Deep South, Coastal and the Fish River Canyon

The country’s most spectacular geological phenomenon and the highlight of Namibia’s ‘Deep South’ is the Fish River Canyon. The famous ravine lies in the lower reaches of Namibia’s longest river, the Fish River. It took millions of years to evolve to its present shape – a massive 161 km long, up to 27 km wide and up to 550 metres deep. 

TOP ATTRACTIONS IN THE SOUTH

 

Top tourist attractions in the region include the quaint coastal town of Lüderitz; Namibia’s most famous ghost town, Kolmanskop, a former diamond settlement that was deserted in the 1950s; the Northern Sperrgebiet, which can be explored with concession-holding tour operators. Further east are the Quiver Tree Forest, Giant’s Playground and Brukkaros Mountain, the latter not an extinct volcano as is popularly thought but the remnants of a gaseous explosion that took place many millions of years ago. Lying at the centre of this region is the unofficial capital of the south, Keetmanshoop – the gateway to many of these attractions. Further south lies the Fish River Canyon, the second largest canyon in the world.

FISH RIVER CANYON AND /AI-/AIS RICHTERSVELD TRANSFRONTIER PARK

 

The /Ai-/Ais Hot Springs and Fish River Canyon were first proclaimed in 1968, and in 1989 the Huns Mountains complex west of the canyon was added to these features to form a single conservation entity. The Namibian Government acquired several farms in the surroundings, which were also incorporated into the unit, and in 2003 the long-term conservation objective to manage the Huns Mountains and /Ai-/Ais Game Park jointly with the Richtersveld National Park in South Africa as one integrated Transfrontier Conservation Area (TFCA) became a reality when the /Ai-/ Ais-Richtersveld Transfrontier Park became Namibia’s first transfrontier conservation area. The attraction of this rugged wilderness is its isolated and otherworldly landscape, and wealth of interesting xerophytic plants, such as the halfmens or elephant’s trunk, Pachypodium namaquanum. Geologically and botanically the area is similar to South Africa’s Richtersveld south of the Orange River. Eroded over many millennia, the Fish River Canyon is the second-largest natural canyon in the world. Set in a harsh, stony plain, dotted with drought-resistant succulents such as the distinctive quiver tree or kokerboom, Aloidendron dichotomum, and Euphorbia gregaria, the canyon is a spectacular natural phenomenon that took hundreds of millions of years to evolve. While its full length is 160 km – the width is up to 27 km and depth up to 550 metres – its most spectacular section is the 56-km stretch downstream of the northernmost viewpoint. Because the river flows intermittently, there is always water in some of the pools, except in very dry years. Containing small- and largemouth yellowfish, sharptooth catfish, tilapia and common carp, the pools are also frequented by the water monitor or leguan. Baboon, rock hyrax, ground squirrel and klipspringer are often seen in the canyon, while the presence of leopard and mountain zebra is indicated by tracks left at waterholes. Kudu inhabit the densely vegetated lower reaches north of /Ai-/Ais. An interesting variety of birds, such as the Olive Thrush, Cape Robin-chat and African Black Duck, are found in the canyon.

 

Fish River viewpoint

 

The enviro-friendly viewpoint overlooking the spectacular Fish River Canyon was completed in 2010. Designed by Windhoek-based architect Nina Maritz – who is internationally recognised for her expertise in energy efficiency and sustainable building in developing countries – the new facility greatly enhances this popular southern destination. Displayed at the viewpoint are a series of interpretive information posters for tourists, providing details on the flora, fauna and geology of the canyon, the history of the area, the human footprint, the transfrontier process and the Fish River Canyon hiking trail.

 

LÜDERITZ

 

One of Namibia’s truly unique destinations is the coastal town of Lüderitz in the so-called Deep South. Originally named Angra Pequena (small bay) by the famous Portuguese explorer Bartholomeu Dias in 1487, the settlement was renamed Lüderitz in honour of its founder Adolf Lüderitz in 1884. Located directly on the shores of Lüderitz Bay facing the Atlantic Ocean, Lüderitz forms a barrier between the towering coastal dunes of the Namib-Naukluft Park directly to the north, and the unforgiving rocky coastline to the south. The town has a colourful fishingharbour surrounded by early 20th century German colonial buildings.

