Timeless deserts, thorn bush savannah, desolate wind-ravaged
coastlines, majestic canyons and sun-baked saltpans are the bounty that awaits the
adventurous traveller in Namibia.
The country is designed almost specially with the active and adventure
seeker in mind.
Namibia is a largely arid country of stark rough-hewn beauty.
The most vivid images are those of a haunting technicolor landscape of
swirling orange dunes, shimmering mirages and treacherous dust devils.
The apparent desolation is deceptive and plant and animal life and
even man has adapted to this environment.
Namibia's top draw is the Etosha National Park, rated as one of
Africa's finest game sanctuaries. The birding experience in the country is truly superior.
On a Namibia
safari, the range of activities you can indulge in the unsurpassable physical
environment is truly impressive. Ballooning over the desert, skydiving over land and sea,
paragliding, whitewater rafting and sand-skiing along coastal dunes are good activities
for starters. More fun games to pick from include abseiling, coastal and fresh water
angling, desert camel riding, scuba diving, 4x4 desert runs, hiking and mountaineering.
Namibia has four distinct geographical regions. In the north is Etosha
Pan, a great area for wildlife and heart of Etosha National Park. The slender Caprivi
Strip is nested between Zambia and Botswana and is a wet area of woodland blessed with a
few rivers. Along the coast is the Namib Desert, which at the age of 80 million years old,
is said to be the world's oldest desert. At the coast, the icy cold Atlantic meets the
blazing African desert, resulting in dense fogs. The well-watered central plateau runs
north to south, and carries rugged mountains, magnificent canyons, rocky outcrops and
Namibia, one and half times the size of France, is very sparsely
inhabited and carries only 1.8 million souls. The people are as unique as the land they
live on. The most intriguing are the San, otherwise known as Bushmen. These most hardy of
people have a highly advanced knowledge of their environment. It is a marvellous thing how
well they are adapted to their difficult habitat. Just pause and think that these are the
only people in the world who live with no permanent access to water. In the Kalahari
Desert, one of their domiciles, surface water is not to be found. Tubers, melons, and
other water bearing plants as well as underground sip wells supply their water
In Namibia today, Bushmen number about 50,000. Historians estimate
that they have lived, mostly as hunters and gatherers, for at least 25,000 years in these
parts of the world. Bushmen speak in a peculiar click language and are very gifted in the
arts of storytelling, mimicry, and dance. Namibia's other people, who are indigenous to
the continent, are mostly of Bantu origin. They are thought to have arrived from western
Africa from about 2,400 years ago. The African groups include the Owambo, Kavango,
Caprivians, Herero, Himba, Damara, Nama and Tswana.
The Africans aside, other groups comprise about 15% of the population
and have played an important role in the emergence of the modern nation. White Namibians
amount to about 120,00 and are mainly of German and Afrikaner heritage. Germans arrived in
significant numbers after 1884 when Bismarck declared the country a German Protectorate.
Afrikaners, white farmers of Dutch origin, moved north from their Cape settlements,
especially after the Dutch Cape Colony was ceded to the British in 1806. This strongly
independent people, whose ancestors had lived in the Cape from 1652 resented British
Two other distinct groups complete the spectrum of Namibia's people -
Basters and Coloureds. Coloured in Namibia and southern Africa refers to people of mixed
racial heritage, black- white for example. They have a separate identity and culture. This
makes sense considering that Namibia was run by South Africa after the First World War.
Even in pre-Apartheid South Africa, racial classification was a fine art. The
Afrikaans-speaking Basters, descended from Hottentot women and Dutch settlers of the Cape.
Alienated from both white and black communities, they trekked northwards, finally founding
their own town Rehoboth, in 1871. Baster is actually derived from 'bastard', but it is not
derogatory, and the Basters are indeed proud of it.
Namibia's barren and unwelcoming coastlines served as a natural
deterrent to the ambitions of European explorers. That was until 1884 when the German
merchant Adolf Luderitz established a permanent settlement between the Namib Desert and
the Atlantic seaboard that afterwards took his name. Bismarck subsequently declared the
territory covered by Namibia a German colony and named it S�dwestafrika or South West
Africa. As German settlers moved into the interior, conflict was inevitable with the
inheritors of the land.
The German occupation was a particularly unhappy experience for the
Herero. The Herero resented the German's harsh and racist rule and the effect of the
encroachment on their lands on their livelihood and way of life. On the first day of the
year 1904, the Herero led by Chief Samuel Maharero, rose suddenly and unexpectedly in arms
against their colonial overlords. The Nama joined the insurrection and the authorities did
not regain control even after six months of trying. Over 100 German settlers and soldiers
died in the uprising. Historians now consider events that followed to constitute the first
genocide of the twentieth century.
Lieutenant General Lothar von Trotha was furnished with a contingent
of 14,000 soldiers and tasked to put down the rebellion. The governor general of the
territory was then Rudolph Goering -the father of Herman Goering, Hitler's right hand man.
Lothar von Trotha was a generation ahead of his time and his kind of thinking was to
become government policy under the Third Reich. He argued that the Herero must be
destroyed as a people and he did not wince at the murder of women or children. At the end
of it all, 100,000 Nama and Herero were killed. The survivors were herded in concentration
camps where unspeakable things happened. The Herero fared very badly and 80% of her people
perished. The population of the Nama diminished by 35-50%.
