Rehoboth with drinking water and serves as a nearby recreational area, is situated north-west of the town. The camelthorn tree forest, with many of these acacias unusually close together, is located to the south-east.
 
Hoachanas
Slightly north of Hoachanas, at Farm Jena, the workshops of the well-known Namibian embroidery business 'Anin' (Nama: many birds) can be found. Home textiles, from table linen to bed linen, are created there from high-quality materials.  

For many Nama families living around Hoachanas this craft is the sole source of income. Blue skies and excellent thermal conditions in the south are ideal for gliding. Thus a flying centre in the vicinity of Hoachanas has turned into a mecca for gliders.  
 
Hardap Dam and Recreational Park
Since 1963 the Fish River has been dammed up near Mariental to form Namibia’s largest artificial lake. With a capacity of about 320 million m³ it supplies Mariental with water and is also used for irrigating cultivated land below the dam’s wall. In 1964 an area of 250 km² next to the lake was proclaimed a nature conservation area. Hartmann’s Mountain Zebra, Kudu, Oryx, Hartebeest, Ostrich and Black Rhino can be encountered in the surrounding areas.  

Over the years Hardap Dam has also become a refuge for birds, including aquatic birds. Pelicans breed here, and the cry of the famous African Fish Eagle can be heard and the rare African Spoonbill can be spotted. In a country, where surface water is a rarity, a lake is tremendously attractive.  

Therefore a rest-camp was built in 1974 above the dam’s wall. The lake is ideal for aquatic sports; apart from fishing you can take a boat trip for a closer look at the bird islands, go on a game drive or a hiking tour.
 
Gibeon
This sleepy hamlet became world famous for its meteorite shower. Around 1911 geologist Dr. Paul Range brought 37 large pieces, weighing about 31 tons in total, to Windhoek. Some of the pieces, an iron-nickel mix, can be seen in museums all over the world – including the museum of the Geological Survey of Namibia in Windhoek. Gibeon’s meteorites also adorn the fountain in Post Mall Street in downtown Windhoek.

Gibeon is the settlement area of the Witbooi-Oorlam. One of their leaders was the legendary Hendrik Witbooi, who fought against German colonial rule from 1904 and was killed in action in 1905. He is depicted on Namibia’s banknotes. Seven decades later his grandson Hendrik (Samuel) Witbooi followed his example: to protest against South African Apartheid policies he joined the resistance movement SWAPO in 1976. He subsequently lost his post as a headmaster and went on to found a private school which no longer followed the prescribed syllabus.

Every year in October the Witbooi People commemorate their ancestors. Visitors are most welcome to join in the festivities.  
 
Brukkaros
This massif is visible long before you arrive: Brukkaros is 1,590m high and rises by about 600m over the plateau which characterises the landscape. For decades geologists have disagreed about the origins of the three-kilometre-basin of Brukkaros. Even though this mountain looks like an extinct volcano, it now seems that it did not originate from volcanic activity. Instead, it is thought that the crater-like basin is the result of a subterranean gas-explosion, which caused an enormous cavity to implode. You can climb Brukkaros from the southern rim of the crater. From there a path leads down into the basin and to an old research station.  
 
Quiver Tree Forests

The 'Aloe dichotoma' is the landmark of the south – this rare plant occurs only in north-western South Africa and most of all in southern Namibia. It is called quiver tree because in earlier times the San made quivers from the branches. There are two well-known spots with numerous large aloes in the vicinity of Keetmanshoop. These trees are estimated to be 200 to 300 years old. The 'forest' at Farm Gariganus north-east of Keetmanshoop consists of about 250 trees, scattered far apart. This site was proclaimed a National Heritage Site in 1955. The other ‘forest’ is located about 20 km north of Keetmanshoop, right next to the tarred road. Quiver trees flower in June/July. Their large, brilliantly yellow flower heads form a wonderful contrast to the clear, deep blue southern sky. Situated on rocky outcrops, the quiver tree forests are attractive photo themes in the morning and evening light..
 
Giants’ Playground
Apart from quiver trees, Farm Gariganus boasts a remarkable example of the tremendous powers which shaped the earth aeons ago: blocks of greyish-black dolerite are stacked upon one another at the Giants’ Playground as if giants have been playing with bricks. The grounds can be regarded as a sculpture garden which can be viewed from a circular route.   
 
Keetmanshoop
This town started as a settlement of the Velskoendraer-Nama (correct English translation: wearers of fur-shoes), where the Rhenish Mission Society established a mission station in 1866. The place was named after a German merchant, Johann Keetman, who generously supported the mission station financially. ‘Keetmanshoop’ is Afrikaans for Keetman’s hope. The town is the administrative centre of a vast arid region which is utilised for farming – mostly karakul sheep, and also ostrich. Downtown, some buildings from colonial times have been preserved: the railway station, built in 1907/08 and still in use; the Imperial Post Office from 1910, which now houses a visitor information centre; and the old church of the Rhenish Mission Society. The church was renovated and proclaimed a national monument in 1978. Today it is a museum with exhibits of photos and objects from around the previous turn of the century; agricultural equipment and the model of a Nama hut are also on show.
 