Ten kilometres to the east the world- renowned ghost town, Kolmanskop, affords you the opportunity to gain a spellbinding insight into what life was once like in this former diamond settlement. Other activities include bird-watching such as at Halifax Island to view Namibia’s largest colony of African Penguins via a boat, exploring the Lüderitz Peninsula and its many bays and beaches, whale watching, windsurfing and speed-sailing.

Lüderitz is especially famous for its delicious fresh seafood: west coast rock lobster (called crayfish locally), oysters and the much sought-after delicacy abalone (perlemoen variety). The town celebrates its rich seafood culture with an annual Lüderitz Crayfish Festival.

Current developments in the town include the construction of a wind farm, known as Ombepo Wind Farm. Namibia’s first wind farm, the 5 MW Ombepo farm, east of Lüderitz, became operational in April 2018. With strong and reliable southwesterly winds, Lüderitz has been earmarked for two more wind farms.

A major project for the future is the establishment of the largest maritime museum complex in Africa. This multi-million-Namibia-dollar tourist attraction will display Namibia’s rich maritime history, geology and marine fauna and flora. Cafés, restaurants, an outdoor arena, a yacht jetty and large promenades will provide additional relaxation opportunities for the visitor. The maritime museum is still in its planning stages.

Lüderitz is easily accessible by good roads from Windhoek, Keetmanshoop and the Fish River Canyon, as well as with direct Air Namibia flights from Windhoek International Airport several times a week.

To fully appreciate Lüderitz, a minimum of two nights’ stay in the town is recommended.

 

Distinctive architecture

Among the most striking architectural attractions are the Goerkehaus and Felsenkirche. Both adorn the slopes of Diamond Mountain. The church with its beautiful stained-glass windows is truly unique, as all building materials – even the sand – were shipped from Germany.

In the ‘old town’ are the houses of former mining magnates and prominent businessmen, including Kreplin House and Troost House. The Krabbenhöft & Lampe Building was erected for a trading business during the period of economic prosperity that followed the discovery of diamonds. The Deutsche Afrika Bank is part of the historic street view of Bismarck Street, one of the oldest roads in town.

In Berg Street, in the historic core of the town, is a complex of residences built during the diamond boom. Other noteworthy structures are the old post office, the former German school, the Lesehalle and the Turnhalle. The small Lüderitz Museum on Diaz Street is another fascinating stop to learn about the town’s history and heritage.

 

Beaches, bays and birds

The Lüderitz Peninsula is characterised by numerous bays, lagoons and unspoilt stretches of beach. At Diaz Point a replica of Bartolomeu Dias’ padrão can be seen, while a memorial on Shark Island commemorates Captain Cornelius Fredericks. Another one, which was unveiled in 1903 to mark 20 years of German colonisation, originally stood in the old Nautilus cemetery on the site of the first surveyor’s beacon but was moved in 1976, as were the graves of German soldiers. The popular local beaches are Grosse Bucht, Sturmvogelbucht and Agate Beach, the latter with its excellent barbecue facilities, long sandy beach and good bathing opportunities. The remains of an old Norwegian whaling station can be viewed at Sturmvogelbucht.

The Lüderitz area is home to a wide variety of aquatic birds. Large numbers of flamingos, cormorants and seagulls inhabit the shallow lagoons. When sailing in the bay, seals and dolphins can be seen playing in the water. For anglers, favoured species are galjoen, steenbras, dassie and rock lobster. It is not unusual to see an occasional jackal or brown hyaena trotting along the beach, or a group of springbok close to the sea. An attractive plant in the surroundings is Bushman’s candle, its pink flowers contrasting vividly against the black rock. Unusual species of dwarf succulents grow in the area, such as small but intriguing lithops, colloquially referred to as Hottentot’s buttocks.

