The South

THE NAMIB SAND SEA

The Namib Sand Sea lies within Namib-Naukluft National Park, south of the Kuiseb River in central Namibia. In 2012 it was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Namibia’s second, but first Natural World Heritage Site. The area has been protected for more than 50 years, remaining relatively unscathed from human attention. Home to more than 300 species of life forms, of which more than 50% are estimated to be endemic to the area, it is not hard to understand why the Namib, and this area in particular, is known fondly as a ‘living desert’. The daily intake of fog from the cold Benguela Current of the Atlantic Ocean has caused these life forms to take on rare behaviour in order to survive on minimal water in this hot, and cold, sandy landscape. The Namib Sand Sea covers around 35 000 km2 and is deemed the oldest desert in the world.

THE MAJESTIC RED SAND DUNES OF SOSSUSVLEI

The most magical place on earth. Soaring mountains of sand surround you as you traverse the soft desert in this otherworldly valley. You’ve passed Dune 45 on your drive in. Those tiny dots along the edge of the dune are people. We kid you not! When you’ve roughed it along the 5km 4×4 trail to reach Deadvlei you will see a giant before you. Big Daddy. One of the tallest dunes in the Namib Sand Sea. Get there super early if you want to attempt a climb to the summit. It gets hot sooner than you’d think. The view from the top astounds like no other. Deadvlei (or Dead Pan) lies below you, dotted with 500-year-old camel thorn skeletons and visitors to this ghostly expanse hidden among a sea of red sand.

TAKE A PHOTO OF A 500 YEAR OLD TREE AT DEADVLEI

Red dunes, the highest on earth, and in their midst a dazzling white clay pan dotted with skeletons of ancient camel thorn trees. Parched by the scorching heat, the trees are too dry to decompose. They are relicts from more humid times hundreds of years ago when the Tsauchab River formed pools of water in the area before it was blocked off by the shifting masses of sand. Take a photograph as your momento, but please do not climb or hang on their branches. Time has made them brittle, as it does all things.

THE FAMOUS APPLE CRUMBLE DEBATE

Moose McGregor’s Bakery at Solitaire, the small settlement on the C14 in Namibia’s south, is said to be home to the most delicious and delectable Apple Crumble in Namibia, nay, The World! Everyone in Namibia knows this. Or at least we thought we did, until on further exploration of the country’s southern reaches we came upon a sign at the hotel in Helmeringhausen that read: “Best Apple Cake in Namibia!” Suddenly I was confused. Where can I find the best apple crumble or cake in Namibia? An epic debate! So we did a sceptical tasting at Helmeringhausen. Presentation: beautiful. Very fresh. Available in the middle of the desert. All good.

Still doesn’t hold a candle to the classic Moose though… See you at Solitaire for Namibia’s BEST apple crumble!

DUNE LARK

Interestingly, there is only one 100% truly endemic bird species in Namibia – the Dune Lark (Calendulauda erythrochlamys). This diminutive bird occurs in western Namibia on the fringes of the Namib Desert, between the Koichab River in the south and the Kuiseb River in the north. Spot it on your visit to the NamibRand Nature Reserve or in the Namib Sand Sea and surrounding habitats.

HIKING THE NAUKLUFT MOUNTAINS

Pack your best hiking boots, more than enough water and leave all your pretences at home, because hiking the Naukluft Mountains takes heart.

Within the largest game park in Africa (49,768km2) the Naukluft Mountains form the easternmost part of Namib-Naukluft National Park. Meandering little streams with rock pools and waterfalls can be expected after a good rainy season. Bubbling water as your soundtrack, and the lush vegetation of this mountainous area as your backdrop, makes for a spectacular hike.

Getting an early start is essential, as frequent breaks will be necessary in the scorching heat at noon. Adequate SPF and sun protective clothing are crucial, but have your bathing suit ready – the rock pools high up in the mountains are crisp and clear and offer much-needed refreshment.

Take your pick from three trail options: The Olive Trail, the Waterkloof Trail or the Naukluft Hiking Trail. Each of which promises its own spectacles, challenges and triumphs.

