The award-winning photographer Andy Biggs is the latest subject of our Capture Namibia series of interviews. Andy has been travelling around Africa for many years now and has a particular fondness for Namibia and the photographic opportunities it presents. Read on to find out why…
The dunes of Sossusvlei.
Tell us about your most unforgettable moment while shooting in Namibia.
One day we were flying along the coastline from Lüderitz all the way up to Hartmann Valley, and when we flew along the Lange Wand I saw an amazing sight. As I peered through the scratched airplane window, I was wondering how I could convey the giddy heights of the Namibian sand dunes. I wanted to capture the way the shafts of sunlight pierce the mist and highlight the sand textures.
The Skeleton Coast.
The huddle of Cape fur seals - a dark smudge on the strip of beach - gave a sense of the vastness of this wilderness.' The Skeleton Coast is an area of about 16,000 square kilometres of national park that runs along the Atlantic coast of Namibia.
Every destination has its challenges and rewards; how does Namibia compare to other places you’ve photographed?
The challenge with photographing in Namibia is how to capture how one feels about being in wide-open spaces.
The vast Namib.
The sights, the smells, the sounds all are difficult to translate into a 2-dimensional photograph. The reward is capturing that one photograph that tells a complete story in only one image.
Four Himba women trek across the hot sand.
Which three photos shot in Namibia are you most proud of and why?
Skeleton Coast, Namibia 2006.
This image won the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition in 2008 in the Wild Places category.
Sossusvlei in B&W.
I have an affinity for clouds when I am shooting at Sossusvlei, and when they arrive and there is good light it is a wonderful combination.
When going on a Namibian photographic expedition, what is your equipment of choice? And what do you never leave home without?
I use digital medium format equipment from Phase One. This equipment allows me to capture photographs with tons of information and to make extremely large prints.
Namib dunes at sunrise.
I would also never leave home without my tripod, as it allows me to capture images at the edge of light when the colour is at its best.
A tripod is essential for low-light shots.
A photographer friend is desperate to capture the best of Namibia. What top three tips would you give them?
1) Spend more time in each location and take the time to learn each area.
The iconic Dead Vlei.
2) Bring a second camera in case of equipment failure.
The camera buddy system- two cameras are always better than one!
3) Bring a tripod so you can shoot during the best times of the light.
A quiver tree at sunset.
And remember... Find time to have some fun!
Andy Biggs is an avid adventurer, conservationist, teacher, and outdoor photographer whose photography celebrates the African landscape and its rich wildlife, people, and culture. His photographic safaris allow the traveler to not only enhance their understanding of photography, lighting, and wildlife, but to develop a life-long admiration for Africa's beauty and culture.
If you want to see more from Andy visit his website or his blog. You can also follow him on Twitter or Facebook.
More Photographer Tips
This part of a series of blog post interviews with professional photographers on how to Capture Namibia. Every week we'll be posting tips, tricks and amazing photographs from these impressive photographers.
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Being on foot is one of the best ways you can take in the rugged landscapes, diverse wildlife and unique flora of Namibia. In this post we will be looking at a selection of walks that showcase the variety of on-foot adventures you can have in Namibia.
Visitors on a guided walk in Damaraland.
When in Namibia, go walking
Once you get out into Namibia’s countryside the one thing that you should realise is that almost every lodge, camp, rest camp, and game park will have a selection of walking trails that you can walk if you so choose. Many of these will be un-guided, but some of the establishments do offer guided tours.
Below are a few examples of the types of walks you can find while travelling through Namibia. The walks covered below range from traditional walking trails to more adventurous and unusual safari-style walks.
Have feet, will walk.
Walking the Waterberg
The Waterberg Plateau Park is a terrific place to visit for a few days. Game drives, diverse plant life and beautiful surroundings make the Waterberg a must-see when in Namibia.
The park does not allow visitors to drive themselves around the park but guests are encouraged to explore the park by foot. The grounds of the park are crisscrossed by a network of footpaths and hiking trails and those looking to explore the famous reserve can do so with ease.
Map of the park's many walking trails.
(Image via African Reservations)
Walking in the Waterberg one gains an appreciation for the huge plateau itself and if you are lucky, and very quiet, you may catch a glimpse of a few of the park’s inhabitants. Keep an eye out for tracks in the sand while walking as there are several animals in the park who use some of the trails that guests do.
Black rhino taking a dip in the Waterberg.
