Sossusvlei is situated in The Namib Naukluft Park, the largest conservation park in Africa. The area boasts kilometres of immense rolling sand dunes, some of the world’s largest, rising as high as 300m. The dunes are a rich ochre colour due to slow iron oxidisation and minute fragments of garnet, and geologists think this supreme desert could be the world’s oldest. The stark beauty of sand and sky, the spectacular height and splendor of the dunes, and the feeling of space and solitude make Sossusvlei an awe-inspiring, ethereal place to be. Exquisite shapes, shadows and colours are everywhere and a photographer’s dream. The ‘vlei’ itself is a shallow depression, surrounded by dunes. This pan sometimes fills with water and is a spectacular sight in this dry sea of sand.
Near Sossusvlei you find Dead Vlei, a clay pan surrounded by red dunes and home to some of the oldest trees, up to 900 years, resting on a sandstone terrace. The clay pan was formed after a river flooded creating temporary shallow pools which allowed camelthorn trees to grow. Sand dunes encroached on the pools of water and blocked the river’s path to the sea, climate changed and drought came. The trees had no water and died leaving their skeletons behind.
At the entry to Sossusvlei is Sesriem Canyon, a narrow gorge of about one kilometre and 30 to 40 metres deep. Erosion has moulded fantastic shapes from the rock and it is an exciting place to explore.
Etosha National Park
Etosha National Park covers 22 912 square km’s and is one of Southern Africa’s most important and spectacular Game Reserves. It was the first conservation area formed in 1907 by the German Government. Etosha is made up of saline desert, savannah and woodland areas. Etosha means ‘Great White Place’ and is dominated by a massive salt pan which is a shallow depression of 5000 square kms which was formed by a lake which dried up thousands of years ago. The pan sometimes fills up when it rains and water drains southwards from Angola via a delta-like system of shallow rivers and oshanas.
The park has 30 springs and waterholes joined by a network of well maintained gravel roads to give visitors the best chances of seeing the many inhabitants of Namibia’s premier wildlife park. This temporary water attracts thousands of wading birds species (approximately 340 species), including impressive flocks of flamingos. It also attracts large concentrations of wildlife species, including elephant, giraffe, rhino, zebra, lion, leopard, cheetah, hyena and many species of buck, some of them in enormous herds of several hundred animals.
The Caprivi Strip
The Caprivi is a narrow strip of land about 400km long in the far northeast of Namibia. The Caprivi is dominated by riverine forests formed by a network of rivers. Its high rainfall make it an oasis in the dry landscapes typical of Namibia. It is well-vegetated, made up mostly of swamps, wetlands and woodlands. Several rivers flow through the Caprivi, including the Okavango, Kwando, Zambezi and the Chobe River. These perennial rivers are well known for their local inhabitant, the Tiger Fish and 400 plus different Namibian bird species. The water in the region also attracts a large variety of animal species including elephant, buffalo, and various species of antelope, hippo and crocodile and there are several game reserves in the area to protect them.
Although the Caprivi has a limited population, the local Caprivi and Okavango people are gifted with an artistic nature and their fine workmanship is realised in the crafts they produce. These crafts include clay pots, woven baskets, reed floor mats and the most famous wood carved sculptures.
Swakopmund is Namibia’s premier seaside resort. The town itself is small and a mix of old German architecture (inherited from its previous German occupation) and new buildings, giving the town a quaint personality. One of the main drawing points of Swakopmund is its setting on the Namibian coastline. Here the rolling sand dunes of the Namib desert meet the cold Atlantic Ocean in beautiful and dramatic contrast. The feeling of space and the warm Namibian sun, give this town the perfect holiday atmosphere.
Temperatures rarely drop below 15C and rainfall is practically zero, the town is subjected to 9 months of morning fogs each year. These damp and grey conditions often result in cool temperatures persisting the whole day, but this band of mist, stretching up to 30km inland, brings water and life to the desert plants and animals and supports up to 80 types of lichen and ancient Welwitschia plants. The many ingenious adaptations to water collection evolved by these plant and animal species (like the Tok-Tokki beetle which condenses vapour on its raised back) make for fascinating walks and drives around Swakopmund and down the Swakopmund River.
