Vast landscapes and endless horizons
The country’s most spectacular geological phenomenon and the highlight of Namibia’s ‘Deep South’ is the Fish River Canyon. The famous ravine lies in the lower reaches of Namibia’s longest river, the Fish River. It took millions of years to evolve to its present shape – a massive 161 km long, up to 27 km wide and up to 550 metres deep.
Quiver Tree Forest
Top tourist attractions in the region include the quaint coastal town of Lüderitz; Namibia’s most famous ghost town, Kolmanskop, a former diamond settlement that was deserted in the 1950s; the Northern Sperrgebiet, which can be explored with concession-holding tour operators. Further east are the Quiver Tree Forest, Giant’s Playground and Brukkaros Mountain, the latter not an extinct volcano as is popularly thought but the remnants of a gaseous explosion that took place many millions of years ago. Lying at the centre of this region is the unofficial capital of the south, Keetmanshoop – the gateway to many of these attractions. Further south lies the Fish River Canyon, the second largest canyon in the world.
FISH RIVER CANYON AND /AI-/AIS RICHTERSVELD TRANSFRONTIER PARK
The /Ai-/Ais Hot Springs and Fish River Canyon were first proclaimed in 1968, and in 1989 the Huns Mountains complex west of the canyon was added to these features to form a single conservation entity. The Namibian Government acquired several farms in the surroundings, which were also incorporated into the unit, and in 2003 the long-term conservation objective to manage the Huns Mountains and /Ai-/Ais Game Park jointly with the Richtersveld National Park in South Africa as one integrated Transfrontier Conservation Area (TFCA) became a reality when the /Ai-/ Ais-Richtersveld Transfrontier Parkbecame Namibia’s first transfrontier conservation area. The attraction of this rugged wilderness is its isolated and otherworldly landscape, and wealth of interesting xerophytic plants, such as the halfmens or elephant’s trunk, Pachypodium namaquanum. Geologically and botanically the area is similar to South Africa’s Richtersveld south of the Orange River. Eroded over many millennia, the Fish River Canyon is the second-largest natural canyon in the world. Set in a harsh, stony plain, dotted with drought-resistant succulents such as the distinctive quiver tree or kokerboom, Aloidendron dichotomum, and Euphorbia gregaria, the canyon is a spectacular natural phenomenon that took hundreds of millions of years to evolve. While its full length is 160 km – the width is up to 27 km and depth up to 550 metres – its most spectacular section is the 56-km stretch downstream of the northernmost viewpoint. Because the river flows intermittently, there is always water in some of the pools, except in very dry years. Containing small- and largemouth yellowfish, sharptooth catfish, tilapia and common carp, the pools are also frequented by the water monitor or leguan. Baboon, rock hyrax, ground squirrel and klipspringer are often seen in the canyon, while the presence of leopard and mountain zebra is indicated by tracks left at waterholes. Kudu inhabit the densely vegetated lower reaches north of /Ai-/Ais. An interesting variety of birds, such as the Olive Thrush, Cape Robin-chat and African Black Duck, are found in the canyon.
Fish River Canyon
One of Namibia’s truly unique destinations is the coastal town of Lüderitz in the so-called Deep South.
Originally named Angra Pequena (small bay) by the famous Portuguese explorer Bartholomeu Dias in 1487, the settlement was renamed Lüderitz in honour of its founder Adolf Lüderitz in 1884. Located directly on the shores of Lüderitz Bay facing the Atlantic Ocean, Lüderitz forms a barrier between the towering coastal dunes of the Namib-Naukluft Park directly to the north, and the unforgiving rocky coastline to the south. The town has a fishing harbour surrounded by early 20th century German colonial buildings.
Ten kilometres to the east the world- renowned ghost town, Kolmanskop, affords you the opportunity to gain a spellbinding insight into what life was once like in this former diamond settlement. Other activities include bird- watching such as at Halifax Island to view Namibia’s largest colony of African Penguins from a boat.