(Image via Africa and Beyond)
The bird life in the Waterberg is also fantastic and if you are a keen birder then you will know that bird spotting on foot is one of the best ways to catch a glimpse of some rare birds.
The walking trails are not particularly challenging and most guests, young and old, should be able to find a trail that suits their fitness level and peeks their interest.
The trails are all clearly marked. Above is marker for the Fig Tree trail.
For more information on the Waterberg click here.
Tracking Desert Rhinos on foot.
The Desert Rhino Camp is a mobile camp run by Wilderness safaris in partnership with the Save the Rhino Trust in the Palmwag Concession area. The camp is located in an area that is close to the Skeleton Coast in the north west of Namibia. The Palmwag Concession area boasts the highest concentration of black rhinos in Africa but it is also home to a large population of desert-adapted black rhinos.
A tracked rhino, hiding in the bushes.
Save the Rhino Trust regularly tracks the rhinos in the concession area as part of its efforts to conserve the endangered animals, and guests can help them out. You can, on foot, help the rangers and conservationists track these gentle giants through their natural environment- a walking experience that is as rare as it is incredible.
A family of desert-adapted rhinos.
Read a first hand account of one such experience here.
Climbing the dunes of Sossusvlei
There are several massive dunes near the iconic Sossusvlei and walking/hiking to the top of these dunes is a wonderful way to get amazing panoramic views of the famous vlei and its surroundings. There are no restrictions as to what dunes you can climb up, but there are trails that are more popular than others.
Adventurers trekking up one of the many dunes near Sossusvlei.
One of the more popular trails is the one that leads to the Dead Vlei with its fossilised trees and clay pan offering numerous photo opportunities for the walkers who crest the mighty dunes surrounding the vlei.
The unforgettable Deadvlei.
You can drive yourself to the dunes but you will need a 4x4 vehicle to get closer. There is a designated area where you can park your car. There are also several tour operators that will bring you to the same parking lot near the massive dunes.
The walk up Big Daddy is tough, but worth it.
Click here for a concise guide to getting up and down these dunes.
Following the Bushman trail at Okonjima
The Bushman trail at Okonjima affords guests the unique opportunity of following in the footsteps of the indigenous San people that still live in the area just west of the Waterberg.
The trail, which you will be taken along by a guide, will give you a glimpse into how Namibia’s oldest cultural group has lived their lives for centuries. From gathering food to crafting tools and preparing food, visitors are encouraged to participate and learn about one of the oldest living civilizations on the planet.
A guide teaching some guests about San culture.
(Image via Okonjima)
Follow this link for information on the trail and the game reserve.
Above are but four examples of the different kinds of walking adventures you can have in Namibia. As mentioned there are literally hundreds of walking trails in this vast country and it is always a good idea to ask whatever establishment you are staying at if there are any interesting walks to do.
Here is a list of camps with good walking trails around them.
And for those of you who feel like a more challenging on-foot adventure, check out our post on the unforgettable Fish River hike.
In June last year we announced that the lucky winner of our Landscape Escape competition was one Kevin Read from Canada. Kevin won a once in a lifetime trip around Namibia and decided to document what he and his wife Ruth discovered on their journey through the land of the brave.
Ruth and Kevin- winners!
Kevin and Ruth enjoyed their stay so much that they compiled a list of reasons why they think you should take the plunge and explore this vast and beautiful country as soon as possible.
10 Reasons You Should Visit Namibia
We spent the months of November and December 2013 exploring the country of Namibia. Over the course of almost eight weeks, we drove approximately 10,000 kms (6,200 miles) all over the country. We experienced the many different cultures and saw so many natural wonders.
But one of the things that we didn't see was North American tourists.
People from Canada and the U.S. who come to Africa seem to be attracted to Kenya, Botswana, or South Africa all of which have more highly developed tourism infrastructure. As a result, they tend to have more "luxury" travel options. Namibia is a little more wild, and still has a lot of areas that may be considered early development when it comes to tourism.
Here's why we think North Americans should visit Namibia...
1. They speak English in Namibia
We find that a lot of North Americans are unsure about visiting a country where they will have a difficult time being understood. You won't have a problem in Namibia. Despite the fact that there are approximately eight other popular languages (Afrikaans, German, and many local languages) English is the official language. All road signs are in English, and although you may meet some rural people who only speak their local language, there will always be someone close by who can translate.
All road, traffic, and tourism signs are in English.
