The north-eastern region of Namibia is home to some of the last remaining San (Bushman) communities in Southern Africa. These people have mastered the harsh Kalahari environment over thousands of years and are believed to be the original inhabitants of both Namibia and Botswana, over time being displaced by more aggressive tribes moving into the Southern African region. Since Independence in Namibia in 1990, the traditional San hunting grounds have been reduced in size and the people living in this area no longer survive in pure hunter-gatherer societies. New community developments incorporating cattle ownership and tourism have been established, with mixed reactions.
Although idealists would prefer the San to revert to a cashless society where they are able to pursue their traditional lifestyle, most understand that the advancement of time and 'Western' influence has made this all but impossible and that some amount of compromise is required.
This compromise ensures that the San are able to continue living in some semblance of their original communities, whilst sharing their ancient skills with visitors to the area in return for the monetary investment that enables them to buy the necessities of their daily lives.
Tsumkwe is the regional capital of Bushmanland and tours can be arranged from here, as well as from the towns of Grootfontein and Tsumeb a little further west. Visitors can learn about San villages from the local guides, and the area is also home to a variety of wildlife species. The remote and beautifully unspoiled Khaudom Game Reserve in particular is home to many interesting species such as the rare wild dog, roan antelope, elephant, zebra and just about all the species that are present in Etosha.
The Naukluft area, only a few kilometres from Sesriem, offers a complete contrast to the dune dominated desert with its mountainous terrain, fresh water spring pools and lush ephemeral river valleys.
A small National Parks campsite provides the only accommodation and as such the area is tranquil and unspoiled. Hiking trails meander through the hillsides and lead to many sparklingly clear and refreshingly cold natural pools. Two day-hikes are marked, the Waterkloof Trail which is a 17km loop and takes around seven hours to complete, and the Olive Trail which is 10km long and takes around 4-5 hours. For the more energetic there are also two trails which take 4 and 8 days to complete and which must be booked in advance.
Between 3 and 12 people can complete the overnight trails at any one time, and these run between March and October in order to avoid the heat and rain of mid-summer.
Wildlife in the area includes zebra, kudu, springbok, klipspringer and leopard. In addition the area is prime habitat for the magnificent black eagle as well as many other smaller bird species. During the rainy season, it is sometimes possible to watch as rainwater flows down the mountains, gaining momentum on its journey from the highlands through the usually dry riverbeds in torrents. The transformation of this arid environment is truly spectacular to witness.
This river forms much of the boundary between Namibia and South Africa and is a very attractive area with lush, green vegetation and interesting scenery. Guided river rafting and canoe trips are run here which offer participants the opportunity to experience this beautiful area from a different perspective. Guests must be fit, although the trips do not require excessive exertion.
Most trips run between Noordoewer and Selingsdrif, part of this route runs along the boundary between Namibia's Fish River Canyon National Park and South Africa's Richtersveld National Park.
The Kunene is situated in northern Namibia and runs along the border with Angola for some distance. This remote region is ruggedly beautiful with a large variety of scenery ranging from dry plains and mountains to the lush vegetation along the banks of the river. This landscape provides habitat for many wildlife species and is also home to the Himba people who still live in the relative isolation of their ancestors in traditional villages.
Guided river rafting trips run here offering participants the opportunity to enjoy this usually inaccessible area. Guests must be fit, although the trips do not require excessive exertion.
A spectacular canyon set in the wide, flat plains of southern Namibia; Fish River Canyon is the one of the deepest in the world and has been likened to the Grand Canyon of Arizona, USA. It is 161km long, up to 27km wide and almost 550m deep. In ages past it was sculpted by the Fish River, which now exists as a mere trickle flowing at the bottom of the magnificent canyon. For most of the year, the river is reduced to a series of small pools along the canyon floor.
This famous landscape feature presents an unexpected, sheer drop from the flat desert plains and it is possible to walk down to the bottom, and when there is enough water, to take a refreshing swim in the river. The hot springs of Ais-Ais are found at the southern end of the canyon and are reputedly an excellent remedy for rheumatism!
A 90km hiking trail winds along the canyon floor from the northernmost lookout point at Hobas to Ais-Ais hot springs. The trail takes an arduous but worthwhile five days to complete and is open to groups of a minimum 3 people, between May and September.
The capital of Namibia lies almost at the geographical centre of the country. Surrounded by ochre coloured mountains, and at a cool altitude of 1660m, the city has developed within beautiful scenery and is a pleasant place to spend a few days before or after a safari. As well as being the centre of road and rail links throughout the country, Windhoek is the business and commercial centre and has an international airport, offering direct flights to Europe and surrounding African countries. Windhoek means 'windy corner' and as well as being by far one of the cleanest and most orderly of African cities, it is also very green with a central park and many trees and gardens.