Set aside a morning or afternoon to explore the sheltered bays of the Lüderitz Peninsula, Shark Island, Grosse Bucht, Sturmvogel Bucht and Dias Point where the Portuguese navigator Batholomeu Dias erected a stone cross in July 1488.
Lüderitz is especially famous for its delicious fresh seafood: west coast rock lobster (called crayfish locally), oysters and the much sought-after delicacy abalone (perlemoen variety). The town celebrates its rich seafood culture with an annual Lüderitz Crayfish Festival.
Lüderitz is easily accessible by good roads from Windhoek (685 km tar), Keetmanshoop (340 km tar) and the Fish River Canyon (480 km from Ai-Ais Resort – 184 gravel and 295 tar).
TSAU //KHAEB NATIONAL PARK (THE SPERRGEBIET)
Sperrgebiet National Park, now renamed to Tsau //Khaeb National Park (Tsau meaning Soft and //Khaeb meaning Sand), was proclaimed in 2008. While it is still largely undeveloped and much of it remains inaccessible to visitors, a small section of this wild landscape can be explored with a tour group, accompanied by an official of the MEFT. The Sperrgebiet (forbidden territory) covers 26 000 sqkm of globally important semi-desert. It forms part of the Succulent Karoo biome that extends into South Africa. With its profusion of succulent species, unrivalled anywhere else on the planet in terms of endemism and quantity, conservation scientists have classified this area as one of the world’s top 35 Biodiversity Hotspots. To qualify for hot-spot status, an area must contain at least 1 500 endemic vascular plants (0.5% of the planet’s total) and must have lost at least 70% of its original habitat. Prior to the establishment of the Tsau// Khaeb National Park, a mere 11% of the surviving Succulent Karoo, which is home to 2 439 endemic plants, was in protected areas. Now, following the proclamation of the park, 90% of this zone is protected.
Because the Sperrgebiet, due to its diamond wealth, has been off limits to the public for close to a century, the habitat is largely untouched and pristine, making a visit to the park a truly unique wilderness experience.
Exploring Tsau//Khaeb National Park
To protect the fragile environment, visitors can only explore the park by joining one of the tours operated by tourism concession holders. Areas open to tourist include the mysterious ghost towns of Elizabeth Bay, Pomona (noteworthy for enduring the highest average wind speeds in southern Africa), and the Märchental – the famous ‘Fairy Tale Valley’ – where diamonds were once so common that they could be picked up in handfuls from the surface as they lay gleaming in the light of the moon.
Guided day and overnight drives to Dagger Rocks and Douglas Bay, north of Lüderitz, are also conducted, while the Roter Kamm, a meteorite impact crater, which previously been inaccessible to tourists is now also accessible. Guided activities offered further south in the adventure zone of Oranjemund include 4×4 dune driving and sandboarding and kayaking on the Orange River.
Lüderitz is also the starting point of guided 4×4 trips into the Namib-Naukluft Park. Options include trips to Saddle Hill, an old mining camp and Spencer Bay. Longer, six day trips to long- abandoned mining camps, Conception Bay, the wreck of the Eduard Bohlen, Sandwich Harbour and Walvis Bay are also conducted. Participants drive in their own vehicles and are accompanied by a tour guide and a backup vehicle with the kitchen equipment and meals.
The Succulent Karoo Biome is home to 2,439 endemic plants.