We've never been much into birds. Namibia may have changed that a little bit! There are around 700 species of birds in Namibia! It seemed like every day that we were in Namibia we would see some kind of different bird. And of course many are so colorful, and with long bright feathers. Oh, and owls! We have never seen so many different owls.
An owl in Namibia.
3. You can go camping!
The easiest and most popular way to tour Namibia is with your own vehicle. The local public transportation system isn't the easiest, but if you have your own vehicle you can go anywhere. It's also common, and a great idea, to do a self drive camping tour of Namibia, and there are a LOT of campgrounds in Namibia, In fact, we were surprised at the number of beautiful campgrounds.
Our camping vehicle from Namibia Car Rental.
4. The desert is truly beautiful
I've never been much of a desert person. I typically like trees and greenery, but Namibia gave us a whole different perspective on the desert and the different landscapes that the desert presents to you. While there certainly are some long boring sections of desert scenery, there is also very stunning scenery that makes you wonder how it can possibly occur naturally.
The dunes at Sossusvlei.
5. Protection of the environment
If you are an ethical traveler, you may be interested to know that Namibia was the first African country to incorporate protection of the environment into its constitution. The Government of Namibia has reinforced this by giving its rural communities the right to manage their wildlife through communal conservancies. These conservancies are clearly defined tracts of land, registered with government, where local communities manage their natural resources through a democratically elected committee and approved management plans.
Many private lodges in Namibia also have their own environmental conservancies.
6. It is a safe and politically stable country
The country is very safe, and the people are friendly. There are only two million people in the whole country, and 40% of all reported crime occurs in the capital city of Windhoek. We never once felt unsafe.
Ruth, visiting with the locals.
7. The wildlife
We spent a total of seven days exploring Namibia's Etosha National Park. But even though Etosha is a world class wildlife park, we found that you don't really need to be in a National Park to experience wildlife. Yes, you'll see everything in Etosha...lions, elephants, rhinos. But you'll also see animals simply wandering near the side of the road outside of parks. The Caprivi region of Namibia gave us our best animal viewing outside of Etosha. Plan on at least four days to properly explore Etosha National Park.
Animals of Etosha National Park.
8. The different cultures
Namibia has people who you will not find anywhere else in the world. People who continue living with ancient traditions and lifestyles without the pressures and conveniences experienced in most of the world. One of the highlights of our trip was the couple of hours we spent with the Himba people in the northwestern region of the country.
Probably not known by many, but Namibia has a lot of premier hiking trails. November and December aren't really the best time of year to hike in Namibia because it's summer and it's often too hot to go hiking. The best time of year to visit for that type of outdoor activity is from April through October. Fish River Canyon offers the most well known hiking opportunity, a five day excursion along the riverbed at the bottom of the canyon.
Kevin, at Fish River Canyon.
9. Namibia is still relatively unknown
One of the main reasons we wanted to go there! We like going to places that are a little more off the beaten path when it comes to tourism, and we're glad that we came to a place that is really only just starting out in the tourism world when you compare it to most other countries.
The ghost town of Kolmanskop.
10. Namibia has the best beer in Africa!
Of course the most important reason to visit any country is the quality of it's beer! Namibian beer is brewed to the highest German standards and Namibians are passionate about their beer!
Namibian beers are very good.
If you want to read more about some of Kevin and Ruth's other globe trotting adventures then head on over to their blog by clicking here.
Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest so that you can keep track of any news or competitions and you too could find yourself on the African adventure of a life time.
Sesriem is often only thought of as just a gateway to the famous and amazing Sossusvlei, but it is also home to the Sesriem Canyon, a natural gorge carved millions of years ago by the once mighty Tsauchab River.
If you are heading into the Namib and you find yourself in the Naukluft National Park of Namibia, you will no doubt hear talk of Sesriem, a small settlement with a filling station and general supplies store close to the southern end of the Naukluft Mountains.
Sesriem Canyon, Namibia
Photo courtesy of TravelNewsNamibia.com
Some Sesriem Canyon Facts
The canyon’s birth dates back between two and four million years, when continental upheavel resulted in the creation of most of the westward flowing rivers in the Namib Desert region.
Today the Tsauchab River only runs after good rains fall in the nearby Naukluft Mountains, but the canyon is a testament to the rivers long-past prime some 15- 18 million years ago when the gorge was created by the river’s once sweeping movement.
The canyon is up to 30 metres deep at points and is roughly about 1km long- with a width that ranges between one and three metres wide, flattening out as it approaches the iconic Sossusvlei.