Windhoek, the capital of 165,000 people is the only true city in the
country. For those traveling to more remote regions, this is where you settle practical
matters. The positive aspects of the German period can be seen in the charming style of
older buildings in the city. Places of interest in the city include the State Museum,
State Archives, and the Namibia Crafts Centre. The Dan Viljoen Game Park lies 24 Km west
of Windhoek on the gentle hills of Khoma Hochland. In this resort you find ostriches,
baboons, zebras and over 200 species of birds. The Waterburg Plateau Park, located 230 km
from Windhoek is popular with weekenders. This extensive mountain wilderness is home to
cheetah, leopard, kudu, giraffe, and white rhino.
Etosha National Park is what brings wildlife lovers to Namibia. The
park is comparable in size and diversity of species with the best in Africa. The unusual
terrain of Etosha holds savanna grassland, dense brush and woodland. But it is the Etosha
Pan, a depression that sometimes holds water and covers 5,000 sq km, that is the heart of
park. The perennial springs around the pan, attract many birds and land animals in the dry
winter months. The effect of this background is magical and some of the best wildlife
photographs have been taken here.
There are 144 mammal species in the park and elephants are
particularly abundant. Some other interesting wildlife here includes giraffe, leopard,
cheetah, jackal, blue wildebeest, gemsbok and black rhino. The birding is great at Etosha
and over 300 bird species have been recorded. You will get best value by spending at least
three days here. There are excellent accommodation facilities at the three rest camps of
Namutoni, Halali and Okaukuejo. The best time to see animals is between May and September,
when water draws them in huge numbers to the edge of the pan. Etosha is 400 km to the
north of Windhoek by road.
Fish River Canyon is unrivalled in Africa and only the Grand Canyon in
the U.S in larger. The Canyon runs for 160 km and reaches a width of 27 km and depth of
550 m. But size alone does not explain the appeal of the canyon. You experience incredible
views at various points along the rim. Adventure lovers do not merely come for the views.
Hiking through the canyon is the ultimate endurance adventure for hikers. There is an
established 90 km hiking trail that will take you 4-5 days to cover.
The trail ends at Ai-Ais hot spring resort where you can unwind. You
are allowed to hike between early May and end of September. The hike is quite strenuous
and needless to say, you must be physically fit. The authorities disbelieve the capacity
of most people to undertake the hike and will actually insist on seeing a medical
certificate of fitness before allowing you to start off. Fish River Canyon is 580 km to
the south of Windhoek.
The Skeleton Coast has been the graveyard of seafarers and whales and
deserves that morbid name. The problem is the dense fogs. And woe to the ship wreck
survivor who expects respite onshore! Ahead is the Namib Desert, one of the driest and
most unwelcoming places. Adventure travelers love trekking along the coastline as they
enjoy the stark beauty of the area. To the south at Cape Cross, you find a seal colony
carrying tens of thousands of seals. The Skeleton Coast Park covers 16,400 sq km and
begins at 355 km northwest of Windhoek.
The Portuguese explorer Diego Cao reached this part of the world in
the year 1486. He is probably one of the people whose experiences discouraged Europeans
from venturing ashore until the arrival of the Germans 400 years later. Further south is
the Namib-Naukluft National Park, a vast wilderness covering 50,000 sq km. The landscape
is very diverse and covers mountain outcrops, majestic sand dunes, and deep cut gorges.
For really spectacular dunes, the Sossusvlei area is unsurpassed. Here you have dunes
rising to 300 m! The orange tint giants extend as far as the horizon and the area has an
unreal, unforgettable atmosphere.
To the northeast of the country, the well-watered Kavango and Caprivi
Strip region offers an unspoilt wilderness suitable for rugged game viewing and camping.
The area also promises a feast for bird lovers. Game reserves in the area include: Kaudom,
Caprivi, Mahango, Mudumu and Mamili. Poachers did great damage to wildlife during the
years of the civil war in neighbouring Angola. Animal numbers are however building up
rapidly. Some of the wildlife in the region includes leopard, elephant, buffalo, cheetah,
lion and various antelope species. The Caprivi Reserve falls in an area of swamps and
flood plains. Here you have an opportunity to partake fishing, hiking, game viewing
safaris and river trips in traditional mokoro boats.
In Namibia you can enjoy up to 300 days of sunshine. The coast is
temperate and thermometers run between 5C-25C. Inland, daytime temperatures range from
20C-34C, but can rise to 40C in the north and south of the country. Winter nights can be
quite cold and frost occurs over large parts of the country. The rains inland fall in
summer (November-April) and are heaviest in the Caprivi region. Rains do not much affect
travel, but beware of flash floods in the vicinity of riverbeds. The best time to travel
is over the dry months of March to October, when it is easier to see animals at
waterholes. It is best to avoid the Namib Desert and Etosha between December and March
when it can get unbearably hot.
You can get by wearing light cottons and linens in summer. Over winter
nights and mornings, you need heavier cottons, warmer wraps and sweaters. Comfortable
walking shoes are essential, as the ground gets very hot. Some useful stuff to pack
includes: camera, binoculars, sunglasses, sun hats, sunscreen and mosquito repellant. Be
ready for dusty conditions and carry your clothing, equipment and supplies in dust proof
bags. Do not be tempted to buy items made of ivory. You may not be allowed to carry them
through customs at home. And it also good that you do not encourage the trade in ivory
products that keeps poachers busy.
By Andrew Muigai.
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