From Coasts to Deserts: Why Namibia is the New Safari Destination
Namibia, formerly known as South West Africa while under South African control, is located on Africa’s South West Coast, the driest country in sub-Sahara Africa. Its Atlantic Coast is more commonly known as the Skeleton Coast, a place where many ships have sunk. The waters are cold, coming straight up from Antarctica and hardly warming until closer to the Equator. Huge sand dunes line the coastline for long stretches with the only moisture rolling in on the mist. Namibia has a small population of just 2.5 million, including a few indigenous tribes, and they occupy a fascinating land covering over 800,000 square kilometers. Visitors from abroad usually arrive in Windhoek, the Capital, in the heart of the country then travel on.
Read on to learn more about Namibia, its coasts and deserts and why it can claim to be a great safari destination.
Fish River Canyon
The Fish River Canyon down in the south is the second largest canyon in the world after the Grand Canyon in the USA. The 85-kilometer trail is closed during the heat of summer and day visitors who want to descend into the canyon are not permitted to do so. The River itself is the longest in Namibia at 800 kilometers although a continuous flow stops in the dry season.
Namib Naukluft ParkThis Park was established forty years ago and covers 50,000 square kilometers and is located south of Windhoek. Highlights of the Park include the world’s oldest desert, the Namib which stretches far beyond the Park itself. Within the Park, you will find sand dunes, the highest at 300 meters, ever-shifting, and a real challenge to climb. If you can do it while it is still dark, the reward is stunning views of the sunrise. Dune 45 is the most famous of all providing rich colors; blue sky, dark shadow and almost red sand creating a photographer’s dream.
Not all the Park is open for visitors, but two of the main attractions most certainly are, Sossusvlei and Sesriem. The latter holds a kilometer long canyon while Sossusvlei is a salt clay pan surrounded by dunes which very occasionally fills with water. Nearby Dead Vlei is precisely that, an area of sparse but dead trees that have not decayed because everything is so dry.
In the east of the Park are the 2,000-metre high Naukluft Mountains while Sandwich Bay to the north is a haven for birds including huge numbers of flamingos, pelicans, and cormorants.
Swakopmund & Walvis BaySwakopmund is a small city of around 35,000 people on the central coast of Namibia, northwest of the Park and due west of Windhoek. Its history is laid out in the local museum with the aquarium of more than passing interest. There are some tourist activities around Swakopmund with Walvis Bay to the south offering tours both out to sea and inland into the desert and its dunes.
Cape Cross Colony
Heading north up the Coast, you will reach Cape Cross. Despite the Atlantic waters seemingly being uninviting, the cold Benguela current brings plenty of fish to feed the enormous cape fur seal colony there, amongst the largest in the world. At times, the colony numbers 100,000, huge males, females, and pups.
Damaraland & the Petrified ForestDamaraland is a harsh landscape, yet it still supports wildlife. It may be difficult to accept, but Namibia has desert elephants who find water somehow, underground rivers being one source. Oryx, rhino, cheetah and other small mammals survive although the traveler may rarely see them. The Petrified Forest, ancient wood now fossilized into stone lies around and will do so forever. It is thought the logs were swept here in ancient floods, but they are not going anywhere anymore. Some of the sparse vegetation is said to be hundreds of years old.
Waterberg PlateauThe Waterberg Plateau reaches up from the lowlands as you travel north from the Capital, Windhoek to Etosha. It is a table mountain which receives sufficient rainfall to remain green even though it seeps through the porous rock to create springs down the sides. The Plateau is home to significant wildlife, including rhino, buffalo, antelope, and giraffe.
Etosha National Park
Etosha in the north was established by the Germans early in the 20th Century. Its 23,000 square kilometers is mainly dry, much a large salt pan, with a significant number of waterholes which attract wildlife of all kinds, lion and cheetah, elephant, rhino, giraffe and the many prey species that nervously seek out water knowing predators may be waiting.
The abundant animal and birdlife have made Etosha one of the most important game parks on the whole continent with three permanent camps having ample tourist facilities.
Caprivi StripThough attracting fewer visitors, the Caprivi Strip is a thin strip of land in the extreme northeast of Namibia stretching all the way to the Zambezi, Botswana, Zambia, and Zimbabwe; it is rich in wildlife. At one time, it was not especially safe, but any troubles have now finished, so wildlife lovers need to take a look. In sharp contrast to much of Namibia, its landscape is lush all year round.
SummaryNamibia doesn’t get the attention of most of its sub-Saharan neighbors, but it is a stunning country of contrasts, unique, and wildlife. Its roads are good and fairly empty, so traveling around exploring Namibia is easy and indeed very enjoyable. Remember to take your camera in case friends do not believe your stories.
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