Namib-Naukluft Park

Namib " Place of nothing " style="text-align: justify">Namib-Naukluft National Park                      
Namib-Naukluft National Park was first proclaimed a National Park in 1907. This is one of the Country's major tourist destinations. The vast wilderness of 49,768 km2 contain key features such as Sossusvlei, Sesriem, the Welwitschia Trail, Sandwich Harbour, the Naukluft Mountains and the Kuiseb Canyon. Rock hard and soft as flowing sand with rugged mountains and lapping waters, wet fogs and desiccating winds, Namibia’s Namib-Naukluft Park is a stunning study in contrast and extremes. Ephemeral rivers rage through canyons without warning, while baking heat dominates each day. Early morning and late afternoon sunlight paints the dunes in dramatic hues and shadows, drawing photographers like a magnet. During the heat of the day, mirages cast inselbergs into a sea of shimmering silver. The ghostly tracks of an ox-wagon cart gouged into gravel more than a century ago bear testimony to time, and yet the wind whips away a footprint on the dunes before another can be laid.

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Namib " Place od nothing " justify">Namib Naukluft National Park                           
Sandwiched between two deserts - the Namib in the west and the Kalahari in the east - Namibia's arid southern region offers breathtaking landscapes. The Namib-Naukluft Park is Namibia's most versatile conservation area and one of the country's major tourist destinations. The vast wilderness of almost 50 000 square km contains key features such as Sossusvlei, Sesriem, the Welwitschia Trail, Sandwich Harbour, the Naukluft Mountains and the Kuiseb Canyon. This vast tract of land covering an area the size of Germany, consists of dunes (some of which at Sossusvlei are amongst the highest in the world), gravel plains and rugged mountainous areas.  It is one of the least populated areas in the country where the visitor can experience an intense feeling of vastness and isolation. Here the magical and awe-inspiring beauty of the night skies can be enjoyed like few places on earth.

Sossusvlei, with its monumental dunes, up to 325 m when measured from the base, is one of the top destinations in Namibia. The star-shaped dunes are a sought after topic for artists and photographers. Formed by strong multi-directional winds, they are at their highest and most spectacular where the west-flowing Tsauchab River empties itself into the vlei. The warm tints of the sand, ranging from apricot to orange, red and maroon, contrast vividly with the dazzling white surfaces of the large deflationary clay pans at their bases. One of these, referred to as Dead Pan, is a large ghostly expanse of dried white clay, punctuated by skeletons of ancient camel-thorn trees, carbon-dated as being between 500 and 600 years old. When it has rained sufficiently in the interior for the Tsauchab River to come down and fill the main pan, flamingoes and other aquatic birds are drawn to the area.

The Naukluft section completes the other half of the Namib - Naukluft National Park. Encompassing the Naukluft mountains and boasting massive and varied rock formations, Naukluft is a geologist's paradise. The intermittent layers of horizontally folded igneous rock, quartzite, dolomite and shale are impressive with their giant symmetrical patterns. Five different vegetation communities within the park ensure a wealth of tree and shrub species, and a variety of aloes. In addition to the Hartmann's mountain zebra, there are kudu, gemsbok, klipspringer, duiker, steenbok, leopard, baboon, black-backed jackal, bat-eared fox, African wild cat, caracal and aardwolf. Naukluft's steep cliffs are nesting grounds for various cliff-breeding bird species, including Black eagles.

Discover the Namib-Naukluft Park
Savour the enormity, drama and grandeur of the Namib-Naukluft Park, Namibia’s largest conservation area. With mountains, sand seas and riverbeds to explore, there is something for every adventurous spirit. Hike the rugged gorges and paths in the formidable Naukluft mountain massif or test yourself and your vehicle on the two-day, 73 km 4x4 trail. Photograph some of the planet’s oldest and most peculiar plants on the Welwitschia Trail. Explore the Sesriem Canyon. Gaze at a multitudes of stars and soak in the silence and solitude of the Namib Desert at night. Slide down dunes in the Namib sand sea. After summer rains, encounter large herds of gemsbok, zebra, springbok, ostrich and even giraffe in the northern section of the park. Go birding at the marine sanctuary, Sandwich Harbour, home to up to 50 000 wetland birds including spectacular flocks of greater and lesser flamingos. Feel transported to another realm by the vast and inimitable gravel plains of the aptly named Moonscape. Explore the isolated mountains that are sprinkled liberally throughout the park, search for unexpected botanical treasures, and be rewarded by awe-inspiring views of the Namib-Naukluft Park.