The 10 km Olive Trail will take you four hours to complete, the 17 km Waterkloof Trail is done in about seven hours. Although both of them are meek and mild in comparison to the 8-day, 120 km Naukluft Hiking Trail, the terrain is challenging enough with plenty of slippery scree and daunting rock faces. It is imperative that you stay near the water as this will be your guide rather than the trail markings which are often sun-bleached and almost impossible to read.

The mother of them all is the guided Naukluft Hiking Trail, known amongst avid hikers as one of Africa’s toughest. A recent medical report is required upon booking, deeming you fit enough to take on the challenge. Each day of the 7-8 day trek consists of roughly 15 km of climbing, briefly interrupted by lunch breaks and moments of silence to take in the vistas, the flora and fauna. Lucky for the courageous souls who take on this pilgrimage, the infrastructure along the way is rather accommodating of the weary by providing roofed shelters built from concrete and stone as well as the occasional cold shower. Safety chains have been bolted to the boulders along the precipitous rock faces to help the hikers and their heavy backpack up the steep slopes. This demanding trail covers diverse terrain and is definitely the most rewarding of the three.

On day 6 and 7, your final ascent is adorned by waterfalls – depending on the time of year, either dry or rushing with masses of water. Looking back, you have followed the footsteps left by the leopardess on her hunt the previous night, the baboon on the adjacent cliff and you have tread the ground on which a treaty was signed between the Germans and local Khoikhoi in September 1894 after numerous historic battles. The guided Naukluft Hiking Trail is ruthless but well worth it.

Whether you decide to take it easy on the one-day trails or challenge your mind and body with the multi-day tour, the Naukluft Mountains and surrounds are Namibia’s beauty in its prime. The Camino de Santiago can take a hike!

Take a photo at the Tropic of Capricorn

Signboards were built for stickers and selfies. The two Tropic of Capricorn signs in the south of Namibia are no different. Take a picture here to record your global latitudinal traversing adventure!

THE DESERT ABLOOM: SANDHOF’S LILIES

A phenomenon of epically pink proportions occurs when the right conditions converge on the farm Sandhof, 35 km north of Maltahöhe. An enormous salt pan that is usually dry, plus good seasonal rains which allow water to build up to a depth of 15 cm in the pan, result in a burst of bloom. Amaryllis lilies appear seemingly overnight. For hundreds of hectares, all you can see is pink and purple and white. Namibians flock from far and wide for the single weekend of splendour. “The lilies are here”, you’ll hear in either January or February. Wading through shin-high water, cameras clicking away, a gathering of nature lovers document the annual event. All too soon, though, the lilies start to wither and are set upon by enormous swarms of elephant beetles. And so the beautiful sight fades away in the blink of an eye. A flash of excitement come and gone… hopefully to return next year, if the rain gods allow.

Conny’s Restaurant

You wouldn’t expect it. It shouldn’t be there in the first place.

Not on a dusty road south of Windhoek, south of Rehoboth, where you turned from the B1 motorway first onto the C24 and then onto the M47, going down the alphabet as you move along through the expanse of Namibia. Small towns, mere settlements to be honest. A Pale Chanting Goshawk sitting on the stark line of a telephone pole. And then you see it. A dusty sign, faded. Did it say “restaurant”? Out here? In the middle of nowhere? You turn off at the next sign, which points the way with a conspicuous red arrow. The simple wire farm gate is wide open. The yard looks deserted, but as you turn a corner, there is another car, parked in the shade of an aged red building with a wide veranda. And suddenly you are in another world. Because where else would you find the best coffee in the country but on the stoep of a yogi-cum-coffee-connoisseur? Günther Martins bought the restaurant from the family of the original Conny, a woman from the community who served traditional Baster fare to the trickling stream of tourists on their way to Sossusvlei. Günther stayed true to Conny’s recipe book, but his passion for coffee shines through. Home-style cooking is one thing. But delicious coffee quite another. And quite a surprise, too.