Kalahari
Embracing eastern Namibia and western Botswana, the Kalahari forms a large basin which stretches from north-eastern Namibia down to South Africa. Lines of parallel red dunes, usually with tufts of tall grass, are a characteristic feature. Due to underground water gnarled old acacias can often be found in the valleys between the dunes. As unbelievable as it may sound: this dry, inhospitable landscape is the habitat of many animal species. With a little luck you will encounter Springbok, Oryx and Ostrich. The further east you venture, the more probable it is to encounter predators as well.
 
Warmbad
This little hamlet, founded in the vicinity of a warm spring, is in the settlement area of the Bondelswart-Nama. In 1890 the German Schutztruppe established a police station in Warmbad. Then it was a rather well-known place, because all travellers from and to South Africa passed through it. Today, like many of the remote villages in the barren south, Warmbad is threatened by decay. All hopes for a small impulse to restore life therefore rest on tourism. With the assistance of NACOBTA, an organisation supporting tourism businesses in rural areas and communities, a museum was set up in Warmbad’s former prison. It documents the history of the Nama from the times before the first missionaries arrived in 1806 up till today. Another important aspect is the Bondelswart uprising against the German colonial power in 1903, which basically started the wars of the OvaHerero as well as other Nama and Oorlam peoples. Other historical relics include the remains of old camel stables from Schutztruppe times, a mission house and a church from 1806. The warm spring is still there, too. Its water runs into an outside pool where you can have a swim.

Every year in October the Bondelswart commemorate their Kaptein Jan Abraham Christiaan, who was killed in 1903. His death was the cause for the Bondelswart uprising. As with the commemoration celebrations of the Witbooi, visitors are very welcome.
 
The Orange River
This river is among the most remarkable ones in Africa. Its source is at an altitude of more than 3,100 metres in Lesotho, far away in the east, from where it crosses South Africa and finally forms the border with Namibia on its last 500 km before reaching the Atlantic Ocean at Oranjemund. The Orange River carries water throughout the year – a very rare feature in Namibia where the only other four perennial rivers form the northern border. Due to its many cataracts and relatively low water level the Orange River is only suitable for small boats. This characteristic makes the river quite charming. Guided canoe tours, starting at Noordoewer, allow glimpses - which you cannot have by car - of the largely untouched riverine nature.

The road along the Orange River to Rosh Pinah is still relatively unknown and therefore not much frequented. This is sure to change in the near future. The reason is the merging of two national parks which border on the Orange River: in the south it is South Africa’s Richtersveld National Park and on Namibia’s side the Ai-Ais Hot Springs Game Park.
 
Ai-Ais / Richtersveld Transfrontier Park
This 5,900 km² nature conservation area across national borders was officially launched by the governments of Namibia and South Africa in August 2003. With Ai-Ais Hot Springs Game Park, including Fish River Canyon and the little known and almost inaccessible Hunsberg nature reserve, Namibia contributed almost three quarters of the Transfrontier Park. The rugged mountain deserts of the park are part of the Succulent Karoo, one of the richest and most valuable plant kingdoms on earth. Here you will find the earlier mentioned succulent called halfmens, as well as lithops (stone plants), rare aloes and crassula, which turn this landscape into colourful fields of flowers during the rainy season. In this area you will hardly encounter any game, though. However, the intense green banks of the Orange River provide a habitat for hundreds of bird species, including many birds of prey.
 
Fish River Canyon
The canyon of the Fish River is one of the main attractions in southern Namibia. Many call it the second largest canyon on earth and compare it to the Grand Canyon of the Colorado River in the US. Some argue that the Fish River Canyon is only the second largest in Africa, after the narrow valley of the Blue Nile.
   
But neither comparison does justice to the Fish River Canyon which in its geological history and appearance clearly differs from the others. The main event in the formation of the gorges, which are up to 500 metres deep, was the break-up of the ancient continent of Gondwana about 130 million years ago, as a result of which the rim of the African landmass was lifted.

As is typical for Namibia, the Fish River is a seasonal river which only carries water after rainfalls in its catchment area. This occurs during a few weeks each year, usually between January and April, and in some years not at all. The famous canyon is located downriver. It cuts through a seemingly endless, stony semi-desert, dominated by shades of brown and beige which are only occasionally interrupted by green euphorbia or tall quiver trees.