The name Sesriem is derived from the Dutch/Afrikaans words for “six (zes) belt (riem)” and was given to the settlement by explorers returning from the Dorsland Treks. “Six belt” is a reference to the six belts, usually made of Oryx hide, that a thirsty settler would have to tie together in order to reach down into the deep hollows in the canyon floor to extract the crystal clear cool underground water which collects under the canyon’s floor.
Take a stroll along the river bed of the Sesriem Canyon
Photo courtesy of summitpost.org
What is there to do?
Sesriem canyon is an interesting place to walk and appreciate the canyon’s multiple layers of exposed rock. It is best appreciated at sunrise or sunset, where the changing shadows and soft light foregrounds the area’s breathtaking scenery, setting up excellent photography opportunity or offering a weary traveler a chance for some quiet reflection.
For those visiting by day, a walking trail leads into the canyon from where the layers of the different sedimentary layers are more clearly visible. A variety of tree species also grow within the canyon, such as the unique laurel fig.
Do note though, if you are visiting in the warmer months of the year, do try and avoid walking around during the hottest parts of the day. Rather beat the heat and leave for your walks through the canyon very early or later in the afternoon when the Namib begins to cools down.
If you're staying in the park, ask your lodge to organise a special sundowner over the canyon for spectacular views
The Sesriem Canyon’s hidden treasures
After good rains, pools of water collect in the narrow, sheltered sections on the floor of the canyon. These pools of crystal clear water are an invigorating sight in the barren and stark surrounds, and some of the larger pools even present adventurous explorers with a chance to enjoy a refreshing swim.
Deeper hollows in the canyon’s floor hold supplies of permanent water, even in the dryer months, which many animals use to survive in the harsh land. The pools are filled with species of fish, so be on the lookout for the barbell which call these pool’s their homes.
A campsite managed by the Namibia Wildlife Resorts is situated close by under huge camel-thorn trees, and right by the Sesriem gate, hot air balloons depart in the early morning, providing scenic flights over the Sossusvlei dunes.
Visiting Sossuvlei via Sesriem
The sand dunes at Sossusvlei are some 60km from the entrance the Sesriem gate of the Naukluft National Park, and the drive to the famous dunes will take about an hour.
The gate into Sesriem only opens at sunrise, so if you are staying outside of the park (which you will be unless you are staying at the Sossus Dune Lodge), you will have to wait until sunrise to begin their journey to Sossusvlei.
Never-ending views over the Namib at Sossus Dune Lodge, a stone's throw from Sesriem Canyon
Emeritta Lillo is on the road with the #GoBigNamibia tour. Each day she'll be sharing their adventures, so stay tuned for some handy travel tips and inspiration. Follow the team on Twitter @NamibiaHorizons #GoBigNamibia and Facebook for a chance to win
Last stop for the Go Big Namibia adventure was Sossusvlei, surrounded by the magnificent dunes of the Namib-Naukluft National park. We arrived just in time to catch an amazing sunset at the Sesriem canyon, where we enjoyed sundowners, snacks and reminiscing over the good memories made over the last 10 days.
After dinner, David treated us to a star gazing session, teaching us how to spot constellations like the Southern Cross, Scorpio and Capricorn. We’d never seen so many stars and so clearly - no wonder Sossusvlei is renowned for having some of the world’s darkest skies.
The following morning we were up at 5am to see the sunrise against some of the highest dunes in the world. We climbed to the top of Big Daddy (the highest of the dunes) to watch as the rising sun forced the dune’s shadow to slowly reveal the fossilized trees of the Deadvlei pan down below. The early morning wake up was a small price to pay for what was an unforgettable moment on this trip.
To round off the perfect morning we were treated to an outdoor breakfast at the foot of the dunes. What a way to end our Namibian adventure!
Quiver trees and endless horizons on the drive from Swakopmund to Sossusvlei
Due south: crossing the Tropic of Capricorn
The mandatory stop at Solitaire for the town's famous apple pie
Ees entertaining himself in the middle of the desert
Spectaular views and top accommodation at the Sossus Dune Lodge
Stargazing in some of the world's darkest skies
The first rays of sun strike the dunes
Oryx tracks are a reminder of the incredible animals and plants that survive in these extreme desert conditions
The Go Big Namibia team takes on the highest dune in the world: Big Daddy
And get to run all the way down...