Swakopmund and the surrounding areas offer numerous activities including sandboarding, quad biking, dune carting, parachuting, hot air ballooning, dolphin cruises, shark fishing, deep sea fishing and beach angling. The town also has numerous restaurants, cafes, art galleries, museums, a snake park and aquarium. Other places of interest just a short drive from Swakopmund include the Walvis Bay Lagoon, which in the right season is frequented by thousands of flamingos, the Cape Cross Seal Colony and the beautiful, surreal rock formations of the Moon Valley.
Damaraland is a dry semi-desert savannah area scattered with interesting rocky hillsides and arid plains. It was previously home to the San who lived as hunters and gatherers. At Twyfelfontein, which used to be a natural spring you will find extensive rock painting and engravings of animals and geometric designs done by the San. Recently this area was proclaimed a World Heritage site. The rock painting and engravings are said to be between 2500 and 6000 years old. The walk through this area is captivating and the huge jagged rock formations, including the ‘Lion’s Head’, make it a beautiful and sensuous outing.
The Burnt Mountain, an interesting area of volcanic rock, is also worth visiting. This area is an amazing site when the sun shines over these rocks giving the impression of flames. The Valley of the Organ pipes, situated across from the Burnt Mountain was formed when basalt slabs got gouged out by a river thousands of years ago.
Another site worth visiting is the majestic Brandberg Mountain, which rises 2606m above sea level and is the highest mountain in Namibia. Dark and mysterious against the surrounding plains, this great giant is also the site of ancient rock art, including the famous ‘White Lady’. The mountain itself is a huge granite plug which was pushed out of a volcanic pipe and stopped at about 10 000 meters under the surface.
The Petrified Forest is the site of an extraordinary collection of about 50 largely intact gymnosperm petrified trunks, the longest being more than 30m, which were deposited about 250 million years ago by a cataclysmic flood event which originated further north. The trees have been preserved and transformed into stone by ongoing anaerobic conditions. The site was declared a national monument in 1950.
Southern Damaraland, despite being extremely arid is also home to some interesting fauna and flora. Watch out for the well-adapted and ancient Welwitschia, some of which are estimated to be 1000 years old. The starkness of the area makes for a beautiful backdrop for some of the larger animals that roam this area, including the famous Desert Elephants.
The Waterberg Plateau
The Waterberg Plateau stands impressively alone on the surrounding flat plains. The area is dominated by an impressive, sandstone plateau and because of its elevated position; it has a higher rainfall than the surrounding areas. The porous nature of the sandstone and the high rainfall allows many natural springs to rise through the plateau, accounting for the lush sub-tropical vegetation, which characterises the area.
At 200m high its sheer cliffs provide a shadow for the lush green vegetation at its base. On its flat and more arid top an isolated and inescapable ecosystem has evolved which supports 200 bird species and a large variety of wildlife including black and white rhino, buffalo, eland, gemsbok, giraffe, kudu, roan antelope, sable antelope, impala, klipspringer, steenbok, black-backed jackal, caracal, cheetah, brown hyena and leopard. Below its towering majesty wild fig trees, fire lilies, coral trees and chattering parrots make this a beautiful, natural paradise to visit. Ancient San rock engravings and nearby dinosaur footprints are other popular attractions in the area.
Reaching Epupa Falls you will not expect this piece of paradise at the most northern part of Namibia. It is situated on the banks of the Kunene River, one of Namibia’s 5 perennial rivers and the border between Namibia and Angola. The falls are 1.5 kilometres long and is where the Kunene River drops 60 meters down spectacular coloured rock walls.
With its waving palms and spectacular sunsets, the Epupa area offers much to see and do. Exciting geological and archaeological sites can be seen in the area. Birdlife in this riverine paradise is rich and varied, with some species endemic to the Kunene River environ.
