I’ve been to East Africa and am quite familiar with the open plains, winding herds during the Migration and the ever present Acacia tree dotting the horizon. However, I found that Namibia possesses some of the most stunning and bizarre landscapes in Africa. Here, imposing slabs of granite rise out of swirling desert sand and expansive red dunes, originating in the world’s oldest desert, meet the crashing waves along the wild Skeleton Coast.
Amongst all this stark scenery is a strong cultural presence with a German legacy, evident in the cuisine and architecture; together with the iconic red skinned people of the northern Himba tribes.
Here are a few of the places that impacted my senses the most.
Namib-Naukluft National Park (Sossusvlei and Dead Vlei)
How do you pronounce all of that?
This enormous national park encompasses many geological features that provide endless photographic opportunities. Within the park’s borders are the large red dunes that are some of the highest in the world and provide wonderful images in the beautiful morning and evening light.
There is a variety of lodging available within an hour’s drive of the park gate. I stayed at Sossusvlei Desert Lodge where they offer a guided, full day excursion to the dunes and nearby Sesriem Canyon. I arrived at 6:30am when the gate opened and began the journey along the dry river bed that divides some of the tallest dunes. At this time the sun highlights the glowing orange, eastern facing slopes while leaving the western facing in near darkness. I am at best an amateur photographer, but even I could construct an amazing shot with this subject matter.
Sossusvlei and Dead Vlei are white salt and clay pans marked by blackened, dead acacia trees, providing vivid contrast between the shiny white of the salty floor of the pan and the intense orange of the dunes. This creates a particularly fascinating and surrealistic landscape.
And they are also really fun to climb! Besides all of the serious shutterbug action, get out of the vehicle and hike up a dune. Vehicles are not allowed off the main road, but you can walk anywhere in the park. I hiked up “Big Daddy” and for two steps forward it felt like we slid back one. However, once at the top, the views are 360 and stunning. Then the adrenaline rush of running down the steep slopes, trying to keep your balance as the sand fills your shoes.
Shipwrecks, barking sea lions and an unforgiving, rocky coastline.
The name came from the bones that lined the beaches, mostly from whaling operations and seal hunts. But a few of the skeletons were human, cast here by close to 1,000 ships that had run aground on the rocks in dense fog. All very medieval but its forbidding nature has left Namibia’s Skeleton Coast as one of the most pristine shorelines in the world. It is unspoiled, intact, raw and startling.
The territory extends north of the city of Swakopmund to the Angolan border in northwest Namibia, taking in 300 miles of shoreline and 5 million acres of dunes and gravel plains. The best way to experience a northern and more exclusive section of this vast area is to book one of the few safari camps located here. I stayed at Hoanib Skeleton Coast Camp; which offers a day trip, through a variety of landscapes, to reach the coast and then return by light aircraft. Along the way we stopped at the “roaring dunes,” created by air pockets under the sand, but as loud as low flying aircraft. Then some excitement as we zigzagged through dry river beds, sometimes only as wide as our vehicle, with extreme cut banks from the last flood. That evening we had our sundowner atop a black granite peak overlooking golden waves of sand. The contrast is astonishing and the tracks from our vehicle will be gone by morning.
It is not only landscapes that draw you in here but the chance to spot the rare desert adapted lion. We were fortunate to find 5 of the 7 that currently reside in the area, a gift indeed for a seasoned safari-goer.
Sharing a Smile with the Himba in Northern Namibia
After covering miles and miles of red earth and sweeping landscapes as we headed to northern Namibia’s Kunene region, arriving at a small village of Himba people was a welcome surprise. The Himba village is built in a circle, with livestock in the middle of the village and a small fire that is kept continually lit around the clock.
As we approached, I notice the Himba women with their iconic red hue. Each morning the apply otjize, a paste of butter, fat and red ochre to their skin and hair, which gives them a distinctive red coloring. Several of the women introduced themselves to us, and in turn asked for our names, if we were married and if we had children. This is the standard line of questioning when meeting a person for the first time in Himba culture.
As we were in a very remote location, there were no other travelers around. Our soft-spoken guide educated us about the Himba people, their way of life, and some of the challenges they face living in such a remote, desert environment. The Himba are extremely open to travelers coming to witness their way of life, and in exchange for their openness we brought with us a large bag of maize meal and some cooking oil for the village.
Namibia is certainly a most unique country with stunning vistas and beautiful cultures.
Want to hear more about her adventure, and perhaps go see for yourself? Call us at 800-405-9463 (USA) or 61-7-5455-4243 (Australia).