Namibia's Natural Wonders
Five amazing attractions that make Namibia a unique holiday destination
Namibia is like nowhere else on earth.
Few countries in Africa, or the rest of
the world, can match the country’s
sheer natural beauty. A vast land of
mesmerizing landscapes, abundant
wildlife and an astonishing array of
natural wonders, Namibia promises an
otherworldly adventure with a magnitude
of stirring vistas.
Encompassing towering dunes,
dramatic mountains and gravel plains,
the country’s defining feature is the
Namib, the oldest desert on earth that
runs the entire 1,500km of the country’s
Atlantic coastline. Some of the most
dramatic and thrillingly remote spots
on the planet can be found here; the
dazzling dunes of Sossusvlei (the largest
dunes in the world), Fish River Canyon,
Africa’s deepest canyons, the unique
fog-bathed Namib Sand Sea and the
most extraordinary starry night sky.
Nambia is also one of the best
places in the world to see wildlife.
The country is home to the world’s
largest population of free-roaming
black rhinos, a critically endangered
species threatened by poachers. You can
also spy dark-haired, desert-adapted
lions, galloping herds of Hartmann’s
mountain zebra, spotted and brown
hyena, southern giraffe, desert-adapted
elephant and zippy, silvery oryx
(Namibia’s national animal).
When the International Dark-Sky Association (a group that recognizes places for their sky quality) formed in 1988, NamibRand Nature Reserve in the arid Namib Desert became the first reserve to achieve Gold Tier status (the IDA’s highest award). With its clear 360-degree panorama of the horizon, the brightest and most beautiful constellations can all be spotted from the Namib. The nearest town is 140 km away which means no sources of light pollution. The reserve’s sky is one of the darkest yet measured in the world with the stars on display like no place else on the planet. The winter months (April to September) provide the clearest skies, with darkness descending at 6pm to reveal a spectacle of star clusters and galaxies, as well as a clear view of the Southern Cross and Centaurus constellations. Summer highlights include views of 47 Tucanae, a multibillion-year-old cluster containing more than a million stars.
NAMIB SAND SEA
Located on the South Atlantic coast of Namib-Naukluft National Park, the largest game park in Africa, the Namib Sand Sea, which covers over 3 million hectares is one of the world’s only coastal deserts. With the beautiful red sand flowing right up to the actual waves of the ocean, the desert is a place of outstanding natural beauty composed of two dune systems, an ancient one overlain by a younger, more active, one. Named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2013, rocky hills, coastal flats, ephemeral rivers and a lagoon punctuate the landscape, the atmospheric conditions providing exceptional visibility of landscape features by day and the dazzling southern hemisphere sky at night. While it is incredibly arid, with fog as the primary source of water, the desert still boasts almost 300 animal species. Over half of these do not exist anywhere else in the world. This remarkable diversity of endemic wildlife includes the Welwitschia plant, the Dune Lark, and various reptiles and invertebrates.
One of the world’s most endangered species, Black Rhinos have no natural predators, except for man. Since 1960, numbers have dropped by a horrifying 97%, mainly as a result of poaching for their horns, reaching an all-time low of just 2,300 individuals in 1993. Today, Namibia is home to almost half of the world’s population of black rhino – most of these are found in Etosha National Park. Visitors are able to track these incredible creatures with experienced local guides. But, it’s worth noting that Black Rhinos are not actually black. Just like white rhinos, they vary in color between brown and grey. However, White Rhinos have a wide, square upper lip, while the lip of black rhinos is narrow and pointed.
Situated in Namib-Naukluft Park, Sossusvlei is Namibia’s most iconic tableau: a large, white, salt and clay pan, flanked by dozens of spectacular rust-colored dunes. Appearing otherworldly at times, these dunes are some of the highest in the world and part of one of the oldest and driest ecosystems on earth. Nature constantly sculpts the landscape. The wind moulds and remoulds their contours while their color changes from ochre to burnished orange to fiery red over the course of a day, reaching the peak of their brilliance just after sunrise. The pan remains bone-dry most years due to the dry conditions of the Namib Desert. Sossusvlei, which means “dead-end marsh”, is the place where the dunes come together preventing the Tsauchab River from flowing further. During an exceptional rainy season, the river fills the pan, creating an ethereal glassy lake which holds reflections of the surrounding dunes. Hiking the dunes is a worthwhile challenge and yields spectacular views. The ‘Big Daddy’ is the highest in the area: 325 metres from base to peak. This is followed by ‘Big Mama’, another high dune which faces Daddy.
QUIVER TREE FOREST
Known as the ‘grande dame of the Namib Desert’, the quiver tree or aloe dichotoma, is not a true tree. A tall, branching species of aloe with a crown of bulbous branches covered in a thick white powder, this species grows on the most unforgiving rocky ridges of escarpments, normally at great distances from each other. But just outside of Keetmanshoop in southern Namibia, a large number of them grow in uncharacteristically close proximity, creating a forest-like landscape. Declared a National Monument of Namibia, the quiver tree forest is one of the only known naturally occurring such sites in the world. The quiver trees have a history going back several centuries. The nomadic San people used to hollow out branches to use as ‘quivers’ for their arrows — hence the name.