Ancient shipwreck discovered
In April 2008, a shipwreck was discovered along the southern Sperrgebiet coast with priceless treasure in the form of glittering gold coins and hundreds of almost mint-condition silver pieces. Other artefacts retrieved were fifty ivory tusks, thousands of Portuguese and Spanish gold and silver coins minted in late 1400 and early 1500, and pewterware. Astrolabes were the only navigational tools found on the wreck. Astrolabes were used to determine how far north or south you had sailed, although what doomed this ship still remains a mystery. In all likelihood it ran aground due to bad weather, as this stretch of coast is notorious for fierce, disorienting storms. Unofficial estimates are that the gold coins alone are worth N$ 16 million. The origin of this find remains a mystery, although informed sources speculate the ship could have been one of a fleet of four small, fast Portuguese ships – led by Bartholomeu Dias in the 15th century – that came to grief during a storm off the Cape of Good Hope in May 1500. Dias’s caravel was part of a fleet of a dozen ships that set sail from Portugal in early 1500 under the stewardship of the legendary sailor Pedro Alvarez Cabral, who stumbled on Brazil after becoming lost at sea. The discovery was made inside Namdeb’s Mining Area 1, which is accessible only with permits issued jointly by the Ministry of Mines and Energy and the Government’s Protective Resources Unit. Namibian heritage laws on such discoveries automatically give ownership of the treasure to Government. A maritime and mining museum for Oranjemund is in the pipeline to display, among others, the artefacts found on the wreck.
Namibia’s most famous ghost town, Kolmanskop, is situated in the Tsau //Khaeb National Park about 10 km inland from Lüderitz. It was named after transport driver Johnny Coleman, who lived in the tiny settlement of Aus at the turn of the century. During a fierce sandstorm he was forced to abandon his ox wagon on the small incline from where Kolmanskop can be seen. It stood there for a while, giving rise to the name Colemanshügel, which eventually became Kolmanskop. In 1908, the railway worker Zacharias Lewala found a sparkling stone in the sand he was shovelling at Grasplatz railway station nearby Kolmanskop. His supervisor, August Stauch, was convinced he had found a diamond. When this was confirmed, the news spread like wildfire, sparking a frantic diamond rush and causing fortune hunters to converge on Kolmanskop in droves. It soon became a bustling little centre, featuring a butchery, bakery, furniture factory, soda-water and lemonade plant. By 1915, Kolmanskuppe was one of the richest towns in the world with its own millionaire’s row, large outdoor salt-water swimming pool, bowling alley, hospital, entertainment hall and ice-making factory. The first X-ray machine in the southern hemisphere was introduced here, as well as the first tram in Africa. Today, Namibia’s diamond-mining operations take place offshore in the Oranjemund area (on the border with South Africa).
The development of the town reached its pinnacle in the 1920s, with approximately 300 German adults, 40 of their children and 800 Owambo contract workers living there. In spite of, or probably because of, the isolation and bleakness of the surrounding desert, Kolmanskop developed into a lively little haven of German culture, providing entertainment and recreation to suit the requirements of the affluent, for whom large, elegant houses were built.
However, when richer diamond deposits were discovered further south, operations were moved to Oranjemund. Today, the crumbling ruins of the ghost town bear little resemblance to its former glory. The stately homes, their grandeur now scoured and demolished by desert winds, are gradually enveloped by sand. In 1980 the mining company CDM (now Namdeb) restored a number of the buildings and established a museum for tourist viewing.
Permits are needed to enter Kolmanskop. These can be obtained at the entrance gate, which is open daily from 08:00 to 13:00 (longer for visitors who have a photo permit). Interesting guided tours are conducted free of charge, in English and German, from Mondays to Saturdays at 09:30 and 11:00, and on Sundays and public holidays at 10:00.
THINGS TO SEE
About 130 km northwest of Keetmanshoop en route to the small settlement of Berseba, where a mission station was established in 1850, is the conspicuous Brukkaros Mountain. In a landscape almost devoid of vegetation, this mass of dark-coloured rock rises abruptly from a vast, sun-scorched plain. The turnoff to the base of the mountain, accessible only with 4×4 vehicles, is south of Tses. A well-maintained footpath leads from the end of the road via the eroded southern rim to the mountain. The footpath was built when the Smithsonian Institute installed a solar telescope in a tunnel on the crater’s southwestern rim in 1929 to determine the amount of energy the earth received from the sun. It closed down two years later. At the turn of the century the German authorities maintained a heliograph station on the eastern rim of Brukkaros. Relatively recently, a VHF radio mast was placed on the northern rim. Brukkaros is not an extinct volcano, as its shape would suggest, but the eroded remnants of a pile of fragmented rock produced by a gigantic gaseous explosion some 84 million years ago. At its highest point it is about 1 580 metres, the mountainous ridge surrounding a deep crater of almost 2 000 metres in diameter, with a flat, rock-littered floor. The mountain’s vernacular name, the Nama word Geitsigubeb, refers to its resemblance to a large leather ‘trouser apron’ worn traditionally by Khoekhoe women.