900 year old skeletons of camel thorn trees lie frozen in time at the bottom of Big Daddy
The dry clay that covers the pan not only helps to preserve these old trees but is proof of the river that once ran through the barren desert
Staff from Sossus Dune Lodge treat us to a feast at the foot of the dunes
Find out more about the #GoBigNamibia tour and start your own adventure
Saturday the 10th of August 2013 is the first time that World Lion Day will be celebrated. To coincide with this landmark day the TOSCO trust has decided to offer a two night all inclusive safari adventure at Wilderness Safaris’ Damaraland Camp for one lucky couple. All you have to do to enter this competition is read the post below and then follow the links and the instructions and you could be chosen to experience two nights with a partner in the unforgettable Huab River Valley.
Looking out over the pool at the Damaraland Camp
(image courtesy of Scott Dunn)
Why we need a World Lion Day
In the past 50 years lion numbers have plummeted by 80-90% leaving only about 25 000 lions today. Many argue that this rapid decline in lion population is more severe than that being suffered by the rhinos of Africa. The scattered and isolated prides of lions that now live all over Africa are massively at risk. Some alarming reports suggest that wild lions could become extinct in as little as 10 years. This would mean that the only lions left in the world would be those raised in captivity.
Lioness stalking the Hoanib Floodplain
(image courtesy of the Desert Lion Project)
What is happenning to the lions of Africa?
The reasons for this mass slaughtering of lions is varied. The main problem faced by lions arise due to a conflict over resources with human beings. Lions are efficient predators and given the chance they will eat livestock. This makes them a target of local farmers who will then kill lions on-sight in an effort to prevent further livestock losses. Lions are also losing their habitats due to human encroachment, be it in the form of settlements or ever-growing farmlands. Add then to these two factors the fact that lion bones are used medicinally in parts of Asia and you have a massive problem that requires a lot of work to fix.
Lion cubs in Botswana
(image courtesy of Reuben Goldberg via Timeslive.co.za)
The first step on the long road to saving the African lion is to address each problem facing these noble creatures. We all need to publicize that there is a massive problem facing lions right now. This is what TOSCO and others hope to achieve through initiatives like World Lion Day 2013.
World Lion Day and other lion conservation projects
Image courtesy of Greg du Toit via Volunteer Africa
Awareness is only the tip of the iceberg. One of the major factors leading to the decline of lion populations in Africa is the conflict between the people of Africa and its lions. People need to be able to share in the profits of having lions on the continent if they are to be convinced to stop killing them. Profit sharing like this would enable local people to not just feel like lions are a threat to their ways of life but are able to rather be a valuable part of their lives.
One such project encouraging the co-existence of lions and humans is the Lion Guardians Project. This project has been extremely successful in encouraging a healthy respect and reverence for lions in Kenya. The basic aims of the project are to establish individuals in communities as lion guardians. These lion guardians are then tasked with keeping the lions away from the villages and farms. This protects the lions from the humans and the humans from the lions. The project has allowed communities to live more peacefully with their lion neighbors and it allows communities to enjoy the benefits of increased and sustainable tourism directly associated with wild lions.
A Lion Guardian holds a lion’s paw
(image courtesy of Philip J. Briggs via Flickr)
TOSCO Trust, IRDNC and the Desert Lion Project are attempting to launch this program in Namibia. By supporting TOSCO you can directly contribute to the employment of lion guardians to protect these magnificent animals.
This is not the only project in Namibia geared toward conserving wild lions. Since there are currently around 500 – 800 wild lions in Namibia several conservation projects run at the same time. As a result many niche conservation projects are setup across Namibia one such project focusses on a very specific and uniquely adapted lion: The desert adapted lions of the Kunene region.
These desert lions are particularly at risk since they live such a precarious life and are much more likely to be harmed by human activity. Thus TOSCO has decided to partner with local communities, the IRDNC, and the Desert Lion Project to build special lion proof bomas for the local people's livestock. The idea for this project comes from yet another successful Kenyan initiative illustrated in this video by Richard Turere.
Video via TED.com
How you can help... and Win!
Without programs like the ones mentioned above the lion in Africa is doomed. You can help by raising awareness or by giving donations.
In order to encourage awareness about the plight of the lion in Africa TOSCO is giving away a 2-night stay at a luxury resort in Namibia. To enter this competition, simply follow these steps:
After this all you have to do is name 2 organisations that support lion conservation in Namibia.