 

Activities in and around Lüderitz

Excursions from Lüderitz range from guided overnight self-drive 4×4 trips into the Namib sand sea and guided day trips to Elizabeth Bay and the Bogenfels to exploring the Lüderitz Peninsula which is accessible by sedan vehicle. Attractions on the peninsula include the abandoned whaling station, WWI entrenchments, Dias Point, secluded bays and beaches and the old lighthouse. Sightings of Cape fur seals, Heaviside’s dolphins and, in season, Humpback and Southern Right whales, as well as a variety of seabirds are possible on a catamaran cruise. Deep-sea angling, private charter and bird watching are other possibilities. The large Lüderitz second lagoon, with strong winds coming from the surrounding Namib Desert, offers windsurfers and kitesurfers exciting sailing opportunities throughout the year – this is a real sailing paradise with no crowds and plenty of opportunity to test your skills.

 

Festivals

The annual Crayfish Festival is celebrated in April/May, a Snoek Derby usually takes place in May and in August/September the bi-annual Küska (Lüderitz Karneval) is held according to German traditions. Windsurfing and speed sailing are two activities that draw crowds to the small town during October/ November for the annual Lüderitz Speed Challenge. Excellent wind conditions and a specially made 1 km long canal attract the world’s best kitesurfers and windsurfers to compete for the top world-ranking in speed sailing. More than 100 national and 17 world records have been achieved since the first event in 2007 and Lüderitz has become synonymous with speed sailing records. Lüderitz offers the perfect conditions for speed sailing records: warm winds gain momentum on their way through the coastal hills of the Namib Desert and are accelerated to incredibly high speeds by thermal atmospheric pressure when they reach the cold waters of the Atlantic Ocean. Statistically the wind blows at 35 knots and more at least three times a week during the event, often reaching 40-45 knots and sometimes even 50 to 65 knots (119 km/h). If you are in Lüderitz during the annual speed challenge it is definitely worth your while to see these worldclass speed sailors in action.

www.luderitz-speed.com

 

Abalone and oysters

Oyster and abalone production in Lüderitz is on the rise, with marine aquaculture enterprises currently producing abalone, oysters, mussels and seaweed in the Lüderitz sea lagoons and the salt-ponds of Walvis Bay and Swakopmund. There is a wide choice of eateries serving seafood. The Lüderitz Nest Hotel has two restaurants: the Penguin Restaurant and Crayfish Bar & Lounge. Another place to enjoy is Essenzeit at the Waterfront.

 

Lüderitz Waterfront

A number of exciting modern developments have taken place in the centre of Lüderitz. One of them is the Lüderitz Waterfront Development which currently includes the harbour square that hosts the annual Crayfish Festival. The harbour square consists of shops, restaurants and coffee shops, offices and apartments. The Yacht Club is also at the Waterfront. The second phase of the development, currently underway, is the upgrading and renovation of the historical power station located directly on Lüderitz Bay. Future developments that will put the bay on the map include a shopping centre with sea views, luxury apartments, a fourstar hotel, indoor and outdoor sports facilities, a modern satellite campus for the Namibia University of Science and Technology, and Africa’s largest Maritime Museum.

 

Kolmanskop

Namibia’s most famous ghost town, Kolmanskop, is situated in the Tsau //Khaeb National Park about 10 km inland from Lüderitz. It was named after transport driver Johnny Coleman, who lived in the tiny settlement of Aus at the turn of the century. During a fierce sandstorm he was forced to abandon his ox wagon on the small incline from where Kolmanskop can be seen. It stood there for a while, giving rise to the name Colemanshügel, which eventually became Kolmanskop. In 1908, the railway worker Zacharias Lewala found a sparkling stone in the sand he was shovelling at Grasplatz railway station nearby Kolmanskop. His supervisor, August Stauch, was convinced he had found a diamond. When this was confirmed, the news spread like wildfire, sparking a frantic diamond rush and causing fortune hunters to converge on Kolmanskop in droves. It soon became a bustling little centre, featuring a butchery, bakery, furniture factory, soda-water and lemonade plant. By 1915, Kolmanskuppe was one of the richest towns in the world with its own millionaire’s row, large outdoor salt-water swimming pool, bowling alley, hospital, entertainment hall and ice-making factory. The first X-ray machine in the southern hemisphere was introduced here, as well as the first tram in Africa. Today, Namibia’s diamond-mining operations take place offshore in the Oranjemund area (on the border with South Africa).