Have a glass of wine made in the desert at Neuras

Neuras Wine and Wildlife Estate sits on a geological fault in the middle of the desert, but in this particular case, “fault” refers to something magnificently magical. Who would have guessed that some rock mass movement would create near-perfect soil for cultivating grapes in one of the driest places on earth? Vines thrive here owing to the pure water, mountains shielding the earth from the unforgiving desert wind, and the alkaline soil. A full wine tour takes you through the vineyard, the cellar and to the fountains. Sip on a variety of red wines. Only a limited number of bottles are produced each year. Day visitors and overnight guests in search of a rustic farm experience will enjoy everything Neuras has to offer.

 

SEE (OR BUY) A FAIRY CIRCLE

Fairy circles are one of nature’s best-kept secrets. Those mysterious bare patches in the sand dotting desert grasslands have probably elicited wider speculation than any other natural phenomenon in Namibia. Ranging from the deeply scientific to the purely fanciful, theories and assumptions abound. These fairy circles nevertheless serve a huge purpose in the conservation framework of NamibRand Nature Reserve. Here nature lovers can adopt one of their own fairy circles! How does it work? Pick a circle, donate a set amount to the NamibRand Conservation Fund, and place a numbered disk in the circle you would like to call your own. You will receive a certificate acknowledging your donation as well as the exact GPS-coordinates of your fairy circle. Allow the fine sand of the Namib Desert to mesmerise you. Or is it fairy dust?

Three great ways to see fairy circles:

1. From the ground: NamibRand Tourism; www.namibrand.org/Tourism.htm | www.wolwedans.com

2. From a hot-air balloon: Namib Sky Balloon Safaris: www.namibsky.com

3. From a plane: various flying safari operators, including WestAir, Scenic Air, African Profile Safaris & Skeleton Coast Safaris.

BALLOON RIDE OVER THE NAMIB SAND SEA

“High up in the early morning skies, the mist and the sun meet, and for brief moments compete for utmost beauty as heaven and earth merge in a silent union.”

Climb inside the sturdy basket and let the balloon carry you up towards the sky. With a hot-air balloon you peacefully glide over the desert sands, see the landscape change in colour and texture and watch the desert animals follow their daily routine totally unaware of the spectators above. The balloon drifts smoothly with the wind, until finally it gently sets down again on the soft ground, bringing the most magical of journeys to an end.

ROYALTY FOR A NIGHT AT DUWISIB CASTLE

Well-hidden in the middle of nowhere, a neo-romantic castle built of sandstone awaits in the semi-desert of southern Namibia. Duwisib Castle, a site of both historic significance and romantic tales of grandeur, is an intriguing destination to add to your Namibian travel itinerary. The latest renovations of the century-old castle located between Mariental and Aus in the Karas Region were completed in 2014. Namibia Wildlife Resorts now host guests in five of the castle’s rooms. With minimal changes made to the structure of the old dwelling, the experience of sleeping in the stone-walled chambers is truly special. Housing a collection of 18th and 19th century artefacts and antiques, the main quarters of this manor house are reminiscent of a bygone era, seemingly unchanged. 2019 marks the 110th anniversary of the castle’s completion. In 1907 Baron Hans-Heinrich von Wolf, a captain of the Royal Saxon Artillery, commissioned renowned architect Wilhelm Sander, who built the three castles overlooking Windhoek, to design a grand and stately manor house for him and his wife Jayta. European artisans constructed the castle with sandstone quarried in the vicinity but just about everything else was imported and carted via ox wagon to Duwisib from Lüderitzbucht, more than 300 km away. Duwisib is located 390 km south of Windhoek, a drive of about 4.5 hours. It makes for a great stopover on your way to Sesriem and Sossusvlei.

 

Visit the quiver tree forest

One of the very few valid reasons to get up before sunrise is to see the sky greet the morning light with silhouettes of quiver trees lining the horizon.