Some 80 km of the canyon are accessible for visitors: the part between the Ai-Ais rest camp at the southern end and the main viewing point at Hobas in the north. Travelling between these points you will get a good grasp of the dimensions of the Fish River Canyon. The road along the eastern side of the canyon climbs several hills from which you can enjoy panoramic views of this magnificent landscape. The 80 km hiking trail through the Fish River gorge is regarded as one of the most beautiful in southern Africa. Four to five days are needed for the trail.
 
Ai-Ais Hot Springs Resort
Ai-Ais: ‘very hot’ or ‘hot water’ is what the Nama called this place. Water from the springs at Ai-Ais is pumped into the thermal baths at a temperature of 60 degrees Celsius. The water is rich in fluorides, sulphates and chlorides and is said to relieve rheumatic ailments and illnesses of the nervous system. Totally healthy visitors will find a bath most relaxing, too. The thermal baths are situated on the grounds of a rest-camp in the narrow gorge at the southern end of the Fish River Canyon, far below the highland plateau. Ai-Ais is now open throughout the year. You should bear in mind, though, that it can become excessively hot during the summer months (October to March).
 
Hobas
The main viewing point at the canyon is at Hobas. Here, the canyon’s rugged cliffs plunge down more than 500 metres. Nearby, a steep path, secured with chains, winds downwards into the gorge. Visitors are not permitted to descend into the canyon. Only participants of the Fish River hiking tour are allowed past the entry point.
 
Gondwana Cañon Park
This private nature reserve forms the eastern boundary of the Ai-Ais / Richtersveld Transfrontier Park and is also part of the biologically unique Succulent Karoo. The annual rainfall in this area is barely 100 mm – barely enough for sheep farming. Since the establishment of the park in 1996 and the end of farming, the damage caused by overgrazing has almost vanished already. Original plants have reclaimed their ground and the numbers of Mountain Zebra, Springbok, Oryx and Ostrich have increased again. Even Giraffe, which inhabited this area long ago, have been resettled. Guests of the park’s accommodation facilities can join guided hiking tours or excursions on horseback.
 
Naute Recreational Park
In 1972 the seasonal Löwen River was dammed up to form Namibia’s third largest dam. Naute Dam has a capacity of about 69 Million m³ and supplies mainly Keetmanshoop with drinking water. Arriving from the south you can turn off to the right into a game park before you reach the dam’s wall. As the park was set up rather recently, animals are rarely seen, but the lake is a bird paradise and it is suitable for swimming.
 
Bethanien
The Oorlam people called this place a ‘spring which cannot be closed with a stone’. There, a missionary by the name of Schmelen, sent by the London Missionary Society, founded Bethanien in 1814. Discouraged by a draught, a locust plague and by the Oorlams’ refusal to stop their periodical cattle thieving, Schmelen gave up on his work in 1822. Bethanien is one of those little settlements of the south which have seen better times. Visitors will hardly guess that an important chapter in Namibia’s history was opened right here in Bethanien: on 1 May 1883 Heinrich Vogelsang signed a contract (on behalf of Adolf Lüderitz) for purchasing the Bay of Angra Pequeña (later called Lüderitzbucht) from Oorlam Chief Joseph Fredericks. It was the beginning of the colony of German South West Africa. Next to the Lutheran church, restored to its original state, visitors will find a replica of the stone house built by missionary Schmelen. The tiny 'Schmelen-Haus' houses an exhibition, lovingly put together, on the missionary history of Bethanien, as well as photos and documents. The house of Kaptein Joseph Fredericks still exists as well.
 
Aus
Compared to the Fish River area the landscape around Aus seems gentle and wide. Bathed in pastel shades, the softly undulating plains surround the dark mountains, which rise from them, like snow blown there by the wind. Because of the railway line from Lüderitz to Keetmanshoop, which reached Aus in late 1906, the place gained some importance for a short time. In 1915 the South African army established a camp for German prisoners of war east of Aus. Few traces are left of it – some rusty pieces of metal and remains of mud-brick walls polished by the wind.
 
Garub and the Wild Horses of the Namib
In the early 20th century steam engines on the Lüderitz–Keetmanshoop line had to stop at the railway station Garub, about 20 km west of Aus, to refill with water. It was pumped from a borehole several kilometres away. Later a watering point was set up nearby for the Wild Horses of the Namib, which roam the vicinity. The horses’ origin was the subject of numerous stories for decades. The results of fresh studies, however, give reason to believe that most of them descended from South African army stock which was dispersed during the First World War and ran wild (see www.wildhorses-namibia.com). Over the decades the horses have excellently adapted to the harsh conditions of the desert. The watering point, about two kilometres from the tarred road, is a good place to watch them.
 
Kolmanskuppe (Kolmanskop)
The wind tugs at the wooden shutters, doors and roof beams. Rusty water pipes and railway tracks disappear into sandy oblivion. Rooms with high ceilings and even whole houses are filled by rippled dunes. Through broken windows and holes in roofs or walls the sun paints bizarre pictures of light and shadow.  