The development of the town reached its pinnacle in the 1920s, with approximately 300 German adults, 40 of their children and 800 Owambo contract workers living there. In spite of, or probably because of, the isolation and bleakness of the surrounding desert, Kolmanskop developed into a lively little haven of German culture, providing entertainment and recreation to suit the requirements of the affluent, for whom large, elegant houses were built.

However, when richer diamond deposits were discovered further south, operations were moved to Oranjemund. Today, the crumbling ruins of the ghost town bear little resemblance to its former glory. The stately homes, their grandeur now scoured and demolished by desert winds, are gradually enveloped by sand. In 1980 the mining company CDM (now Namdeb) restored a number of the buildings and established a museum for tourist viewing.

Permits are needed to enter Kolmanskop. These can be obtained at the entrance gate, which is open daily from 08:00 to 13:00 (longer for visitors who have a photo permit). Interesting guided tours are conducted free of charge, in English and German, from Mondays to Saturdays at 09:30 and 11:00, and on Sundays and public holidays at 10:00.

 

 

AUS

 

An almost-forgotten hamlet on the north-south and east-west crossroads between the Maltahöhe–Rosh Pinah and Keetmanshoop–Lüderitz routes has reinvented itself. Most people usually pass Aus or just drive in briefly to fill up with fuel. However, apart from refuelling, having refreshments and perhaps staying at one of the accommodation establishments, there are more reasons to stop at Aus, as it offers much of interest. The settlement has several historical buildings and traces of crucial historical events, including the remains of the prisoner-of-war camp where over 1 500 German prisoners were kept after the surrender of the German forces in 1915. Aus is also a starting point for viewing the well-known wild horses of Garub and a trading centre for the karakul farmers of the surroundings.

Aus is not only at the crossroads of major transport routes, but also at the meeting point of three main ecological biomes – the Succulent Karoo, Nama Karoo and Dune Namib. In terms of natural assets this makes Aus one of the most diverse places in Namibia. Over 500 plant species have been recorded in the environs, representing nearly one fifth of Namibia’s entire flora. Some species are restricted to the granite koppies around Aus, and grow nowhere else but there. The sporadic occurrence of winter and summer rains, and diverse landforms including granite koppies, sand-and-gravel plains, and rivers, contribute to this extraordinary natural diversity. As an outpost of the Succulent Karoo biome, the area yields flower displays that rival those of Namaqualand a few weeks after significant rains. These could occur almost any time of the year due to the transitional nature of the Aus environs between the two major climatic regimes in Southern Africa. Good times to view the plant life are from May to June and from August to September.

Aus is also a rewarding spot for birding. Namib endemics such as the Namib Dune Lark can be seen here, as well as a variety of other larks, raptors and shrikes, in addition to the regular inhabitants of the marginal desert areas, such as Ludwig’s Bustard, Rüppel’s Korhaan and Namaqua Sandgrouse.

 

The Desert Horses

A captivating feature of the Sperrgebiet are the legendary desert horses seen from the road when travelling between Lüderitz and Aus. About 100 km east of Lüderitz, a signpost indicates the turn-off to Garub, a maintained water point where the wild horses can be observed and photographed as they come to drink.

There are several theories regarding their origin. One is that they are descendants of the horse stud belonging to Baron von Wolf, who built Duwisib Castle 160 km northeast of Garub. Another is that they are descendants of horses left behind when the German Schutztruppe abandoned Aus during the South West Africa Campaign in 1915, and yet another that they are descended from some 6 000 horses belonging to South African soldiers who camped at the borehole at Garub in 1915. There was also the so-called Kubub stud at the Kubub Station under management of Emil Kreplin (mayor of Lüderitz from 1909–1914), who bred workhorses for mining purposes and racehorses. It is thought that the Kubub horses also added to the evolvement of the famous desert horses of Aus.