The answer can be found on the World Lion Day website or on TOSCO Trust’s website. Send your answer by e-mail to email@example.com with the subject line “World Lion Day Competition”.
Entries must include your full name, e-mail address and a contact number. The competition closes on Saturday 10 August 2013. The prize will be awarded to one of the senders with the correct answer after the closing date.
A pair of lionesses patrolling the dunes
(image courtesy of Desert Lion Conservation)
As the sun sets over Namibia's endless horizons, the stars light the way across the grasslands, wetlands and deserts. Creatures that lie sleeping in the scorching heat of the day awaken, and a new world emerges...
Spellbinding video of the Namibian Nights by Marsel van Oosten, from Squiver on Vimeo
Night falls on the barren deserts
And with it, the temperature drops dramatically. The cool breeze brings a taste of fog to the air. The sound of a thousand barking geckos echoes through the dunes. The noise is intoxicating, as they use the crevices between rocks as trumpets to amplify the calls. The dancing white lady spider tap-dances across the sand, while the scorpions begin a dance of their own, as the male lures the female out of her burrow. The dunes are shifting under the feet many insects, arachnids and reptiles looking for food. There are larger carnivores out and about too. Among them is the ratel, or honey badger. He is bathing in the cool sand under the stars. When he’s done, he’ll begin the night hunt. A deadly snake for dinner, perhaps? The brown hyena is roaming the west coast where the desert meets the ocean, giving him the name strandwolf or “wolf of the beach”. Travelling 25-35 kms in a single night, he trawls the coastline by the light of the moon for scraps of seals and seabirds thrown back to land by the sea.
National Geographic archive video, tracking the night adventures of Kleinman the reckless honey badger
There's a rustle in the floodplains
In the Kavango, along the ever-changing Okavango river, you can hear the snorts and grunts of hippos on the move. They have left the river for the evening to forage for food. A hippo fight under the moonlight is a common night sight. But that odd smell is not the hippos, it is the flowers of the terminalia sericea or vaalboom. The night has brought a feast of moths and insects. Nightjars follow suit, letting out a beautiful lilting whistle, flying amidst the Lapwings and other birds of the night.
A thriller in the grasslands
The sound of the jackal haunts the night sky. You can’t always see him, but knowing he is on the hunt and listening to his blood-curdling cry will make your spine tingle. A kudu barks. Is he looking for a mate or is he just scared? The snakes have slithered onto the open roads to soak up the last heat of the day. As if on cue, an owl swoops past and lets out a mighty screech.
The big game is on the move. Sitting around a waterhole at night, you can watch as elephants, giraffe, rhino, zebras and all types of buck emerge from the darkness for an evening drink. Or take a night drive to catch a glimpse of the smaller creatures invisible by day – porcupines, pangolins, aardvark and genets.
On a full moon, the landscapes are lit up as clear as day. The usual night predators – like the caracal, leopards and hyenas - have lost their cloak of darkness. With the element of surprise gone, smaller creatures pluck up the courage to come out to forage. And on such a full moon you may be lucky enough to see the wild dogs of Africa make a rare appearance.
In the early summer months you can feel the shudder of thunder in the pit of your stomach as the clouds roll across the plains. The lightning bolts light up all four corners of the night sky. The first rains fill the evening with the smell of dust and grass and fresh damp – a glorious smell you will never want to forget. The crickets crrick-crrick in the distance as a symphony of giant African bull frogs chime in. In the winter months, when the frolicking and hubbub of mating season has died down, the silence of the bush is just as deafening.
Lightning illuminates the Namibian skies
Game creeps to the waterholes
Wherever you find yourself in Namibia, sit back in your chair or lie on the grass, watch the stars, breathe in deeply and listen to the world around you. You can almost feel the eyes of a thousand wild souls watching you in the dead of the night. And it feels magical.
Ideas for Namibian nights in the wild
- Many of the private reserves, such as Ongava Lodges and Okonjima, offer night-drives and ‘flood-lit’ water holes. Ask your lodge for more details when making the booking.
- For the bird lovers, why not try night bird watching to see some of the 430 species of birds at Shamvura camp in the Kavango region.
- Join astronomer, Dr. Gaedke, surrounded by desert, peering through his state-of-the-art telescopes to experience the tranquility and share in the wonders of the night sky. Stargazing Adventures operates tours from Swakopmund and Sossusvlei.
- Visit the Namib Rand Nature Reserve, Africa’s first official Gold Tier International Dark Sky Reserve as another outstanding stargazing destination with little or no impact from light pollution.