A place of wonder and time
One of the most intensely studied deserts on earth, the Namib section of the Namib-Naukluft Park is debatably the oldest desert on earth. But here life has adapted to the extremes in fascinating ways. Animals burrow in the sand and, when the need for eyes is proven unnecessary, they develop without them. Baboons go for months without drinking water, while the Welwitschia mirabilis plants live for more than a thousand years on these seemingly inhospitable plains. The Naukluft, which means ‘narrow ravine’, section of the park marks time in a more visible manner. Over time, rainwater cut through the rock and formed ravines. Today layers of igneous rock, quartzite, dolomite and shale are exposed on cliff faces and gorges. They are striking reminders of millions of years of calm and eruptions that mark the geological history of the Namib-Naukluft Park.

Conservation on a grand scale
One of Africa’s largest protected areas, the Namib-Naukluft Park, covers almost 50 000 km2 and protects some of the most varied and extraordinary ecosystems in Namibia, the only country in the world named after its desert! The Namib-Naukluft Park provides a sanctuary on a very grand scale to large mammals including black rhino (reintroduced to their former range in 2007 to mark the centenary of the park), Hartmann’s mountain zebra, iraffe, gemsbok, and springbok. Predators such as spotted and brown hyaena, jackal, caracal, leopard and cheetah are also protected in the park. Over 200 bird species have been recorded in the park. The Naukluft massif marks the southern-most range of many northern species such as Rüppell’s parrot, rosy-faced lovebirds and Monteiro’s hornbills. Mountain pools provide habitat for species not usually associated with a desert, such as African black ducks and hamerkop. The park is also noteworthy as a sanctuary for raptors such as black eagle, black-breasted snake-eagle, booted eagle, and lanner falcon. The internationally important wetland at Sandwich Harbour is a safe haven for tens of thousands of rare, migrant and resident seabirds. Desert plains, river washes and inselbergs are a botanist’s dream. Succulents, lichens, seasonal grasses and plant species that may bloom once in the span of a human’s lifetime, offer intrigue and wonder to the Namib-Naukluft Park.

A fascinating and fearless past
Most of the Namib-Naukluft Park is currently uninhabited, but there has been a human presence since Early Stone Age man (Homo erectus) visited, leaving behind stone hand axes as evidence of occupation. The coast also more recently supported small clans of strandlopers, who lived off fish, birds, and other marine life, while the interior served as occasional hunting grounds for San and seasonal grazing land for nomadic pastoralists. European and American mariners, whalers, seal hunters and guano harvesters made use of Sandwich Harbour, one of only a few ‘ports’ in Namibia, attracted by the fresh water, safe haven from Atlantic gales and abundant bird life. Nama-speaking groups established
strongholds in the Namib and fought German colonial troops in the late 1800s. Some scattered war wreckage still survives. Fearing internship by the British at the outbreak of WWII, two young German geologists, Henno Martin and Hermann Korn, hid in the Kuiseb Canyon for two and a half years with their dog, Otto, and a pet chameleon. An account of their Robinson Crusoe survivalist experiences can be read in Martin’s book, The Sheltering Desert. Today, roughly 300 Topnaar people still live within the borders of the park, inhabiting 13 small villages along the lower Kuiseb River where they raise livestock and harvest !nara melons.

Campsites have very limited facilities. These are mostly concentrated in the northern section of the park. If camping, you must be fully independent – bring firewood, water and food. Ample private accommodation exists on the periphery of the park, ranging from the modest to the magnificent.

The northern section of the park has nine campsites, some on inselbergs, others in dry river valleys or on the plains. After winter rains Ganab is an excellent place to see herds of gemsbok and springbok. The Ganab inselberg also has spectacular kokerboom trees. The inselberg at Mirabib (meaning ‘hyaena’s water’) offers the finest views from any long-drop toilet in Namibia!

They’re back and black!
Today Namibia has more black rhinos than any other country in the world. Early European explorers reported encountering elephant, lion and black rhino in these surroundings. The lion and elephant are gone but nearly 30 years after the species became locally extinct, nine black rhino were successfully re-
introduced by the Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET) as a 2007 centenary gift to the park. Black rhino are capable of digesting euphorbia twigs that contain a milky sap toxic to most animals (including man). Burnt twigs produce smoke that can cause blindness.