The appealing atmosphere of the dilapidation of a settlement which once flourished in the hostile desert attracts around 20,000 tourists each year. Kolmanskuppe sprang up in 1908 after diamonds were found. During the following years the little town was the centre of a veritable diamond rush – which filled it with life. All that remains today are the Diamond Restricted Area, where mining of precious stones continues, and the ghost town of Kolmanskuppe. You can join a guided tour through the ruins, including the old ice factory, the butchery, the skittle-alley and the hall which was used for gymnastics and festivities. There is also a small museum and an exhibit about mining and processing diamonds. You can even buy diamonds (up to one carat), issued with a certificate and sealed in a pretty package – a lasting souvenir of your visit to Kolmanskuppe.
 
Lüderitz
Lüderitz, more than 100 years old, is situated on a forbidding and varied stretch of coast. The grey Gneiss serves as an attractively austere backdrop to the town and its buildings, some of which are gaily coloured. The  history  of  Lüderitz  fills  volumes.  It   is about Portuguese seafarers, British whalers and sealers, a merchant from Bremen and German fortune-hunters. And it is characterised by a magical rise, a rich golden season, protracted languishing and a miraculous resurrection.

Lüderitz boasts many witnesses of the past. Apart from ‘Diaz Point’, the rock on which the Portuguese put up a stone cross as a landmark, there is the picturesque Felsenkirche (Rock Church), stately ‘Goerke House’ and other magnificent Jugendstil buildings from the period of promoterism – and, of course, the nearby ghost town of Kolmanskuppe. In addition, excursions into the Restricted Area, to other deserted diamond settlements like Pomona or to Bogenfels (rock arch) beckon. Lüderitz also offers modern-day attractions and activities: the Waterfront with its yacht club, a wellness centre, boat trips to lone islands inhabited only by seals and penguins, drives to hidden bays or 4x4 tours into the Dune Namib north of the town. Not to mention the culinary delights for which Lüderitz is famous: fresh crayfish and oysters, depending on the season.
 
Tiras Mountains and Namibia’s most beautiful by-road
On your way from Aus to the north you come to the Tiras Mountains, which you can by-pass on a westerly route. This gravel road is often said to be Namibia’s most beautiful by-road. It takes you through a wide open landscape, with the distant red dunes of the Namib lining one side and the tall Tiras Mountains rising into the blue sky on the other side. Like the far south this is an area where it may rain in winter (June to August), resulting in a fauna and flora which is highly interesting for biologists.
 
Helmeringhausen
Looking at southern Namibia on the map, some prominent dots catch the eye. They must be towns, you think – Kalkrand, Seeheim, Betta or, well, Helmeringhausen. All these little ‘towns’ basically consist of a dusty throughway and a petrol station – and they have a special 'Out of Africa' flair in common. Helmeringhausen also boasts a café, a hotel with an open-air museum, a post office and a shop.
 
Maltahöhe
This sleepy hamlet was founded around the turn of the previous century and named after Malta, the wife of a Schutztruppe commander. Apart from a somewhat old-fashioned hotel in the centre of the little town there is the Oahera Art Market at the western fringe. Visitors are welcome to watch local Nama create handcrafted items. Souvenirs from Namibia’s other regions are also available. Other attractions include sightseeing in a donkey cart; if you like you are also taken to the nearby Nama settlement. Lastly, there is Maltahöhe’s school choir, bursting with zest and sound. Traditional songs and dances will be performed for larger groups by prior arrangement.
 
Schloss Duwisib (Duwisib Castle)
It does exude something eccentric – this fortified manor house in the hilly African landscape south-west of Maltahöhe. Castle Duwisib was built in 1908 by a former Schutztruppe officer, Hansheinrich von Wolf, and his American wife Jayta.

With the exception of the sandstone all building materials and furnishings were shipped from Europe to Lüderitz and from there hauled to Duwisib through the desert by ox-wagon. In the following years von Wolf acquired considerable property and bred horses. In 1914 the couple was on their way to Europe to buy additional horses, when the First World War broke out. Von Wolf managed to get to Germany where he signed up for military service.

He was killed in action in September 1916 in the battle of the Somme in France. His wife Jayta never returned to South West Africa. Castle Duwisib is in excellent repair. A tour of the property includes the Rittersaal (Banqueting Hall), the dining room, a Biedermeier parlour and the former owners’ private chambers along with some of the original old furnishings.  
 
Neuras
This farm is situated in the sparse hills east of the Naukluft Mountains and offers something which you would not expect to find in this wasteland. It produces wine, even though in very small quantities. The retired, passionate hobby-winemaker is happy to take you on a guided tour of his premises – but not during harvesting in January/February.

 

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