This mountainous area of Namibia is situated between the extreme desert aridity of the skeleton coast and the central plateau. Damaraland offers spectacular scenery and a variety of attractions ranging from fascinating geological formations to unique vegetation and the only UNESCO world heritage site in Namibia, the largest collection of ancient rock art in Southern Africa. The Petrified Forest can be found a few kilometres west of Khorixas and is the final resting place for a collection of huge, fossilised tree trunks. These trees were once part of an ancient forest and are thought to have been washed down from higher ground by floods.
Around fifty trees can be seen and are thought to be around 200 million years old. Most are members of the gymnosperm family. Local guides escort visitors around an organised circuit and share their knowledge of this unique landscape feature
Twyfelfontein is located a little further west of the Petrified Forest, the name means 'doubtful fountain' and is so called due to the unreliable water supply. It is yet another example of Namibia's stunning scenery and also contains what is said to be the largest collection of rock art in Southern Africa. The majority of art consists of rock etchings made by using stone chisels to cut through the hard outer crust of the local sandstone. Most of the work dates back around 6000 years and was probably undertaken by San hunters. Many of the huge boulders used as a surface for these ancient pieces of art have subsequently moved from their original resting places and it is quite possible that many more etchings lie beneath rocks overturned by thousands of years of natural disturbance.
More rock paintings can be seen at the Brandberg Mountains, north of Uis. This is Namibia's highest mountain at 2573m and is strewn with pottery fragments and stone tools. The famous 'white lady' painting can be seen here, located in a protective shelter on the mountainside. This specific painting is around 40cm high and due to its unusual colour, extensive debate on its origin has taken place. Some have put forward the view that the painting represents a San spirit, some more far-fetched hypotheses are that it depicts an alien or a Caucasian time traveller! Whatever the origin, it is a thought provoking piece of ancient art which, although never satisfactorily dated, could be part of a frieze painted as long as 16,000 years ago. The Brandberg is also known as 'Fire Mountain', so named because the western face glows a vivid and beautiful red in the face of the setting sun.
A 12km long volcanic ridge can be seen just south east of Twyfelfontein. Known as Burnt Mountain, this ridge looks very much as though a raging fire has decimated the area. Although very little grows here, the rocks become alive during sunrise and sunset when the whole area glows a burnt umber colour.
The 'Skeleton Coast' has a reputation for being remote, inhospitable and steeped in an eerie history.
Many ships have run aground on this coast over time, and these ships 'skeletons' can still be seen lying forlorn and rusting along the beaches. Unfortunately the desolate nature of the coastline meant that any sailor lucky enough to survive the shipwreck had a very slim chance of survival once on land. The lack of food, water and shelter would have provided scant comfort for any budding Robinson Crusoe.
The relatively inaccessible Skeleton Coast National Park runs along the northern coastal area of Namibia, from Swakopmund all the way to the Angolan border
The southern section of the Park comprises the Tourist Recreation Area and stretches from Swakopmund to the Ugab River. This area is accessible to self-driving visitors, although a permit is required. North of the Recreation Area, a field of crescent shaped dunes stretches along the coast from Torra Bay to the Angolan border. This northern and most remote section of the Park is only accessible by specialist fly-in safari operators. The whole Park area is a stunning reminder of the power of nature, and it is sobering to visit such a timeless wilderness.
Namibia's only deep water port was first sighted by Europeans in the 1480's as part of Bartholomew Diaz's explorations around the coast. It was not until the 18th century, however, that the port began to gain popularity with American whaling ships, hence the name 'Walvis Bay'.
In 1867 the town was annexed by the British who saw its significance as an international port and centre for a lucrative fishing industry. Three quite different wetland areas converge here to provide the most important coastal wetland ecosystem for migratory birds in Southern Africa. Up to 150,000 birds move through this area each year and this wetland system alone supports half the Southern Africa flamingo population
Sandwich Harbour is a partly landlocked reed-lined lagoon at the mouth of the Kuiseb River, south of Walvis Bay. The lagoon fills with water filtered through the dunefield from Kuiseb which has a purifying effect and reduces salinity.