 

ROSH PINAH

 

Rosh Pinah, a mining village south of Aus, is yet to gain town status. Mining operations in Rosh Pinah started in 1969 when the Rosh Pinah Lead-Zinc Mine commenced operations. In 2001, the village received another economic boost when the Anglo Skorpion Zinc Mine started operations. Rosh Pinah doesn’t offer much in terms of activities and leisure, but serves as a convenient stopover between Aus and Oranjemund. The Geo Centre is worth a mention though, displaying rocks and minerals from the Rosh Pinah and Skorpion mines, as well as from other areas in Namibia.

Open Mondays to Fridays from 8:00 to 17:00, the Geo Centre also offers geology and history trips to interesting locations in the vicinity, ranging from day trips, to five-day, all-inclusive tours.

 

ORANJEMUND

 

Known as the ‘town built on diamonds’ where jackal, ostrich and gemsbok wander the streets amongst the local inhabitants, Oranjemund was officially granted local-authority status in August 2011. The long-standing plan to proclaim Oranjemund as an open town came to fruition following the proclamation of a 90-km access road linking Rosh Pinah to Oranjemund as a national road. The town was previously owned privately by Namdeb.

Oranjemund can lay claim to being the only town surrounded completely by the Tsau//Khaeb National Park. In its heyday, when Oranjemund boasted 15 000 inhabitants, the mining giant DeBeers provided luxuries for its employees, such as one of the best 18-hole golf courses in Namibia. Fishing and birding are further popular pastimes in Oranjemund, as the town is located at the Orange River mouth, a RAMSAR wetland.

Air Namibia and Westair offer regular flights to Oranjemund. As of October 2017, visitors to the town no longer require to apply for an entry permit prior to their visit.

 

Oranjemund Border Control

Oranjemund Border control is situated between Namibia and South Africa. On the Namibian side you have the town of Oranjemund, and on South Africa’s side, Alexander Bay. A single paved carriageway leads towards the border post crossing at the bridge at Alexander Bay to Oranjemund.

Dramatic and forlorn - Tsau Khaeb National Park © Elzanne McCulloch

 

Tsau //Khaeb National Park

 

Sperrgebiet National Park, now renamed to Tsau //Khaeb National Park (Tsau meaning Soft and //Khaeb meaning Sand), was proclaimed in 2008. While it is still largely undeveloped and much of it remains inaccessible to visitors, a small section of this wild landscape can be explored with a tour group, accompanied by an official of the MEFT. The Sperrgebiet (forbidden territory) covers 26 000 km2 of globally important semi-desert. It forms part of the Succulent Karoo biome that extends into South Africa. With its profusion of succulent species, unrivalled anywhere else on the planet in terms of endemism and quantity, conservation scientists have classified this area as one of the world’s top 35 Biodiversity Hotspots. To qualify for hot-spot status, an area must contain at least 1 500 endemic vascular plants (0.5% of the planet’s total) and must have lost at least 70% of its original habitat. Prior to the establishment of the Tsau//Khaeb National Park, a mere 11% of the surviving Succulent Karoo, which is home to 2 439 endemic plants, was in protected areas. Now, following the proclamation of the park, 90% of this zone is protected. Concessionaires with the Ministry of Environment, Forestry and Tourism (MEFT) take visitors from Lüderitz to the colossal 55-metre-high Bogenfels rock arch; the modern diamond mine and the mysterious ghost town at Elizabeth Bay; the ghost town of Pomona (noteworthy for enduring the highest average wind speeds in Southern Africa); and Märchental – the famous ‘Fairy Tale Valley’ – where diamonds were once so common they could be picked up in handfuls from the surface as they lay gleaming in the light of the moon.

Activities further south include kayaking down the Orange River to observe the birds and animals that frequent this internationally renowned Ramsar Wetland Site and viewing the wealth of succulents, some growing as tall as trees and many putting on a spectacular floral display after winter rains.

Because the Sperrgebiet, due to its diamond wealth, has been off limits to the public for close to a century, the habitat is largely untouched and pristine, making a visit to the park a truly unique wilderness experience.

