The Namib Desert is often referred to as the world’s oldest desert and it is from it that Namibia gets its name. This desert runs from south west Angola, northern South Africa and into much of the western part of Namibia, forming part of Namib-Naukluft National Park, the largest Game reserve in Africa.
Namib desert Facts
The name “Namib” is of Nama origin and means “vast place“. It is considered to be the oldest desert in the world having survived more than 50 million years! Although the desert has one of the most harsh weather conditions in the world, there are several plants and animals that are entirely endemic to this desert. Plants grow on the rocky outcrops, sand dunes, on the river banks and on the gravel plains.
Namib Desert Africa is home to over 600 species of plants from the southern section that receives winter rains. South Namib desert vegetation extends into the northern part of the Great Karoo to the banks of Orange river and the coastal town of Luderitz.
From the central part of the Namib Desert are 400 species of plants growing to the coast of the Atlantic Ocean in the west and to the escarpment in the east. Much of the vegetation in the central part grows in the valley of Kuiseb (from the south) and Huab rivers (in the north). It also in the central section of the desert that you’ll find Namib Naukluft Park as well as the Naukluft Mountains.
Some of the species from the northern part of the Namib Desert are more than 1,000 although the north is the driest part of the desert. It however receives fog that provides reliable moisture and as with the central Namib area, a fog belt can stretch some 20 and 30 km inland and on occasions further inland.
Erratic annual rainfall compounds the regional aridity. Rain can only fall over the Namib Desert when warm, moist air is blown onto the eastern side of the African subcontinent by south-east trade winds. It is highly seasonal and coincides with weak South Atlantic anticyclone activity.
Coastal fog regulates the climatic extremes. Desert rainfall is sporadic and unpredictable. Fog isn’t. It is a most reliable source of moisture and although the amount of water captured from a blanket of fog is relatively small, plants and animals have adapted to the amounts on offer. But like rain, it is life-giving.
Attractions in Namib Desert
The Namib-Naukluft National Park extends over a large part of the Namib Desert and is the largest game reserve in Africa. The park is a combination of the Namib Desert Park and the Naukluft Mountain Zebra Park as well as sections of the Diamond Area. The park area is approximately 50,000sq km with the main attractions being Sossusvlei, Sandwich Harbour and the Naukluft hiking, Swakop and Kuiseb River Canyons
Due to its inaccessibility, the park is rarely visited except by those tourists who are enthusiastic about nature, desert plants and the undulating sand dunes. Access to the park is by the dust roads except for 60 km murram stretch from the Sesriem gate to Sossusvlei. Alternatively there are Namibia flights from Windhoek, some 280km away with the airstrip in the central part of the desert or Swakopmund and Walvis Bay at the north end of the desert.
The Naukluft Mountain Park was initially created as a sanctuary for the Hartmann’s mountain zebras. The area is extremely beautiful with an interesting long history of colonial times by the Germans. The Naukluft Mountains were the base of Hendrik Witbooi, an important player in the history of Namibia, who terrorized the German Colonizers from his well protected mountain strongholds.
The prominent attraction in the Namib Desert is the famous Sossusvlei. High orange sand dunes surround vivid white salt pans, creating a fascinating landscape you don’t want to miss on Namibia safari holidays. Trekking on one of the dunes or walking to dead vlei and taking a 4WD trail on the sand dunes is an adventure in itself.
On the coast Sandwich Harbour is a paradise for birders and nature lovers visiting Namibia. The lagoon is fed by fresh water and is a sanctuary for large numbers of coastal birds. It is only accessible by 4X4 vehicles since you need to cross the large Namib Desert sand dunes that stretch to the Atlantic Ocean coast. Fishing in the lagoon is allowed from April to early January although heavily monitored.
Visitors to Swakopmund should take time to visit the Welwitschia trail. This drive through the Namib Desert takes a few hours and visits the Moon Landscape the Welwitschia Plains and the Namib desert oasis of Goanikontes. The route has several numbered beacons which identify areas of particular interest, a map and brochure as well as permits to visit the area should be obtained from the MET office in Swakopmund.
Namibia’s tourists to the desert can find ample accommodation in the Namib Desrt with choices ranging from the rustic safari camps to luxury desert lodges.
There are campsites at Kuiseb Bridge, Homeb, Mirabib, Bloedkoppie, Ganab, Vogelfederberg or Kriess-se-Russhould prove to be very exhilarating. All of these camp sites offer very basic facilities but a camping permit is required if you intend to spend the night under the desert sky.
Some of the classified lodges and camps in Namibian Desert include Agama River Camp, Betesda Rest Camp, Desert Camp, Desert Homestead, Hoodia Desert Lodge, Kulala Desert Lodge, Kulala Widerness Camp, Le Mirage Desert Lodge and Spa, Little Kulala, Little Sossus Lodge, Moon Mountain Lodge, Mountain Homestead, Namib Desert Lodge, Namib-Naukfalt Lodge, Sesriem Campsite, Sossus Dune Lodge, Sossusvlei Desert Lodge, Sossusvlei Lodge and Weltervrede Rest Camp.