GIANTS’ PLAYGROUND

Millions of years ago, when giants walked the earth, unsupervised giant toddlers stacked their giant playing blocks and left them right there. In the middle of the Namib Desert. That’s our theory and we stick to it.

WATCH THE SUNSET OVER THE FISH RIVER CANYON

As you stand at the viewpoint above the Fish River Canyon, the largest canyon in Africa, you cannot help but think how we are only tiny, insignificant specks on the most brilliant orange horizon… How nature has really outdone itself by simply following its course over hundreds of millions of years.

Will you brave Namibia’s most famous hiking trail in the Fish River Canyon?

/AI-/AIS HOT SPRINGS

Visit /Ai-/Ais Hot Springs at NWR’s /Ai-/Ais Resort, where nature’s spa offers the ultimate relaxation!

SEE THE WILD HORSES OF THE NAMIB

The majestic wild horses of the Namib Desert embody the freedom that comes as standard with calling “the land of wide open spaces” home.

BOGENFELS

Bogenfels, a dramatic but graceful rock arch straddling the coastline south of Lüderitz, is one of the Sperrgebiet’s most famous tourist attractions. Sperrgebiet literally means ‘restricted area’… Tourists were not allowed to visit the area for many years due to the wealth of diamonds found in the surroundings. However, controlled tourism is now practised here. Lucky for us! Who would want to miss out on a climb up the side of the Bogenfels arch? You can expect nothing less than unsurpassed views of the swirling Atlantic down below. With so little human intervention in the area, the experience is fresh and unspoiled.

THE LITTLE TOWN OF LÜDERITZ

Diamond intrigue, colourful stories, and the nature of a coastal town in the middle of the desert make a journey to Lüderitz worthwhile. Fishing boats bob on the waters of the tranquil harbour, fish factories line the shore, and the town stretches into the rocky hills, with Felsenkirche, the the 1912 “church on the rock”, perched on one of them. Make sure you try the world-renowned ocean-fresh oysters.

VISIT THE GHOST TOWN OF KOLMANSKOP

What makes a town a ghost town?

Should it be located in an out-of-the-way place?

Should it be derelict and run-down?

Should it have a history of opulence and irony?

If so, then Kolmanskop is all of the above, and more.

Only a few minutes inland from Namibia’s most southerly harbour, Lüderitz, lies the little ghost town of Kolmanskop. Partway to being reclaimed by the desert, the buildings that are accessible attest to the fleeting impact of humankind. Here in the desert, if allowed to, all will be as it once was.

The wooden floors are swept with fine straw-coloured sand, where the planks have not yet fallen away. The roof is torn open, allowing bright stripes of sunlight to form patterns against the colourful walls. Nothing remains inside these rooms, nothing remains of their owners. What can we say of them? Except that it seems they all had a penchant for bright paint, a need to contrast the interior of their homes against the monochrome paleness of the environment outside.

Do all ghost towns have ghosts? Walking along the halls of the abandoned hospital it is easy to imagine them, patiently waiting for their check-up, for their surgery, for their saving grace. The houses, do they have spooks? Speculators, returned from beyond the grave to continue in Kolmanskop’s previous opulence, to continue searching for diamonds in the sand.

When Zacharias Lewala spotted the first diamond in the desert, it triggered a diamond rush that saw Kolmanskop spring up out of nothing. And as the diamonds around the town dried up, its inhabitants left for greener pastures, and slowly, Kolmanskop is returning to nothing once more.

Take a tour of the town on a windless day, or risk being swept off your feet by the strong gusts. Learn about the history of Kolmanskop on a walking tour. Have an ice-cold beer in the old theatre café. Greet the ghosts on your way out…

EXPLORE ORANJEMUND

The Orange River, southern Africa’s longest waterway, rises high in the Drakensberg Mountains of Lesotho, only 195 km from the Indian Ocean. Yet, almost wilfully, it chooses to turn west, flows 2 300 km to the Atlantic coast, carries precious fresh water into otherwise parched regions, and serves as a linear oasis through the arid Karoo and the southernmost Namib Desert.

