Namibia is known as the jewel of Africa and one of the youngest democracies in the world that included protection of environment in its constitution. It is a country of the desolate Namib Desert, famous Etosha National Park with its abundant wildlife and enormous and magnificent Fish River Canyon. Swakopmund is a small Bavarian-style German town on the edge of the Namib and cold Atlantic ocean that remains almost unchanged since the beginning of the century. This is a peaceful land of old traditions, ancient tribes and modern infrastructure.
Namibia has always been a country of superlatives: Dragon’s Breath is the largest subterranean lake in the world, Hoba meteorite is the biggest ever found, Gibeon meteorite shower is the largest ever discovered, Namib Desert is the oldest desert and it is also the only desert in the world that harbours elephant, lion, giraffe and rhino. Red sand dunes at the Kalahari and Sossusvlei are regarded as being the highest in the world. Namib Desert is also home to one of the oldest living fossil plants, the Welwitschia Mirabilis. Namibia has the largest free-roaming cheetah population in the world – an estimated 2,500. Rossing is the largest open-cast uranium mine, the coast is the largest occurrence of rock salt and Uis and its mine is the largest known tin reserve.
German Stewardship in Namibia spanned three decades from 1889 to 1915. Bismarck had achieved German unification in 1871 and German South West Africa became the first colony of the new Empire under Wilhelm l in 1884. The era known as Wilhelminian, notorious for its erratic course of German policy and international blunders, is paradoxically the era, which witnessed fundamental changes in artistic, architectural and intellectual life in Europe. Namibia is a highland with an average altitude of 1200 m above sea level, its capital, Windhoek, lying at 1,620 m. The plateau drops steeply to the Namib Desert stretching along the Atlantic seaboard.
With the exception of the border rivers and the Fish River, all rivers are dry riverbeds. Rainfall is slight – the period December to April being the rainy season – and decreases from North to South and from East to West. Some of the great activities and excursions to be done in Namibia include:
- White water rafting and canoeing on the Kunene River between Ruacana and Epupa
- The Fish River Hiking Trail that starts at Hobas and ends 85 km (53 miles) further south at Ai Ais
- Giants Playground archaeological site
- “White Lady” bushman paintings at Brandberg
- The petrified forests at Khorixas
- A visit to the “Moonlandscape” in the Namib Desert close to Swakopmund
- Quad biking adventures on the sanddunes of the Namib between Walvisbaai and Swakopmund
- Boat cruise excursion at Walvisbaai into open ocean where close encounters with pelicans, dolphins, seals and whale are guaranteed
- Cape Cross, the largest breeding spot for Cape Fur Seals in the world
- Game Drives in Etosha National Park
- Birding all over and more specifically at Hobatere Private Game Reserve
- Tracking desert Elephant, Rhino and Lion in Palmwag Consession Area
- Various Fossil and Meteorite Hiking Trails
- River rafting on the Okavango River in the Caprivi on the border of the Angola
- Hot Air Balloon Safari over the Namib
- Climbing and explore the highest sand dunes in the world at Sossusvlei.
The name “Namib” is of Nama origin and means vast. Namibia’s Coastal Desert is one of the oldest deserts in the world and its sand dunes the highest sand dunes in the world. The Namib Desert and the Namib-Naukluft National Park is located here. The Namibian coastal deserts are divided into the northern Skeleton Coast and the southern Diamond Coast.
A number of unusual species of plants and animals are found only in this desert. One of these is Welwitschia mirabilis, one of the most unusual species. Welwitschia is a shrub-like plant, but grows just two long strap-shaped leaves continuously throughout its lifetime. These leaves may be several meters long, gnarled and twisted from the desert winds. The taproot of the plant develops into a flat, concave disc in age.
Welwitschia is notable for its survival in the extremely arid conditions in the Namib, sometimes deriving moisture from the coastal sea fogs.
Along with the Skeleton Coast further north, it is notorious as the site of many shipwrecks. Some of these wrecked ships can be found as much as 50 metres (55 yds) inland, as the desert slowly moves westwards into the sea, reclaiming land over a period of many years.
As documented in some extraordinary detail in the BBC Planet Earth (TV series) episode #5 on deserts, there is a struggle for existence in this desert by elephants, lions, oryx and other valiant survivors, a struggle that is surprising in that anything can find sustenance here at all. (A pair of oryx is seen on the Namibian coat of arms.)
Fish River Canyon
The Fish River Canyon is located in the south of Namibia. It is the second largest canyon in the world and the largest in Africa, as well as the second most visited tourist attraction in Namibia. It features a gigantic ravine, in total about 160 km long, up to 27 km wide and in places almost 550 metres deep.
