The rugged region of red rock
The highlight of this region is Twyfelfontein – Namibia’s first World Heritage Site – with its wealth of rock engravings. Other special attractions are the majestic Brandberg with its treasure trove of ancient San rock art and daunting backpacking challenges, the Petrified Forest, Burnt Mountain, Organ Pipes, the Spitzkoppe, and the Erongo Mountains.
TWYFELFONTEIN AND SURROUNDINGS
Namibia’s first World Heritage Site (status awarded in 2007), Twyfelfontein (meaning doubtful fountain), is a massive, open-air art gallery that is of great interest to international rock-art connoisseurs. The 2,000-plus rock engravings, estimated to be 6,000 years old, represent one of Africa’s largest and most noteworthy concentrations of rock art.
Contemporary research suggests that the creators of the rock art were San medicine people or shamans who went into an altered state of consciousness and connected with the spiritual world when a trance was induced. This could be used for purposes such as rain-making and healing the sick. The engravings depicted the images they saw after returning to normal consciousness.
About 50 km away is the Petrified Forest, where a cataclysmic event millions of years ago deposited giant tree trunks that subsequently turned to stone. Today the Namib’s living fossil plant, Welwitschia mirabilis, grows among these prostrate fossilised trunks. South of Twyfelfontein is the Burnt Mountain, a panorama of desolation with coloured rocks contrasting vividly against the grey-black surroundings. The Organ Pipes, a mass of vertical basalt columns in a ravine gouged out by a river, is another geological curiosity in the area. Southwest of Twyfelfontein is the Doros Crater, where fossil remains have been found among the rocks.
Fine specimens of the desert plant, Welwitschia mirabilis, can be seen at the Messum Crater southwest of the Brandberg.
Between 132 and 135 million years old, Messum has a diameter of 18 km. Messum is regarded as a volcanic feature that forms part of the Goboboseb Mountains to the northeast. It dates from the Etendeka period and, according to geologists, was the source of many of the intrusive and quartz-like extrusive rocks found in the area today. The crater was named after Captain W Messum, who was an explorer of the coastal regions of Southern Africa, which he surveyed from the ocean between 1846 and 1848.
While driving to the Messum area you should, however, not overlook the lichen fields. The western part of Messum lies in the Dorob National Park and you will need a permit, obtainable at the Henties Bay Tourism Association.
The imposing Brandberg massif is a challenge to hikers, especially its peak, Königstein, which at 2 573 metres is the highest point in Namibia.
The Brandberg is famous for the White Lady painting which can be seen on an overhang in Maack’s Shelter, named after the surveyor who first reported
it in 1918. Maack’s Shelter lies in the Tsisab Gorge, a wild and beautiful ravine located amongst a vast jumble of rocks that are remnants of manyancient landslides. Although the figure of the White Lady, surrounded by paintings of numerous animals, has faded over the years, a pilgrimage tosee it is well worth the effort. Walks to the shelter are conducted daily by National Heritage Council guides from 08h00 until 16h30 when the last walk departs. The round-trip takes around two-and-a half hours and is best done early in the morning. This massive outdoor gallery has been nominated for proclamation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Senegalia montis-usti trees, conspicuous in the Brandberg valley, are endemic to this region.
The 8 083 km2 Tsiseb Conservancy in the Uis and Brandberg environs is the second-largest conservancy in Namibia. The small town of Uis has a Multi-Purpose Information Centre, with a coffee shop and Internet facilities, enabling travellers between Swakopmund and Etosha to access information about the entire region and to book tours with the Dâureb Mountain Guides to climb the Brandberg.
To preserve the extremely rich rock painting heritage of the Brandberg, hikers planning to ascend the mountain must be accompanied by a guide provided by the National Heritage Council. The guides know the mountain intimately, including where to find water which can be achallenge for those unfamiliar with the Brandberg. The National Heritage Council (NHC) of Namibia has announced:
• A letter of permission issued by the NHC is required by a person or group before hiking and camping on the mountain. In order to obtain a letter simply contact the NHC in Windhoek requesting permission. Their number is 061 244 375 and they are located at 52 Robert Mugabe Avenue in Windhoek.
• You need to indicate the number of days you will stay and how many are in the group.
• A permit is required for any other activities such as research or filming.
For more information contact the National Heritage Council directly at www.nhc-nam.org or
+264 61 244 375.
The Spitzkoppe is a group of rounded granite mountains situated northwest of Usakos, en route to Swakopmund. A favourite with climbers, the Spitzkoppe peak – affectionately known as Namibia’s Matterhorn because of its resemblance to the famous Swiss mountain – was first climbed in 1946. The Spitzkoppe group peaks at 1 728 metres above sea level. Seventy metres above the surrounding gravel plains are Sugarloaf Mountain and the Pondok Mountains (resembling the rounded Damara huts called pondoks). Rising 600 metres above the Kaokoveld plains, the main inselberg (island mountain) of the Spitzkoppe is approximately 700 million years old.
After good summer rains, tall grass sways on the plains and small pools of water collect on the granite rocks of the mountain in shallow hollows. The group also has a minor peak, Little Spitzkoppe, which extends into the Pondok Mountains. On the eastern side is Bushman’s Paradise, with a walk up the steep incline made possible by the use of a fixed steel cable. Remains of San paintings can be seen in the overhang. Unfortunately, like most rock art in the Spitzkoppe area, they have been vandalised.
Other rock paintings can be seen at the Small Bushman’s Paradise and Golden Snake sites. At the Spitzkoppe turn-off, where the D1918 meets the B2, is the popular Ûiba-Ôas Crystal Market. Here the local community sells a variety of crystals, gemstones and minerals. The market is open seven days a week.
Khorixas, the unofficial capital of the former Damaraland, is a useful stopover for refuelling your vehicle and stocking up on basic supplies. Although the town itself has little to offer, the surroundings feature rare and unusual rock formations, ancient rock engravings and strange geological wonders, tempting geologists and many other travellers to the region. Near the hot-water spring at Warmquelle is Sesfontein Fort. A desolate and rapidly disintegrating ruin for many years, it has been reconstructed and equipped to accommodate tourists. Sesfontein derives its name from the six fountains that have their source in the vicinity. The palm trees at the fort were planted by colonial German police officers who manned it to combat weapon smuggling and elephant and rhino poaching. Close by is Signal Hill, a lookout point, where a heliograph station was constructed by German troops.
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