- Have dinner in the Namib desert before going on a guided night-walk.
- Take a self-drive 4x4 safari trip and camp under the night skies. For tips on camping read this post about camping in Namibia
- Or just sit quietly wherever you may find yourself, keeping and ear and an eye out for the wonders of the night.
Find out more about Namibia's wildlife by downloading our Namibia Wildlife Experiences Planning Guide and get more activity ideas by downloading our Namibia Adventure Planning Guide
Special thanks to Mark Paxton, conservationist and lover of the wild, for his time and contributions to this post.
The "ghost town" of Kolmanskop in southern Namibia is one of our most photogenic locations. Its existence is due to one man - Namibian worker Zacharias Lewala - who found a diamond here in 1908 and showed it to his German boss. Realising the area was full of diamonds, the German government prohibited entry to virtually the whole of Namibia's southern coast - and named it "Sperrgebiet" - meaning "forbidden zone".
Kolmanskop was built in this gem-rich land, in German colonial style, complete with all modern facilities, including a hospital, ballroom, casino, ice factory and sports center. Its tram and x-ray machine were the first in Africa, funded by the diamond wealth.
The town was abandoned almost sixty years ago as the diamond supply was exhausted, and Kolmanskop gradually succumbed to the timeless power of the dunes. Though still in the forbidden zone, visitors can access the ghost town - with a permit - from the nearby coastal town of Lüderitz. Our advice? Bring your camera to capture some spectacular scenes!
Here is a gallery of images shot in Kolmanskop by James McCaul.
In this weekly EXTREME NAMIBIA blog series we explore some of our country's extremes, and share with you practical information on how you can come and discover them for yourself.
We think of travel as going in search of something - we are lured to a destination because of all that exists there - the wildlife, culture, events, restaurants, monuments, museums... And yet Namibia draws visitors for precisely the opposite reason. They literally travel here in search of... nothing.
Namibia is the second least densely populated country in the world, second only to Mongolia. It covers a vast 825,400 square kilometers yet has a population of just 2.1 million - an average of two people per square kilometer - which leaves space for a mind-boggling amount of nothing. Those who choose to fly over the empty expanses - oceans of dunes, endless deserts, fog-draped coastlines, barren rocks and mountains - will realise just how little there really is here. But many of Namibia's world-class lodges and camps have used this vacant space to their advantage, and played with their isolation and 360-degree empty views to create truly spectacular overnight experiences. Here are some of our favorites.
Wolwedans has four lodges, all in the remote NamibRand Nature Reserve. The NamibRand is so empty that is is considered to have the darkest sky in the world - no small achievement! Each open-sided cabin faces out into the red dunes of the reserve, so you can sit outside on the cool desert evenings and enjoy the sunsets and passing oryx from the privacy of your own deck.
Located in one of Namibia's bleakest regions, Damaraland has neither dunes nor fairy circles to break up the nothingness. But what it does have is this spectacular community-owned lodge, with its charismatic owner Maggie who, along with her charming staff accompany your meals and drinks with wonderful singing performances in their native click language. Spontaneous bush breakfasts and desert sundowners in the middle of this wilderness really do make you feel like you are the only people on the planet.
With its Flintstones-esque surroundings and cabins perched on a cliff overlooking a boulder-strewn valley, settings don't come much more dramatic than this! Mowani's cabins are so private that some of the suites even have outdoor baths and showers - soak up the scenery in wonderful isolation.
From outdoor baths to... a loo with a view! The luxurious, glass-fronted bunglalows of And Beyond's Desert Lodge each face out into the surreal scenery of the Namib Desert, with its bizarre conical hill. An artificial waterhole attracts herds of oryx and zebra day and night - a thrilling, live television subsitute that you can even enjoy from the secluded glass-fronted bathroom!
The Ongava Game Reserve borders Etosha National Park, but this private reserve receives fewer visitors. Ongava covers around 325 square kilometers, yet contains just two small lodges and a camp. The endless views from the clifftop accommodations are deceptive though. These mopane woodlands are anything but empty - and at night visitors wil be treated to a floodlit theatre around the waterhole, with rhino, giraffe and bushbuck among the many nocturnal visitors. Little Ongava is the most isolated of the lodges - lucky guests can hang out on the cliff edge in their own secluded pool.
In this weekly EXTREME NAMIBIA blog series we explore some of our country's extremes, and share with you practical information on how you can come and discover them for yourself.
