The fascinating Bulls Party on the Guest farm Ameib - Photo: Chloe Durr
14 December 2020 | Tourism
Christmas holidays are fast approaching and for Namibians this usually means spending an extended period at the coast.
Day 1: The Garden Route of Namibia
140 kilometers south-west of Windhoek, along the C26, lies Gamsberg Mountain. Alongside it you find the highest and longest pass in Namibia and arguably one of the most scenic routes in Namibia. It's hardly surprising that this road is often referred to as “The Garden Route of Namibia ' with its limitless views of Gamsberg Mountain, the Kuiseb River and the Valley of a Thousand Hills as you maneuver the snaking 1000 meter descent towards the desert floor.
Gamsberg Pass cuts through “The Great Escarpment ' - a major topographical feature of Southern Africa - which in Namibia forms the eastern boundary of the Namib Desert and separates the coastal region from the interior Khomas Hochland.
If the idea of camping near the escarpment sounds tempting, consider taking the D1278 gravel off-road (a 17 kilometer adventure on its own - 4x4 required) and venture into the Gamsberg Nature Reserve to explore the many hiking trails, enjoy the abundant birdlife and the staggering stargazing opportunities in this unbelievably secluded area.
The Gamsberg Nature Reserve is a fantastic location for hiking enthusiasts and bird lovers alike. However, if you plan on summiting Gamsberg Mountain, this adventure is best left for winter months, as the notoriously steep pass in harsh desert conditions is a challenge under the summer sun. Alternatively take advantage of the early hours of the morning (when it is cool enough to hike) and camp at Weneer Panoramic Camp or Waterval Camp.
A unique attraction of the Gamsberg area is the unparalleled stargazing opportunities. Identified as one of the top locations for astronomical observations in the southern hemisphere, the Gamsberg area is home to a variety of lodges and camps, which offer stargazing activities and state of the art observatories which will keep you gazing into- and dreaming of the galaxies beyond. Most notably, Hakos Astro Guest Farm & Campsite offers a fantastic planet walk, which is both informative and fun, as is Rooisand Desert Ranch & Campsite, located further down the pass.
Days 2 & 3: A Fork in the Road
There is something liberating about traveling without a plan, as I did for this trip - liberated to explore without restriction after a year of suffocating constriction!
Once you reach the end of the C26, the ancient sands of the Namib Desert begin to engulf you. At this point you can either turn left and explore the mystical allure of Sossusvlei and the many attractions that Sesriem has to offer, or you turn right and venture towards the lesser explored outback of the Namib-Naukluft Park as you drive towards the coast on the C14 gravel road.
Breakfast at Hanging Rock
A fantastic spot to enjoy your morning coffee before entering the barren Namib-Naukluft Park is the Overhanging Cliff picnic spot - also named The Grotto (4x4 required) - located just north of the C14 as you follow a bumpy track (S23.28535° E15.83560°). This shady spot is a favored hideout for local Oryx, so don't be surprised when they join you for a cup of coffee!
Namib-Naukluft Park is a 49800 km² ecologically protected area in the west of Namibia, bordering Dorob Park in the North, the Sperrgebiet in the South, and NamibRand in the East. The expansive park has many attractions, including Sossusvlei, Sesriem, the Namib Desert, Sandwich Harbor and the Naukluft Mountains - it is the ultimate destination for an adventurous holiday.
The Kuiseb Pass along the C14 marks your entry into the park and is a fantastic introduction to the geological wonders that are about to unfold. The road carves through the layered rocky terrain, following the barren bedrock of the (mostly) ephemeral Kuiseb River and offers various gravel off roads (permit required) to access the Kuiseb Canyon viewpoints.
Exploring the Outback
The lesser-explored part of the Namib-Naukluft Park are the vast open spaces known as the Aruvlei Plains, which lead to the Atlantic Ocean and the go-to Namibian seaside holiday destination, Swakopmund. Instead of taking the fastest route to Swakop, I urge you to spend a couple of days exploring this desolate part of the world - the sense of freedom you experience is addictive and there is a lot to see in this apparently barren landscape.
In summer months the desert heat can be daunting, but the purpose here is not to engage into extended camping in the first place. Use the early mornings and late afternoons to explore the many hiking trails while following the 4x4 routes during the heat of the day, seeking out the hidden gems, admiring the landscapes and searching for game from the comfort of your air-conditioned vehicle. In the evening you can choose among the rustic campsites spread throughout the park.
