The Namib-Naukluft National Park is the largest game park in Africa. Time-reddened dunes and gnarled mountains lie side by side, creating a landscape of striking contrasts that delight the adventurer in us all. In a world where there are not many new places left to explore, here is space to roam.
The Sesriem Canyon and the sandscape of Sossusvlei are the most well-known attractions in this reserve, but the Naukluft Mountains in the eastern part of the park tell a geological story that is equally compelling. The tortuous history of land movement and changing climate has created a phenomenon of sublime beauty – pools and watercourses that sparkle like jewels among the parched mountain gorges. Nothing is more welcoming than an oasis in a desert. Early man found refuge here, and the Naukluft Mountains still hold the same magnetism for its human as well as animal visitors.
The Naukluft Mountains offer true wilderness hiking. This is the place to leave the comfort of your vehicle and immerse yourself in the rhythms of nature. The Naukluft Hiking trail is a tough eight-day route where your efforts will be rewarded with swims in unexpected crystal pools and glimpses of game. Kudu, oryx and the rare Hartmann’s zebra are fellow trail users. The shy leopard lives there, too, but usually a sandy paw print or a harsh cough in the night are the only sign of it. However, you will feel the raw energy of the bush when you come around the corner and confront the white bones of zebra.
For those who prefer sleeping in a proper bed, shorter walks, such as the exciting 10 km Olive Trail or the 17km Waterkloof Trail also provide an opportunity to explore this extraordinary terrain and do some on-foot game watching.
The Namib-Naukluft National Park celebrates incredible diversity both in animal and plant life in unique and challenging ecosystems. In the cooler kloofs (ravines) of the mountainous area you will encounter the giant wild fig tree, provider of shelter, shade and food to many animals and birds, and whose intricate root ropes twisting towards the ground are impossible not to marvel over. On the baked mountain slopes comical quivertrees burst with bright yellow flowers that attract many birds and small animals with their sweet nectar. Down in the Namib Desert section of the park, the focus of your ‘treasure’ hunt will be on the strange, sprawling Welwitchia mirabilis, whose leaves provide sap for antelope and rhino in desperate times. And in the dunes of Sossusvlei the highly nutritious nara melon astounds with its ability to grow in sand. These plants all provide some sustenance to the resilient wildlife of the region.
While the draw of the Namib-Naukluft is the grandeur of its landscape and its sense of wilderness rather than big game viewing, if you have time and a little patience the gift of the unusual and unexpected will be yours. Night drives or walks reveal the rich nocturnal life of the desert and its mountains. The odd aardvark, looking like it belongs to Australia rather than Africa, or the termite-eating aardwolf are wary night prowlers. The only lights you will see apart from the stars will be the shining eyes of the African wild cat, black-backed jackal and spotted genet. Your daytime entertainment will be provided by, among others, the endearing meerkat and cheeky ground squirrel.
Birds are also drawn to the pools and springs of the Naukluft, and over 200 species including the lappet-faced vulture and the pale chanting goshawk occur here. If you rest in the shade of a camelthorn tree, make sure to keep an eye out for the ubiquitous hornbill. Its beady eyes will already be on you. The lagoon at Sandwich Harbour in the coastal part of the park plays host to a multitude of migrant as well as resident bird species, and for any serious birder an outing to this serene location will be richly rewarding.
Namib-Naukluft National Park