 

Northern Tsau//Khaeb Concession

 

The Ministry of Environment, Forestry and Tourism (MEFT) has given tour operators concessions to conduct guided 4×4 trips along the coast from Lüderitz to Saddle Hill and safaris from Lüderitz to Walvis Bay in the wilderness section of Namib-Naukluft Park. Participants drive in their own vehicles and are accompanied throughout the trip by a tour guide in the leading vehicle and an assistant driving at the rear of the convoy with the kitchen equipment and food for the tour on board. A MEFT representative assists the tour when deemed necessary. Points of interest include Saddle Hill, Koichab Pan, Sylvia Hill, Conception Bay, Langewand, the wreck of the Eduard Bohlen, Fischersbrunn and Sandwich Harbour.

 

Ancient shipwreck discovered

 

In April 2008, a shipwreck was discovered along the southern Sperrgebiet coast with priceless treasure in the form of glittering gold coins and hundreds of almost mint-condition silver pieces. Other artefacts retrieved were fifty ivory tusks, thousands of Portuguese and Spanish gold and silver coins minted in late 1400 and early 1500, and pewterware. Astrolabes were the only navigational tools found on the wreck. Astrolabes were used to determine how far north or south you had sailed, although what doomed this ship still remains a mystery. In all likelihood it ran aground due to bad weather, as this stretch of coast is notorious for fierce, disorienting storms. Unofficial estimates are that the gold coins alone are worth N$ 16 million.

The origin of this find remains a mystery, although informed sources speculate the ship could have been one of a fleet of four small, fast Portuguese ships – led by Bartholomeu Dias in the 15th century – that came to grief during a storm off the Cape of Good Hope in May 1500. Dias’s caravel was part of a fleet of a dozen ships that set sail from Portugal in early 1500 under the stewardship of the legendary sailor Pedro Alvarez Cabral, who stumbled onto Brazil after becoming lost at sea. The discovery was made inside Namdeb’s Mining Area 1, which is accessible only with permits issued jointly by the Ministry of Mines and Energy and the Government’s Protective Resources Unit. Namibian heritage laws on such discoveries automatically give ownership of the treasure to Government. A maritime and mining museum for Oranjemund is in the pipeline to display, among others, the artefacts found on the wreck.

 

BETHANIE

 

The historical town of Bethanie, one of the oldest settlements in the country, lies west of Keetmanshoop. It can be visited from the road leading to Lüderitz. A significant historicalevent took place in Bethanie in 1883 when the first recorded deed of sale was signed at the house of the 19th century Nama Chief, Joseph Fredericks, for the land that was to become known as Lüderitz. The house, built in the same year, is a national monument.

Buildings of historical interest in Bethanie are the Evangelical Lutheran Church Complex, comprising Schmelenhaus, built in 1814 and believed to be the oldest existing building in the country, the original mission church, and the adjacent graveyard. Situated next to the road between Bethanie and Goageb is a Site of Veneration, a stone heap known as a prayer mound or Heitsi Ghub in the local Khoekhoe language. This feature is protected as a cultural historical relic.

 

KEETMANSHOOP

 