The Fish River is the longest interior river in Namibia. It cuts deep into the plateau which is today dry, stony and sparsely covered with hardy drought-resistant plants. The river flows intermittently, usually flooding in late summer; the rest of the year it becomes a chain of long narrow pools. At the lower end of the Fish River Canyon, the hot springs resort of Ai-Ais is situated.
Palmwag and Damaraland
Palmwag is technically not a town or village. It is actually a concession area. It was put on the maps of Namibia as it has an oasis surrounded by large makalani palm trees, which made a useful stop for travellers. Many travellers with an interest in conservation, ecology and wild places prefer the Palmwag Concession to Etosha, as it is a true wilderness area. In addition to the extremely wild and rugged landscape, Palmwag also offers opportunities to see the desert-dwelling black rhino, and the desert adapted elephants. Due to the extremely wild terrain and environmental sensitivity, inexperienced travellers should be discouraged from entering the area unescorted. Experienced travellers should use a 4×4 vehicle.
Visitors can trek the length of the sandy river, passing local Herero farmers and the pink granite ‘inselbergs’ (islands of rock left behind after volcanic activity) dotted throughout the region. These bizarre stones have been shaped over the years into vaguely recognisable shapes, some look like toadstools, while others are eerie hollow structures known as the ‘Petrified Ghosts’. Quite a few plants grow there; much of the visible vegetation is the exotic wild tobacco, Nicotiana glauca. Also found there indigenously are some stunted acacia trees, nara bushes, Acanthosicyos horridus, with their (almost leafless) spiky green stems, and improbably large melons.
The desert-adapted elephant generally inhabit the ancient, ephemeral riverbeds that can be found in north-west regions of Namibia. The seasonal rivers are dependent on local rain fall before flowing above ground, however, in times of drought the water still flows, but deep under the desert sand. There is a debate amongst zoologists and scientists as to whether these desert dwelling animals should be classified as a different species of elephant.
Desert elephants are apparently very well adapted to living under the particular conditions of the desert. They routinely move great distances between feeding grounds and the scattered waterholes where they drink during the dry season, distances of up to 70 km are being regularly traversed. Desert-adapted elephants are found predominantly in the Kaokoland and Damaraland regions of north-west Namibia.
They feed on a wide range of plants, and like elephants elsewhere they take leaves, shoots, bark, flowers, fruit, bulbs, tubers and roots as well as grass and sedges. They have distinct and practical seasonal feeding preferences. During the rains the elephants tend to use more grass, which then becomes abundantly available. In the dry season they concentrate on browsing and this allows the woody plants a measure of respite for recovery during the summer.
The sand dunes of Sossusvlei in the Namib Desert are often referred to as the highest dunes in the world. Sossusvlei is surely one of the most spectacular sights in Namibia. Located in the Namib Naukluft park, the largest conservation area in Africa, and fourth largest in the world – the sand dunes at Sossusvlei are just one excellent reason to visit Namibia.
The best time to view Sossusvlei is close to sunrise and sunset; the colours are strong and constantly changing, allowing for wonderful photographic opportunities. The midday heat is intense and best spent in the shade while sunset also offers excellent photo opportunities.
‘Vlei’ is the Afrikaans word for a shallow depression filled with water (well, a depression that might sometimes be filled with water!), and the name ‘Sossusvlei’ should strictly only be applied to the pan that lies at the place where the dunes close in, preventing the waters of the Tsauchab River from flowing any further – that is, on the rare occasions that the river does flow as far as this. During exceptional rainy seasons, Sossusvlei may fill with water, causing Namibians to flock there to witness the grand sight, but normally it is bone dry. This particular ‘vlei’ is actually a more-or-less circular, hard-surfaced depression that is almost entirely surrounded by sharp-edged dunes, beyond which lies a formidable sea of rolling sand, stretching in unbroken immensity all the way to the coast. However, the name ‘Sossusvlei’ nowadays applies to the whole area – an area that encompasses the great plain of the Tsauchab River together with the red dunes that march along like giant sentinels to south and north of the plain.
Kaokoland is an unspoiled wilderness area with amazing mountain sceneries like the Otjihipa Mountains and the Hartmann Mountains. This is where the Marienfluss boundary is formed. The Marienfluss Valley is beautiful with breathtaking views of green valleys. Different types of animals live here such as rare desert dwelling elephants, black rhinos and giraffes. Kaokoland is also home to the Himba people. A river runs through this very dry landscape with beautiful waterfalls along it. The Ruacana Falls are 120 m high and 700 m wide. Also along the Kunene River, you find the Epupa falls. Epupa is a Herero word for the foam that is created by all the water that is falling on the water.