What are horses doing here?
The Namib-Naukluft Park is also home to Namibia’s only population of wild horses, probably descendants of animals used, then released, by the German colonial forces in the late 1800s and early 20th century. Their only permanent source of water is at the windmill at Garub. Drive carefully at night on the tarred road from Aus to Lüderitz. After drought, death on the road is the main cause of desert-horse mortality The NNP large predator niche is filled by brown and spotted hyaena, occasional cheetah, secretive leopard, black-backed jackal, caracal, bat-eared fox, and African wild cat. Mongoose and suricate (meerkats) are more likely to be seen. The larger predators are mainly nocturnal Baboons thrive in the cliffs and valleys of the Naukluft massif but battle with drought and hostile conditions in the dry riverbeds on the Namib plains. Baboons here sometimes go for months without drinking (116 days is the current record). Their body temperatures may fluctuate by 5–6 degrees in a day and can reach 42ºC. This lifestyle would prove fatal to human beings. This is definitely reptile country. As night falls, listen for the chirrups of barking geckos using their burrows as amplifiers. Check dunes for the side-winding tracks of the endemic Peringuey’s adder. Web-footed geckos use their long tongues to wipe fog-borne moisture from their noses and heads. Shovel-snouted sand lizards perform an entertaining dance, lifting their feet to avoid over-exposure to baking sand. Watch for chameleons staking out their territories beneath bushes.

Park safety
• Travel with plenty of water, food, fuel and a spare tyre.
• Please adhere to speed limits. Gravel roads are extremely treacherous!
• Mechanical problems? Stay with your vehicle! Unlike disorientated pedestrians with heat stroke, cars are easily found. Help will come.
• Flash floods occur after rains in the interior. Camp only in MET designated sites. If confronted with a flooded road, do not attempt to cross. Wait. The water will quickly subside.
• Drive with headlights on. Remember to turn them off when you are parked!
• Do not walk barefoot after dark. Snakes and scorpions are about.

Getting there
The Namib-Naukluft Park is approximately 200 km from Windhoek and can be accessed by many roads, major and minor. Entry permits for the Namib-Naukluft Park, including Sossusvlei and Sandwich Harbour, are required and can be obtained from the Ministry of Environment Tourism offices throughout the country or at Sesriem.

Temperatures: Extremely variable. Days are generally hot (sometimes exceeding 40ºC). Nights can be very cold.
Precipitation: Again, extremely variable depending on year and area. In some years no rain is recorded in parts of the Namib-Naukluft Park.

Wildlife wonders
Big mammals include gemsbok, springbok, greater kudu, warthog, and giraffe. Hartmann’s mountain zebra are the largest of Southern Africa’s three races of zebra and occur only in western Namibia and southern Angola. The Naukluft massif was proclaimed as a park in 1968 specifically to protect them. On cold mornings they congregate on east-facing slopes to sun themselves. They are most active at dawn and dusk, spending the heat of the day in shade. They must drink daily and dig for water if necessary. Game viewing is at its best in the northern section of the park after summer rains result in lush grass. Large herds of animals congregate at this time. Game is less often encountered in the southern portion of the park and the mountains.

Scurrying above, burrowing below – life in the dunes
Millions of years of wind have polished the dune-sand particles into minute spheres that rub against each other but don’t congeal. Effectively the sand behaves like a fluid. Many creatures simply dive in to escape surface extremes of temperature or predators. There is enough air between the sand particles to enable the ‘swimmers’ to breath. Many of the planet’s deserts are relatively lifeless but due to the Namib’s great age (45 million years), its inhabitants have had a long time to adapt! Condensation from sea fog sustains plant and insect life, noteworthy being the many species of tenebrionid (‘tok tokkie’) beetles that feed on plant detritus and stand on their heads to collect fog water that then dribbles into their mouths. An unusual subterranean predator is Grant’s golden mole. Termites make up to 95% of its diet, though it also hunts other insects and occasionally eats small reptiles. Insects and arachnids are numerous and include tree scorpions, pseudoscorpions and the mouse-sized solifluges that race around campfires at high speed snatching up insects attracted by the light. Avoid camping directly under trees as these are favoured areas for mites that suck the blood of animals seeking shade. Frogs are understandable in the Naukluft mountain pools but also occur in unexpected places. Capable of lying dormant for years, they emerge from their burrows when occasional rain floods pans, most notably Sossusvlei. Dune plants include the !nara melon, which, while bitter, is extremely nutritious and an important food source for both wildlife and the resident Topnaar community, who roast its seeds. Succulents and aloes thrive on the inselbergs.