The main centre and focal point of the scenic and historic attractions in the south is its ‘capital’ Keetmanshoop. Founded in 1860 by the Rhenish Mission Society, the town still retains vestiges of its original German buildings, and some dating back to the arrival of the first Europeans, who trekked across the Orange River to trade, hunt and explore the land. The first of these expeditions was in 1791. It was led by Hendrik Hop, who trekked as far as Hainabis on the Löwen River, about 12 km from Keetmanshoop. In 1866 preacher John Schröder of the German Missionary Society built a shelter at Keetmanshoop from which to operate. It is said the two acacias he used to support the shelter are still alive and well. Schröder approached the rich industrialist, Johan Keetman, chairman of the society, for funds to build a church and dwelling for himself and his family. Keetman donated 2,000 German marks for the church, and was rewarded for his generosity by having the settlement named after him, although he never saw the town himself. The first version of the Rhenish Mission Church built by Johan Schröder was swept away in 1890 by floodwaters of the Swartmodder River. It was then rebuilt on higher ground, completed in 1895, and used as a church until 1930. It is now a museum with displays depicting the colourful past of the region. Eagle’s Monument, built between 1897–1907 in remembrance of the casualties in the battles fought with the Bondelswarts and the Namas and declared a National Monument in 1966, can be viewed in the Garden of Remembrance. Former officers’ barracks built in German colonial times, the Turnverein Gut Heil, has been converted into tourist accommodation. Much of the German architectural style was retained, as well as unexpected Jewish motifs in the shape of the Star of David, lending an interesting detail to the tall windows of Schützenhaus. The previous owner transferred the windows to the house when the old Jewish Synagogue in Keetmanshoop was demolished. The Southern Tourism Forum (STF) operates from an information office in the centre of Keetmanshoop. The building in which it is housed was inaugurated in 1910 as Kaiserliches Postamt (Imperial Post Office) and is a national monument. The STF is actively engaged in the annual Dorsland Trek/Fish River Canyon awareness project, which entails collecting refuse left by hikers on the hiking trail. Also in the Keetmanshoop vicinity is the site of the former monolith Mukurob, a relic of erosion also referred to as the Finger of God, which collapsed in December 1988. Today, only the the base and part of the neck are still in evidence.

 

Quivertree Dolerite Park

 

Forty-two kilometres northeast of Keetmanshoop on the road to Koës is the Mesosaurus Fossil Site & Quivertree Dolerite Park. Father and son, Giel and Hendrik Steenkamp, happened on a rock with an imprint of a reptile’s skeleton on their farm, which geologists informed them was a fossil of the early saurian Mesosaurus tenuidens, a predecessor of the dinosaurs. They unearthed further fossils in the layers of mudstone, and, having gained permission from the National Heritage Board, started taking tourists to the site in 2000. Tourist facilities are provided on-site. Close by is a quiver tree ‘forest’ and a ‘singing rock’. A guided tour takes 90–120 minutes. For those who prefer to explore on their own, there are two marked trails.

Quiver Tree Forest © Paul van Schalkwyk

 

QUIVER TREE FOREST AND GIANT’S PLAYGROUND

 

A much-favoured subject for photographers, the Quiver Tree Forest can be viewed on Farm Gariganus, some 14 km northeast of Keetmanshoop. About 300 specimens of this Aloidendron dichotomum, also referred to by its Afrikaans name, kokerboom, reach skywards with graphically forked branches. On average about 3–5 metres tall, the trees are rewarding subjects to photograph, especially at sunset or sunrise. They produce bright yellow flowers during the winter months, and their trunks are smooth and shiny with light silvery-grey bark, which peels and forms intricate rectangular and diamond-shaped patterns as the tree matures. Across the road from the Quiver Tree Forest is Giant’s Playground, an impressive jumble of massive dolerite boulders between 160 million and 180 million years old. Wandering through the maze of boulders is an interesting excursion, but care must be taken not to become lost in the extensive rocky labyrinth.

SEEHEIM

 

Founded in 1896 as a base for the German Schutztruppe, and serving as an overnight stop for visitors travelling by rail to present-day Lüderitz, the settlement doesn’t offer much, although the historical hotel was recently renovated. Seeheim was a booming settlement during the 40s and 50s, of even greater prominence than Keetmanshoop. In the late 50s it started falling into decline and in 1974, the last remaining business – the Seeheim Hotel – was forced to close down. After standing empty for 30 years, the hotel is once again open for business.

NAUTE DAM

 

Some 50 km southwest of Keetmanshoop en route to Seeheim, is Namibia’s third-largest water reservoir, the Naute Dam, fed by the Löwen River, a tributary of the Fish. Surrounded by flat-topped ridges andlarge rust-coloured boulders, the area is scenically attractive, and harbours a surprising variety of birds, including some aquatic species. The Naute Recreation Resort was proclaimed in 1989, offering picnic sites, toilets and a small shop. The Naute Project is an irrigation scheme fed by the dam for the production of domestic white maize, dates, grapes, prickly pears and pomegranates. Only about 20–25 tonnes of the dates produced at Naute are distributed locally, as Namibians are not great consumers of this highly nutritious fruit. The other 70–75 percent is exported primarily to Britain, Canada, Spain and France.