In this North West area you will find local inhabitants called the Himbas. They are the only remaining ethnic group that still wear their traditional clothing and live the way their forefathers did. They originated from Herero nomads. Guided tours are offered to one of the Himba temporary villages where you can learn about the sacred fire, the twin that stayed behind, the holy oxen and how a day is spent in Africa by people who have no calendars.
You will also cross the Mopane Belt while driving through the North West area. It is called a belt because it consists of a strip of Mopane trees stretching from west to east across northern Namibia. This was created hundreds of years ago when elephants moved along this pathway year after year depositing the pits of the Mopane trees which were a rich source of nutrients for them. The Mopane trees are beautiful and provide nice cool shade in this hot arid area.
Okavango Delta Safari
The Okavango Delta is one of the world’s largest inland water systems. Its headwaters start in Angola’s western highlands, with numerous tributaries joining which then flow through Namibia (called the Kavango) and finally enter Botswana, where it is then called the Okavango.
The area was once part of Lake Makgadikgadi, an ancient lake that dried up some 10,000 years ago. Today, the Okavango River has no outlet to the sea. Instead, it empties onto the sands of the Kalahari, irrigating 15,000 km2 of this desert.
The delta’s floods start in October and finish sometime in April. During the peak of the flooding the delta’s area can expand to over 16,000 square kilometers. As the water travels through the delta, the wildlife starts to move back into the region. The delta provides a seasonal habitat to numerous different species. Among these are African elephants, the African Buffalo, the Hippopotamus, the Lechers, the Toni, the Blue Wildebeest, the Giraffe, the Nile Crocodile, the Lion, the Cheetah, the Leopard, hyenas, wild dogs, the Greater Kudu, the Sable Antelope, both the Black and the White Rhinoceros, the Water Monitor, zebras, the Warthog and the Chacma Baboon. The delta also includes over 400 species of birds, including the African Fish Eagle, the Crested Crane, and the Sacred Ibis.
The best time for game viewing in the delta is during the May to October period as the animal life is concentrated along the flooded areas and the vegetation has dried out. The best time for birding and vegetation is during the rainy season (November to April) as the migrant bird populations are returning and the plants are flowering and green.
The Okavango Delta people consist of five ethnic groups, each with its own ethnic identity and language. They are still traditionally engaged in mixed economies of millet/sorghum agriculture; fishing, hunting, and the collection of wild plant foods; and pastoralism.
Chobe National Park
Chobe National Park in north western Botswana has one of the largest game concentrations on the African continent. In size it is the country’s third largest park and covers 10,566 square kilometres. It is also the country’s first national park. Its uniqueness lies in its abundance of wildlife and the true African nature of the region and therefore offers a safari experience of a lifetime.
A major feature of Chobe National Park is its elephant population. Elephants living here are Kalahari elephants, the largest in size of all known populations. Game viewing is at its best during the dry season, April to October, when the majority of natural pans have dried up.The park is divided into four distinctly different eco systems:
Serondela with its lush plains and dense forests in the Chobe River area in the extreme north-east;
The Savuti Marsh in the west about fifty kilometres north of Ababe Gate;The Linyanti Swamps in the north-west;
And the dry hinterland in between.
The local Kololo tribe called it “Mosi-oa-Tunya” or the Smoke That Thunders and it is affectionately called “Vic Falls” by those who return again and again. It is situated in southern Africa and straddles the countries of Zambia and Zimbabwe. The falls are, by some measures, the largest in the world. They are also among the most unusual in form and have, arguably, the most diverse and easily seen wildlife of any major waterfall site. It has a width of 1.7 kilometres (1 mile) and height of 108 meters (360 ft)
The waterfall occurs where the powerful Zambezi River plunges down a series of basalt gorges in a breathtaking cascade of several waterfalls. Mist from the waterfalls can be seen more than 20 kilometres away and the thundering roar can be heard long before the falls can be seen.
Vic Falls is one of the top tourist destinations in the world. It has the wildest one day white water rafting trips on the planet and until recently the highest commercial bungee jump on earth. Vic Falls is also a favourite with honeymooners from around the world. The sundowner cruises, nearby game farms and additional safari opportunities have firmly ensured that Victoria Falls has become one of Africa’s most visited attractions.