This life-giving source of water has been called ‘The River of Diamonds’. Over the millennia it carried stones from the interior along its whole length, through the delta and into the ocean, where strong currents swept them northwards and deposited them on the beaches.

Diamonds were the reason why the tiny town of Oranjemund was founded in 1936, in order to cater for the workers of the company exploiting the alluvial diamond deposits on the lower Orange River, which had been discovered several years earlier by the legendary geologist Hans Merensky. As the name of the town (“Orange Mouth”) implies, it is situated right where the Orange River empties into the Atlantic Ocean. A magnificent sight when the river comes down in full force during the rainy season and gushes into the ocean.

When flying overhead and seeing the compactly laid-out little town surrounded by boundless rolling sands and the ocean, you are reminded of science fiction classics like Solaris. The frequent, thick early-morning fogs add to the sense of other-worldliness.

Here in the furthest south-western corner of the country, you will find one school, one supermarket, one hospital and one roundabout, but at least six churches. Up until recently, visitors needed a permit to get access to the ‘diamond town’. Now it is open to the public, and the community has a desire to share the authenticity of their beautiful town with others.

Of course, the gemsbok grazing on the lawns of parks will forever remain part of the community. Owing to the perennial river close by, there is an abundance of public gardens, lawns and huge shade trees. Do not expect to see any diamonds, however – the mining operations are situated well out of town and surrounded by impenetrable security.

Today the Orange River mouth is considered the sixth-richest wetland in southern Africa, supporting a wide variety of plants and animals. The near-threatened Cape Cormorant and Damara Tern have been recorded here, as well as the endangered Ludwig’s Bustard. Several threatened fish species are found here, along with localised amphibians and reptiles. At least 33 mammal species are known to occur at the mouth, including the Cape clawless otter, the second-largest freshwater otter species.

Canoeing and rafting are popular activities on the lower course of the river, offering spectacular scenery and a few Grade 2 (medium difficulty) rapids. Tourists come from all parts of the world to join canoeing trips. Imagine camping on the banks of the Orange River and to wake up to the most beautiful orange sunrises that set both water and sky alight.

Fishermen can expect common and mirror carp, sharptooth catfish (barbel), and largemouth and smallmouth yellowfish. This pastime is 100% safe, as hippos, which once populated the area, were hunted to extinction already in the 1800s, and the Orange is outside the range of the Nile crocodile.

Whether you are a history buff, a keen water sports adventurer, or simply interested in discovering the natural wonders in the area – this enigmatic corner of the country will not disappoint.

EXPERIENCE NAMIBIA FROM ABOVE

Scenic flights and fly-in safaris in Namibia offer the discerning traveller the chance to explore parts of Namibia that are almost exclusively off-limits from the ground. Flying by plane, the landscape unfurls before you and the breathtaking views make for once-in-a-lifetime photographs. Flying gets you to your destinations in a short period of time. As opposed to driving vast distances on dusty roads, take to the skies instead.

A flight to Namibia’s northwest passes over its dramatic desert landscapes, all along the coast and over famous fishing-waters off Swakopmund, Wlotzkasbaken and Henties Bay. See shipwrecks abandoned along the lonesome beaches and the bright orange lichen fields all the way up to the Kunene River. Admire the line where Namibia’s sand dunes and the dark blue waters of the Atlantic coast meet.

From above, the Skeleton Coast becomes completely open to visitors. This area is unlike anywhere else in the country, and the isolation and desolation lends itself to the legendary area’s dramatic name. This is a part of Namibia that up until recently very few people had the opportunity to see, and it continues to be one of the least-visited places in the country.

Further east, moving inland towards the Kaokoland and Kunene River, visitors have the opportunity to land in the heart of the Himba community and pay a visit to one of the last semi-nomadic cultures in the world. The landscape might even offer a rare sighting of an endangered desert-adapted rhino.

Many Namibian companies offer day trips along Namibia’s coast, setting off from Swakopmund and looping around the area. Other flights are available to lodges from Eros Airport in Windhoek, and between lodges around the country.

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