"Namib" is the Nama word for "vast" - and this desert, stretching for 1,600km along Namibia's coast, is certainly the embodiment of vastness. The most arid parts of this sandy expanse receive an average of just 2-5mm of rainfall a year, which would manke you think that this is 1,600km of nothing - yet even here, in one of the planet's most extreme wildernesses, life perseveres.
The Struggle for Survival in the Namib
Bizarre plants, innovative insect, and mammals with their own "cooling systems" all manage to eke out an existence in the Namib; read on to find out about some of nature's most extreme adaptations!
Camelthorn trees are a characteristic sight in the Namib - most notably the fossilized remains of those in Deadvlei, which date back over 900 years, but have not rotted thanks to the extreme dryness. The tree's huge thorns deter overgrazing, and its deep roots can tap water sources located up to 50m underground. Because competition for the water is so tough, they have also developed a way to avoid growing too close together: their seeds, which grow in large, crescent-shaped pods, will only germinate once they have passed through the digestive tract of an animal. The animals then wander and disperse the seeds, far from the source. Clever!
Desert-adapted elephants are not a distinct species of elephant, but their behavior is quite unlike that of savannah elephants. They walk up to 60km a day between water sources, and have learned to dig waterholes with their tusks. If this fails, they can go up to four days without drinking. Their home range can be an astonishing 2-3,000 square kilometers, and their feet are wide to facilitate walking across these great distances on the soft desert sand. Desert elephants they walk carefully to avoid knocking down trees, breaking branches or scraping bark - unlike their savannah cousins, which are known for being highly destructive.
A very old welwitschia, standing around the height of a man. Its two leaves have shredded, making it look like there are many more. Image from the Wikimedia Commons.
The welwitschia is one of the world's oldest - and oddest - plants. It is the only species in its family, and throughout its lifetime - which can be up to 1,500 years - it will only grow two leaves, which can each measure up to 4 meters long. The welwitschia only grows in this region of Namibia and Angola, and given the arid nature of the Namib, it is believed to survive on the dew caused by the frequent fog. Welwitschias are truly prehistoric-looking, and are believed to date back to the Jurassic period.
The oryx, also known as a gemsbok, is a common sight in the Namib desert, thanks to its incredible adaptations to the intense heat and lack of water. The oryx has an effective "cooling system" - blood is pumped through cooler vessels around its nose while it breathes rapidly - which means that while its body temperature can reach over 40 degrees celcius, their brain remains much cooler. The high body temperature means it loses very little water through sweating - which is good news, as they can rarely drink, and have to obtain most of their liquid from food. Additional adaptations include efficient kidneys to produce highly concentrated urine, a white belly to reflect the heat back onto the sand, and the ability to breate up to 210 times a minute - wow!
Namib Desert Facts
The Namib, at 55 million years old, is the world's most ancient desert, as well as being one of the driest. Much of it is protected as part of the Namib-Naukluft National Park which covers almost 50,000 square kilometers, making it larger than Switzerland.
Rainfall varies from 85mm in the westm to just 2mm in the east - but the area is often covered by a thick fog, which allows plants and animals to survive thanks to the dew it creates.
Another souce of water are the rivers. Although the beds seem to be almost always parched, there is permanent waterflow underground which creates linear "oases" on the surface.
Watch a fascinating video about some of Namibia's most extreme desert-adapted wildlife - including rolling spiders and invisible snakes - here.
Sossusvlei is one of the most visited destinations in the Namib-Naukluft National Park, but visitors can also enjoy hot air balloon rides, quad biking, desert hikes, paragliding and sand boarding. Download our Adventure Travel Planning Guide to find out more!
True adrenaline junkies might prefer something a little more challenging - 100km of Namib Desert is a tortuous race which takes place near Sossusvlei in extreme weather conditions. Alternatively, one of the toughest foot races on earth is the Namib Desert Challenge which covers 228 km of inhospitable, desert terrainover five stages of high-endurance ultra-running. Read more about these events in our Endurance guide.
If you want to get up closer to some of the species that have learned to survive in the desert without venturing to the Namib, visit Swakopmund's Living Desert Snake Park - it houses a variety of snakes, scorpions, geckos and monitor lizards with information about each.
Spend a thrilling day tracking desert-adapted elephants - contact a Namibia tour operator to plan your tracking experience. You can also find your ideal accommodation near the Namib Desert in our Accommodation Guide.