Namib-Naukluft National Park
The Namib-Naukluft National Park encompasses part of the Namib Desert (considered the world's oldest desert) and the Naukluft Mountain Range. With an overall area of almost 50,000 sq km (19,500 sq miles), which makes it larger than Switzerland, the Namib-Naukluft is the largest game park in Africa and the fourth largest in the world. ‘Namib' means open space and the Namib Desert gave the country its name, 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's present boundaries were established in 1978 by the merging of the Namib Desert Park, the Naukluft Mountain Zebra Park, parts of Diamond Area 1 and some other bits of surrounding government land. The region is characterised by high, isolated inselbergs and kopjes (the Afrikaans term for rocky outcrops), made up of dramatic blood red granites, rich in feldspars and sandstone. The easternmost part of the park covers the Naukluft Mountains.
You would expect such a hyper-arid and apparently desolate region to be relatively devoid of life but a surprising variety of species survives here including Oryk (Gemsbok), Hyenas, Jackals, Ostrich, snakes, geckos, and unusual insects. Some rain may fall each year, usually between February and April, but most moisture is provided by the fog that frequently drifts in from the Atlantic Ocean to blanket the coast.
Some of the dunes stand up to more than 300 meters (almost 1000 feet) above the desert floor but gradually decrease in size as they reach the coast where lagoons, wetlands, and mudflats form, attracting hundreds of thousands of birds. Marine life is also plentiful close to shore and includes whales, dolphins and vast colonies of Cape Fur Seals such as this one at Pelican Point near Walvis Bay.
I`ve only visited the Namib-Naukluft National Park briefly, during my first holiday in Namibia in 2013, although I could easily have spent a week here exploring the area`s unique attractions. Once inside the Sossusvlei section of the park, which is accessed via a gate at Sesriem, the 64km drive between the sand dunes, some of which are the biggest in the world, to reach dried-up lake beds or vleis, which Sossusvlei is justly famous for, is nothing short of spectacular with unlimited photographic opportunities.
This page covers the long drive south from Windhoek to the Desert Homestead (above) which was our chosen base for exploring the Sossusvlei area. The `Homestead`s official website has numerous photos of the property and videos of the activities that can be arranged: www.deserthomesteadlodge.com. The superb Sossusvlei area and the drive north back to Windhoek, including Solitaire each have a separate entry.
There are several ways to get to Namibia from the UK but the cheapest and most convenient for my wife and I at the time was with British Airways: Shuttle to Heathrow, Boeing 747 night flight to Johannesburg, then a Com Air flight to Windhoek. Com Air operates African flights for BA and our luggage was checked right through from Glasgow, a real bonus as, even without having to collect and recheck our cases at Jo`burg, the transfer there took a while. Another possibility was with Air Namibia who fly to Windhoek direct from Frankfurt.
All flights were on time and a driver was waiting at Windhoek Airport to take us to the Elegant Guesthouse in the capital for our first night. The journey from the airport to city centre takes around 45 minutes.
As arranged, our rental car for the first holiday, a Toyota Hilux 4x4, equipped with 2 spare wheels which we fortunately didn`t need to use, was delivered to our accommodation that afternoon. There was also a basic cool box for chilling snacks, beer and other drinks and a couple of bin bags to cover our cases in an effort to keep them sand-free on the desert roads - the dust gets everywhere!
Invaluable for this self-drive road trip was the Bradt Travel Guide: Namibia by Chris McIntyre. It was without doubt the best of several I'd looked at, packed with practical information along with detailed chapters on the country's people, history, it's stunning landscape and wildlife.
The Touring Map of Namibia by Sunbird is also a worthwhile addition as it`s likely to be more detailed and of a larger scale than the ones supplied by local in-country car rental companies. Like most Namibia maps, all filling stations are marked and it includes Etosha National Park and its main waterholes.
The Sunbird map tears easily though so Sellotape the creases or cover the whole map in film. (Note: As of 2017, it appears that this map is no longer in print although secondhand copies or alternatives should be available).
Joe`s Beerhouse, one of Windhoek`s most popular restaurants, was only a 5 minute taxi ride away from our accommodation - I can thoroughly recommend the Gemsbok Steak done in a Monkey Gland Sauce (assurance is given that no actual monkeys are used!), just the job after almost 24 hours worth of airline food.
Following a comfortable night and decent breakfast at the Elegant Guesthouse we headed south for the Desert Homestead in the Namib-Naukluft National Park. We discovered that Namibia is a vast, beautiful land full of contrasts and despite long hours behind the wheel, often through featureless terrain, the stunning destinations make it all worthwhile. The drives, and sightings along the way, are an integral part of the adventure.
We'd been advised to head south on the B1 to Rehoboth then take C-class gravel roads to Maltahöhe, considerably further south and east of our accommodation. This enabled better progress rather than the alternative, more direct route cutting south-west across country on a succession of D roads.