BRUKKAROS MOUNTAIN

 

About 130 km northwest of Keetmanshoop en route to the small settlement of Berseba, where a mission station was established in 1850, is the conspicuous Brukkaros Mountain. In a landscape almost devoid of vegetation, this mass of dark-coloured rock rises abruptly from a vast, sun-scorched plain. The turnoff to the base of the mountain, accessible only with 4×4 vehicles, is south of Tses. A well-maintained footpath leads from the end of the road via the eroded southern rim to the mountain. The footpath was built when the Smithsonian Institute installed a solar telescope in a tunnel on the crater’s southwestern rim in 1929 to determine the amount of energy the earth received from the sun. It closed down two years later. At the turn of the century the German authorities maintained a heliograph station on the eastern rim of Brukkaros. Relatively recently, a VHF radio mast was placed on the northern rim. Brukkaros is not an extinct volcano, as its shape would suggest, but the eroded remnants of a pile of fragmented rock produced by a gigantic gaseous explosion some 84 million years ago. At its highest point it is about 1 580 metres, the mountainous ridge surrounding a deep crater of almost 2 000 metres in diameter, with a flat, rock-littered floor. The mountain’s vernacular name, the Nama word Geitsigubeb, refers to its resemblance to a large leather ‘trouser apron’ worn traditionally by Khoekhoe women.

Helmeringhausen © Le Roux van Schalkwyk

HELMERINGHAUSEN

 

Although the small settlement of Helmeringhausen doesn’t offer much in terms of tourism it is a nice stopover seemingly in the middle of nowhere. Founded during the German colonial era as a farm by a member of the Schutztruppe, the Helmeringhausen area later became famous for the breeding of karakul sheep. On the farm Mooifontein is a cemetery containing graves of German soldiers who were killed during the Nama uprisings against German Colonial rule (1903–1907), as well as some civilian graves. The farm was formerly a German military post known as Chamis.

WARMBAD

 

For most Namibians the small settlement of Warmbad in southern Namibia is a mere dot on the map. However, in historical times Warmbad occupied a prominent place in the country. Two hundred years ago the Albrecht brothers, Abraham and Christian, as representatives of the London Missionary Association, settled in Warmbad to introduce Christianity to local inhabitants. By then, in addition to its Nama residents, including Bondelswarts people who were farming in the surroundings, the settlement was an important stopover for big-game hunters, traders and adventurers en route to and from South Africa. Thus, although these activities started as early as 1760, the Albrecht brothers are regarded as the founders of Warmbad. Today the town is inhabited primarily by Nama people, a friendly race with a rich history of folklore and tales of heroism in battle. Of great historical interest in Warmbad is the site where the Bondelswarts leader, Jan Christiaan Abraham, was shot and killed by German district officer Lieutenant Jobst when resisting arrest in 1903. The Bondelswarts retaliated by shooting Lieutenant Jobst and a non- commissioned officer, an incident that gave rise to the Bondelswarts taking up arms against the Germans. This historic event is re-enacted every year on the weekend preceding or following 25 October. Also of interest in Warmbad is the stone entrance built between 1907 and 1913 as a gateway to the German fort. Completed around 1895, the fort with its single tower was enclosed by a stone wall. Although the fort no longer exists, the remains of the Schutztruppe stables with their beautiful stone cribs can still be seen. Nearby is the old prison building with its two cells, still in a relatively good condition. To appreciate the historic attractions offered by Warmbad, it is best to engage the services of a guide. The hot-water springs at Warmbad were discovered by the Bondelswarts people more than 200 years ago when searching for water and grazing for their livestock. Another site of interest is that of a commemorative stone erected in 1929 for Reverend Edward Cook, the second Wesleyan missionary to arrive in the area. The community-based Warmbad Museum is the result of an alliance between the Warmbad Community Based Tourism Enterprise (WCBTE) and the History Department of the University of Namibia. It houses pictures and items that are unique to Namibia. Other sites of historical interest are old German and South African graves, the 1805 Lutheran Church and and the Roman Catholic mission building.

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