Rand Nature Reserve
Red dunes, vast plains and rugged mountains make up the serene landscape between the inhospitable Namib Desert and the escarpment of the interior plateau. The seasons supply gentle dots of colour – sometimes whitish-yellow, sometimes light green grass.
For nature lovers and photographers: a dream of a landscape. NamibRand Nature Reserve is situated in this area. With almost 200,000 ha it is Namibia’s largest private conservation area. To the west it borders on Namib Naukluft Park, while the Nubib Mountain range forms the eastern boundary. Before the former commercial farming area was bought by a well-known Windhoek business man in 1984, it was mercilessly exploited. The wounds have healed well. Today you encounter large herds of Springbok again, as well as numerous Oryx and Ostriches. Activities on offer include drives and hot air balloon trips, as well as guided hiking tours of several days ('Tok Tokkie Trails'), which like nothing else, provide an understanding of the desert’s fauna and flora.
Namib Naukluft Park
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.
Orxy 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.
The entrance gate to the most famous part of the Dune Namib – and no doubt one of Namibia’s most notable sights – is located at Sesriem. From there it is still another good hour’s driving to Sossusvlei. 'Gathering place of water' the Nama called this place.
And indeed – amongst the high dunes of the enormous sand sea there is a clay pan, which was clearly formed by water. The pan only fills up once within several years, though, when there has been sufficient rain in the catchment area of the Tsauchab. Usually Sossusvlei is totally dry. The famous star dunes of Sossusvlei tower around the depression, offering thousands of themes to photographers – the most beautiful ones early in the morning and late in the afternoon when light and shadow create a more three-dimensional appearance of the landscape. Do not hesitate to climb a dune! Only from the top will you experience the sheer size of the dunes, and your effort will be rewarded with a spectacular view of the sand sea. At Sossusvlei you will come across sign boards showing the way to another two depressions which are well worth a visit: ‘Dead Vlei’, a dry pan with lumps of clay and dead camelthorn, and secluded little-known ‘Nara Vlei’.
In the vicinity of the park entrance to Sossusvlei the Tsauchab River has dug a cleft - about two kilometres long and up to 30 metres deep - into the deposits of sand and pebbles which are roughly 15 million years old. The name ‘ses rieme’ means that in earlier years ‘six thongs’ from an ox-wagon team had to be knotted together to lower a pail into the water of the gorge.
Sesriem Canyon There is water only after sufficient rains in the Tsauchab’s catchment area. Then, however, you can even take a bath in the muddy pools.
Formerly a farm, Solitaire is situated in a vast, mostly barren landscape in the middle of nowhere. Until a few years ago this place basically consisted of a petrol station with a garage, and a shop with awnings under which you could have a cup of coffee while watching the attendant operate the manual petrol pump. Since a lodge was built Solitaire has lost some of its ‘outpost’ flair, but one of the most important things in a traveller’s life has remained: the absolutely delicious apple crumble, made according to an old family recipe by manager Percy Cross, dubbed the ‘Moose’.
This is a guest farm with a public petrol station and a typical little farm store. It stocks a lot of such things which rural hearts desire. Büllsport is situated at the edge of one of Namibia’s best-known hiking areas, the Naukluft Mountains.
The Naukluft massif is part of the Namib Naukluft Park. Starting with the acquisition of farm Naukluft in 1966, the area gradually came under protection. Approaching the massif from the west, it becomes clearly visible that the bluish mountains form a line with the escarpment between the highland plateau and the Namib Desert. There the terrain drops steeply over up to 1,000 metres. As the mountains consist mainly of dolomite rock and limestone, a huge subterranean drainage and cavity system was formed through the process of karstification. Rainwater gathering in the cavities emerges from the mountains in the shape of numerous springs and waterfalls, especially along the riverbeds. The water sustains a diverse fauna and flora which in the difficult terrain was able to develop almost undisturbed.
The mountain world of the Naukluft can be explored on two different one-day hiking tours or on the well-known 'Naukluft Hiking Trail' which covers about 120 km, but can also be shortened to 55 km. This trail is regarded as one of the most challenging in southern Africa, and it is only suitable for experienced hikers. There is also a taxing 4x4 route.
The stark beauty of this stretch of coast is something only to be seen as few visitors find the words to deliver an adequate description of their experience. The name dates back to the early 1930’s when the publisher of a South West Annual, Mr. Sam Davis, stated in an article concerned with a missing plane of a local celebrity, that “his bones will forever lay on the coast of skeletons, referring to the many wrecks found on the coast, hence the name stuck. The Skeleton Coast boasts a fascinating history and one will deeply appreciate the solitude and unpredictable weather when accompanied by a local of the region that can take you into past events and the means of survival that living things in the area have adapted.
Least accessible to the general public is Mowe Bay where the last of park officials are situated - the area north of this point is only accessible through scheduled tours undertaken by the organisation that holds the concession rights. At present, this concession is held by Wilderness Safaris, who offer a complete fly-in package. The park is highly sensitive environmentally and strict measures are taken against trespasser.
The area south of Mowe Bay includes Terrace and Torra Bay, both of which are managed by Namibia Wildlife Resorts. Terrace Bay offers limited accommodation, while Torra Bay is a camping area that is mostly frequented during the holiday season in December, when it attracts many local angling enthusiasts. Basic services are available along the main coastal road including fuel. However, distances between locations are vast and caution must be taken not to travel without water and basic necessities such as warm clothing. The main road is acceptable for all types of vehicles until Terrace Bay, but this is a salt/gravel road and caution should be exercised. It is important that visitors to the area remain on main roads and refrain from off-road driving as this causes extreme environmental damage.
Along the southern part of the region, many private operators and lodgings operate and provide excellent packages for the traveller to experience the essence of the Skeleton Coast, with activities available ranging from angling and birding amongst others. Seal colonies are a great attraction and a worthwhile expedition to undertake.