This was our first experience of driving on the hard-packed gravel surface which makes up most of Namibia's road network and, despite taking no more than an hour in total for breaks, the journey time was a wearying 8 hours.
The long drive south took us through some interesting sections of remote country though with frequent wildlife encounters. Bird-wise, there were plenty of Hornbills, especially near Windhoek, with Pale Chanting Goshawks spotted often, mainly further south, as were small groups of Ostrich.
Helmeted Guinea Fowl are found almost everywhere in Namibia, usually in large flocks. With so much white dust thrown up by vehicles, long stretches of road were bordered by trees that appeared frost-covered against the clear blue sky. The road surface changed from light grey to red to light brown as we travelled southwards and didn`t see many other vehicles.
Near Rietoog, a large solitary Baboon, which I took to be a male, was sitting on top of a rocky hillside surveying the scene then, a short distance away, on the other side of the road, was a troop of around 30 with offspring, foraging in the trees beside a dried-up river bed, one of several rivers that the route crosses.
Above: Two Baboons running off in the distance are barely visible. Other small groups of Baboon were spotted during the journey along with Kudu and Springbok. Below right: Our first Kudu sighting on this trip was this guy sporting a fine set of horns.
Klipspringer (Oreotragus oreotragus) were on a rock face which formed one side of a narrow pass. Cacti grew at the roadside here and it was the only place we saw that had any trace of natural water. Localised populations of these small and stocky antelopes can be found in many of Southern Africa`s mountainous and hilly regions including the Western Cape and Drakensberg mountain range in South Africa and along the Kuiseb River in the Namib Desert.
The name Klipspringer is the Afrikaans for 'rock jumper' a reference to the animal's ability to move easily over rocky terrain, seemingly on tiptoe. Ewes are slightly larger than the rams but only males have short horns, which are ringed at the base. The coarse-haired coat is variable in colour with shades of grey, yellow, brown or red, with marked white underparts, chin and lips, enabling the animal to blend in with its surroundings. Klipspringer hardly ever feed on grass, much preferring a diet of flowers, tender green shoots or the fruits of a wide variety of shrubs and herbs. Moisture is obtained from these plants and the animals can survive for lengthy periods without drinking water. Leopard, Jackals, and Spotted Hyena prey on Klipspringer and the calves are vulnerable to eagles and Baboons.
Nests of Weaver Birds, many of them far larger than this one, are common throughout the country.
By the time we arrived at Desert Homestead our 4x4 was down to below a quarter-tank so, before checking in, we had to drive an extra 35 km to the Namib-Naukluft National Park entrance at Sesriem to top up with diesel.
This would enable us to enter the park when the gates opened at dawn the following morning, rather than wait for the filling station to open around 09:00 hrs and miss the best light. Needless to say, I wasn`t too impressed with the additional 70 km at the end of what was already a very long day!
I was relieved to find that the filling station was still open for business and pulled up at a pump. Like most garages in the country, this one isn`t self-service, and I unscrewed the filler cap ready to go as the smiling attendant strolled over. Unbelievably he told me that they`d run out of diesel but fortunately I`d only managed to mutter a couple of expletives before he added that the other filling station just inside the park gates should have plenty!
There are various accommodation choices within range of the National Park, and although we really enjoyed our stay at Desert Homestead, it would have been ideal had it been a bit closer to the Sossusvlei area. That said, the views from the bungalow terraces are magnificent - there`s no noise apart from the birds, and no light pollution to affect the crystal clear views of the star-studded desert sky.
The `Homestead also has stables and offers horse riding on various trails (and horses) suitable for all ages and abilities. The Sundowner trip is thoroughly recommended with the guide leading riders across the rocky desert floor for over an hour to an elevated viewpoint where another member of staff, having driven there by truck, had set up a table with snacks and drinks to enjoy as you watched the sun sink below the horizon. It was totally dark by the the time we got back to our accommodation with starlight providing the only illumination for much of the return journey, quite a bizarre experience, as I couldn`t see anything whatsoever at ground level, even the other riders - luckily the horses knew the way.
The well-spaced thatched whitewashed bungalows are only a short distance from the reception and raised terrace where meals are taken and there`s a swimming pool for anyone who fancies a cooling dip. The interiors are clean and simple but stylish with elegant dark wood furniture, a shower room and a mosquito net above the bed. Ceiling fans keep things cool during the summer months and there are thick blankets available if needed at other times.
The Sossus Dune Lodge (below), a Namibia Wildlife Resorts property, opened in 2007 and is located just inside the park gates. I don`t know anything about the quality of the accommodation but it enables guests staying there to set off while it's still dark and get into position at the most scenic spots before the sun comes up, ready to capture the rapidly changing light on camera. Also, there`s no rush back to exit the park before the gates close at sundown.
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