Namib-Naukluft National Park
Namib-Naukluft National Park is an ecological preserve in the Namib Desert in southwest Africa, thought to be Earth’s oldest desert. The park is the largest game park in Africa, and a surprising collection of creatures manages to survive in the hyper-arid region, including snakes, geckos, unusual insects, hyenas, and jackals. More moisture comes in as a fog off the Atlantic Ocean than falls as rain, with the average 106 millimeters of rainfall per year concentrated in the months of February and April.
The winds that bring in the fog are also responsible for creating the park’s towering sand dunes, whose burnt orange color is a sign of their age. The orange color develops over time as iron in the sand is oxidized (like rusty metal); the older the dune, the brighter the color. These dunes are the tallest in the world, in places rising above the desert floor more than 300 meters (almost 1000 feet). The dunes taper off near the coast, and lagoons, wetlands, and mudflats located along the shore attract hundreds of thousands of birds.
‘Namib’ means open space and the Namib Desert gave its name to form Namibia – “land of open spaces”. The park was established in 1907 when the German Colonial Administration proclaimed the area between the Swakop River and the Kuiseb River a game reserve. The park has some of the most unusual wildlife and nature reserves in the world, and covers an area of 19,215 sq. miles or 49,768 km² (an area approximately the size of Switzerland). The region is characterised by high isolated inselbergs/ kopjes (the Afrikaans for “isolated desert mountains”) which are made up of dramatic blood red granites, rich in feldspars and sandstone. The easternmost part of the park covers the Naukluft Mountains.
Sand and stones, sun and mirages, blue sky – or stars as far as you can see. Tiny beetles like the Tok Tokkie which collects its supply of moisture by fog-basking. Antelope like the Oryx whose body can heat up to temperatures which no other living being would be able to survive. Plants like the Welwitschia, some of which are already several hundred years old and still growing. The desert – so vast, so isolated, so inhospitable but nevertheless so diverse, so colourful and so much alive.
Namib Naukluft Park is the largest nature conservation area in Africa, extending between the tarred road Aus-Lüderitz in the south and the Swakop River in the north, and from the Atlantic coast in the west to the highland in the east.
Due to low rainfall the park basically consists of desert – whatever shape it may ultimately take. Visitors have access to four sections of the park: the dunes of Sossusvlei in the so-called Dune Namib, the Naukluft Mountains, the gravel plains of the Namib between the seasonal Swakop and Kuiseb Rivers, as well as the dune area on the Atlantic coast around the lagoon at Sandwich Harbour. Furthermore, some parts of the park – the dune belt of the Koichab River north of Aus for example – can be accessed through tour operators who hold a concession.