Exploration and adventure.
Sandwiched between sand and sea, is Sandwich Harbour. This globally important Ramsar wetland site lies 48 km south of Walvis Bay lagoon and supports 50 000 wetland birds in summer, the number falling to 20 000 in winter. A vividly coloured freshwater reed wetland is maintained by an aquifer rising beneath the huge red and apricothued dunes that loom behind it, while the lagoon and mudflats which extend for 5 km are protected from the fierce Atlantic waves by a sandbar. The name may derive from the German word sandfisch (sand shark) or from the first known whaling vessel to drop anchor here (the
Sandwich, in 1789). The strandlopers or hurinen (the people of the sea) who hunted and beachcombed the shore in antiquity knew it as Anixas (the place of birds). Sandwich is geomorphologically the most active area on Namibia’s coastline – in laymen’s terms it is a habitual shape shifter. Wind, sand movement, the changing moods of the sea and currents, are constantly remodelling it. The Sandwich Harbour you see today will look different on your return visit! But in essence it will remain the same: one of the most strikingly beautiful and ecologically important coastal wetlands in Southern Africa.

The Welwitschia Trail
Named after the endemic Welwitschia mirabilis plants that occur here, this attractive self-guided drive takes you through lichen fields, and offers views of the Moonscape gravel plains and the surprisingly verdant Swakop River valley with its tamarisk and anaboom acacia forest – more normally found thriving along the lush Zambezi River! It concludes with the so-called Big Welwitschia. This gigantic plant is estimated to be 1 500 years old. Like all welwitschias it has a ragged appearance and, like all
welwitschias, it has only two leaves that grow out of the short stubby trunk on either side. These have been shredded by the elements to lie like an untidy bundle of wire on the desert floor. The plant is a generally recognised as being a member of the conifer family.

The Naukluft Massif trails
Rising to an altitude of nearly 2 000 metres, the Naukluft mountains form a fiercely sculpted plateau, riven with gorges (Naukluft means ‘narrow ravine’). There are two one-day hiking trails, the Olive Trail (10 km) and the Waterkloof Trail (17 km). Both leave from the campsite and are achievable without special equipment. Crystal-clear seasonal pools provide for a cooling dip. A more formidable prospect is the Naukluft Trail (120 km, eight days), rated by some as one of the toughest hikes in Southern Africa. Four-by-four enthusiasts will find the 73-km offroad trail a challenge. Granite and limestone inselbergs (German for ‘mountain islands’) thrust abruptly out of the plains, making ideal observation posts for the many raptor species found in the park. Acting as natural ‘fog traps’, inselberg moisture also supports a wide range of plant life. Blutkoppe (blood mountain) is a granite inselberg rising out of the Tinkas Flats. After rains, flowers sprout from every crevice and cranny and the temporary pools witness an explosion of activity as small crustaceans hatch and tadpoles emerge to feed on them (and each other) in a frantic race to complete their life cycle before evaporation takes its toll. Vogelfederberg is another inselberg of note, not just because of its size but also for its profusion of large aloes and the fact that it is a spectacular place to camp.

See the MET brochure and fact sheets on Sossusvlei, a highlight of any trip to the Namib.

Kuiseb Canyon
Six kilometres off the C26 road from Windhoek to Swakopmund is a dramatic viewpoint over the Kuiseb River gorge. The pools sustain wildlife and, during WW II, kept two young German geologists who were hiding from the British alive for nearly three years. An account of their survivalist strategies and experiences can be read in Henno Martin’s fascinating book The Sheltering Desert. Zebra Pan is famous for the large flocks of sandgrouse that visit its waterhole daily to drink and soak their breast feathers to transport moisture back to their chicks.Gobabeb Training and Research Station, located on the fringe of the Sand Dune Sea, is one of Africa’s premier desert research stations. There have been research facilities here since 1962. Normally off-limits to the public, Gobabeb does have open days and regularly hosts students from schools and universities (Tel 061 37 7500).