This remote and beautiful area has become a refuge for coastal and fresh water birds and is a legally protected bird reserve as well as being an important breeding site for many fish species including sharks. Day trips with specialized guides can be arranged from Swakopmund
Lüderitz was purchased in 1883 by a German merchant named Adolf Lüderitz from a Namibian Nama chief. Prior to this the port was known as Angra Pequena (Portuguese for 'Little Bay'). Serious development in the area began around 1908 with the discovery of diamond deposits. The nearby town of Kolmanskop was once party to this affluence, but since being abandoned in the 1950's following the slump in diamond sales it has been taken over by the desert sands. The town has an eerie atmosphere of silent degeneration and the windswept interiors of the houses, now half buried in the sand, create a fascinating picture of a bygone era.
The waters off Lüderitz are some of the cleanest in the world, due to the ever present Benguela current, and the town is therefore home to many bird species
Diaz Point, 22 km south of Lüderitz, offers an excellent view of the nearby sea lion colony and jackass penguins, flamingos, cormorants and waders can also be seen.
This area of Namibia is one of the least accessible, and remains refreshingly untouched. The region lies to the north west of Etosha and is a vast and mountainous wilderness with a sparse population and few roads. Kaokoland is home to the ancient Himba tribe who are known for the ochre paste that they paint over their bodies. This area is best reached with an organised tour, or in the company of other vehicles due to the remote and changeable terrain. The land to the north of the Huab and Ugab Rivers is one of the only areas where endangered animals are still found outside the countries' protected parks and reserves.
Here rhino can still be found, along with lion, giraffe, several antelope species, ostrich, mountain zebra and desert elephant
It has been suggested that the desert elephant with their elongated legs and remarkable tolerance for this dry area may be a separate, and very rare, sub-species.
The Kunene River offers opportunities for rafting, canoeing or simply relaxing. The Epupa Falls are made up of a series of beautiful cascades of water flowing to still pools which offer relatively safe areas for swimming or just cooling off!
The higher rainfall in this northern area gives rise to lush, dense vegetation very different to that found in the rest of the country. The Kwando & Linyanti Rivers are home to hippo and crocodile and the waters sustain many elephant in the small Mamili and Mudumu Parks. Mamili, in particular, is a birders paradise with over 430 species having been identified here. The vegetation is very similar to that of Botswana's Okavango Delta region and is made up of dense stands of sycamore fig, jackalberry, leadwood and sausage trees in the centre of lush islands surrounded by papyrus swamps.
Etosha National Park is the third largest in the world, covers more than 20,000 km2 and is home to 340 bird species and 114 mammals.
The main area of the Park is covered by a vast salt pan which originated 12 million years ago as a shallow lake fed by the Kunene River. Eventually the lake dried up as a result of climatic conditions and volcanic activity in the area, and the pan is now only occasionally covered in water. When this happens the usually dry expanse becomes a riot of colour as the area becomes a haven for flamingos.
The pan is not accessible to visitors, but the surrounding, flat bushveld is dotted with many waterholes which are easily reached via the network of well-maintained gravel roads
The vegetation is dominated by mopane trees and sparse shrubs. In the western part of the park is the strange 'haunted forest' of Moringa ovalifolia trees; looking as though they have been planted upside down with their roots reaching up into the clear skies, they offer a mysterious ambience to the area.
Waterberg is a 150m high plateau of vividly coloured sandstone rising out of the surrounding plains like a towering oasis. Up to 16km wide, the top of the plateau is covered with lush vegetation and offers habitat to many rare and endangered species such as sable and roan antelope, tsessebe and white rhino.
Leopards are also found, as are buffalo and over 200 bird species! Due to the dense nature of the vegetation, game viewing is usually limited, but the morning and afternoon drives which can be arranged from the National Parks office still offer a very interesting experience. There are various walking trails leading around the sides and up to the top of the plateau and these offer exceptional views of the surrounding countryside.
Sossusvlei and Sesriem present one of the most spectacular images of Namibia. Sesriem means 'six thongs' and refers to the Sesriem canyon, the water at the bottom of which could be reached by lowering a bucket on a length of six leather oxen thongs. Sesriem Canyon is located close to the Sossusvlei National Park campsite and is a relatively small but very interesting area to visit.
Sossusvlei literally means 'saucer pan' and is a shallow, dry pan located 60km from the campsite and surrounded by high, red coloured dunes shaped into spectacular forms.
In occasional years of high rainfall, the pan is flooded with a shallow layer of fresh water, causing the desert to bloom and photographers to flock to the area.
Here the sand is at its reddest and the dunes are higher than anywhere else in the Namib, some climbing up to 300m high. Sunset and sunrise are spectacular and it is well worth exploring the area at this time of day to experience the fantastic colours and light which floods the desert landscape. Guided walking trails can be arranged in this area as well as the nearby extensive and beautiful Namib Rand Nature Reserve.
Destination:Namibia, South Africa
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