TOWNS IN THE SOUTH
Rosh Pinah, a mining village south of Aus, is yet to gain town status. Mining operations in Rosh Pinah started in 1969 when the Rosh Pinah Lead-Zinc Mine commenced operations. In 2001, the village received another economic boost when the Anglo Skorpion Zinc Mine started operations. Rosh Pinah doesn’t offer much in terms of activities and leisure, but serves as a convenient stopover between Aus and Oranjemund. The Geo Centre is worth a mention though, displaying rocks and minerals from the Rosh Pinah and Skorpion mines, as well as from other areas in Namibia.
Open Mondays to Fridays from 8:00 to 17:00, the Geo Centre also offers geology and history trips to interesting locations in the vicinity, ranging from day trips, to five-day, all-inclusive tours.
Shark Island is located on the Shark Peninsula in Lüderitz Bay in southwest Namibia. The resort overlooks the bay, town and harbour. Onlookers can spot the seals and pelicans that frequent the rocky areas around the site. The resort is an excellent central point for exploring the town of Lüderitz, the famous Kolmanskop Ghost Town,
Kalahari Game Lodge is a luxury private game farm situated next to the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park on the south-eastern border of Namibia. It is an oasis surrounded by red dunes and home to the free-roaming Kalahari lion. The lodge comprises of eight luxury chalets and for the more adventurous six spaciously set apart campsites along
Hobas Lodge is located in the /Ai-/Ais Richtersveld Transfrontier Park, near the Fish River Canyon, one of the largest canyons in the world and the main attraction in southern Namibia. Hobas Lodge sits at the start of the 90 km long Fish River Canyon Hiking Trail, ranked one of the best hiking trails in southern
On the Edge of Eternity The only lodge situated directly on the rim of Namibia’s Fish River Canyon, the world’s second largest canyon. Set amongst ancient “kokerbome” (quiver trees) the uniquely designed lodge has breathtaking views of the canyon from sunrise to sunset. The 45 000 hectare Canyon Nature Park includes 75km of river frontage
Boplaas Campsite is a popular camping destination situated on the banks of the Orange River. Visitors can enjoy the natural beauty of the surrounding area while camping in this peaceful and serene location. One of the most popular activities at Boplaas Campsite is kayaking, and the Orange River provides an excellent opportunity for this water
Situated in the centre of Keetmanshoop are the gracious Bird’s Mansions Hotel with 26 rooms and the clean and fresh Bird’s Nest Guesthouse with 10 rooms. All the rooms are air-conditioned and have bathrooms en suite, direct-dial telephones, free Wi-Fi and television (DStv – five channels). Both establishments have secure parking and provide a laundry
The historic Bahnhof Hotel presents itself in a modern, elegant format, combining rich history and traditional comfort with excellent service and à la carte cuisine. Light lunches, daily fresh bread and cakes from the kitchen are best enjoyed on the sundeck. 26 stylishly refurbished double rooms with en-suite facilities, including a 4-bed family unit and
/Ai-/Ais Hot Springs Spa offers comfortable accommodation in 36 exquisitely appointed double rooms facing either the Fish River or the mountains, all with direct access to the indoor spa pools, and seven self-catering chalets. Visitors can enjoy the therapeutic powers of the thermal springs in the central indoor spa or choose to luxuriate in the