The campsites in the vicinity of Blutkuppe Mountain (S22.83927° E15.7743°) off the C28 must be among the best, not only because of the dramatic location and towering granite mountain that lights up an impossible blood-orange at sundown, but also because of the close proximity to nearby attractions such as Hotsas Game Hide, Tinkas Plains and a host of 4x4 routes, hiking trails, nature walks, German war graves as well as mysterious ruins and even rock pools, providing that rain has fallen.
Other notable campsites worth exploring include Homeb (Kuiseb Riverbed), Tinkas (Swakop River valley - which has great hiking trails and nature walks), Tsumas View, Mirabib and the infamous Rock Arch - an absolute must if you are driving a 4x4.
Day 4: Moving Westward
After spending a day or two immersed in the outback it’s time to head westward along the C28, to explore the last bit of the Namib-Naukluft Park - at least for this trip. At this point you may decide that you have had enough of dusty bundu-bashing and choose to join the masses - so to speak - in Swakopmund. But if you too have caught the adventure bug, there is more to this region than you might expect.
A popular tourist attraction and Swakopmund day trip is the Welwitschia Drive, a 4-hour self-drive trip which includes an excursion to the Moon Landscape. The drive is methodically laid out with beacons and an informative brochure to guide you. However, being the intrepid explorer which this trip turned me into, I ventured into the area on my own, without brochures and beacons. I found the Welwitschia Plains by accident and wouldn't have had it any other way.
Welwitschia Mirabilis is a centuries old plant endemic to the Namib Desert in Namibia and Southern Angola. While Welwitschias certainly are a marvel, especially when you consider the fact that some specimens are upwards of 15000 years old, they are less of a rarity in Namibia than one would expect. You would be forgiven for having driven past one a couple of times on this journey mistaking its flattened appearance for a dead succulent run over by a 4x4, but up close they are far more beautiful than they first appear and seeing them in numbers on the Welwitschia Plain, certainly grabs your attention.
Much of Namibia reminds you of the Moon - isolated, dry, desolate and intimidatingly lonely. But never before have I seen that description as clearly as when I stood at the dramatic viewpoint and mountainous abyss of the Moon Landscape (S22.69540° E14.82430°) along the D1991 gravel road. The landscape could not be more alien with deep erosion furrows that hide any sign of life for miles on end.
I spent the rest of the day exploring the Swakop riverbed (4x4 area - non-negotiable) and was relieved to find life at Goanikontes Oasis Rest Camp - a fantastic place to call home for the night.
Day 5: A Bull's Party
After days of lonely exploration in some of the most exquisitely fascinating geological landscapes, getting stuck in deep sand and exploring scary ruins in a lifeless riverbed, I decided that I had had enough of the dust and I made my way back to the B2.
There is a reason for Spitzkoppe being on the travel bucket list for most visitors to Namibia. The sharp granite peaks, hidden rock pools, secluded bolder campsites as well as the famous rock arch and the many hiking trails and rock climbing opportunities truly are exceptional. If you have time, include a visit to Spitzkoppe in your itinerary. You will pass its turnoff (D1918/D1930) en route to Ameib Guest Farm and Camping.
164km north-east of Swakopmund lies Ameib Guesthouse and Camping - a small family-run establishment at the foot of the Erongo mountains. Ameib is home to some of the most bizarre rock formations in the region. “Bull's Party“ and “Elephant’s Head“ as well as the “Phillips Cave“ (a national monument) are known for San rock art and the “white elephant“ painting.
There is an indescribable serenity about the Ameib farm. Maybe it is the sacred location with the “Rheinische Mission“ station having been located here in 1864 or it is the ancient ancestral history that the farm holds - or both.
Just in time for golden hour I arrived at “Bull's Party“ and after a short walk found myself immersed in a tumble of perfectly round gigantic granite boulders as far as the eye could see. The name is a little misleading as your expectation to find something reminding you of bulls will be disappointed, but the fact remains that the bizarre rock formations are fascinating. In contrast, the nearby towering rock formation called “Elephants Head“, does resemble an elephant’s head. Perhaps it is this bull, which had a party and caused the rock formations at Bull’s Party?
Day 6: The Gift that Keeps on Giving
I arrived at Phillip's Cave just after sunrise (a 40 minute hike from Ameib Campsite) and was immediately humbled by the raw evidence of life in this ancient cave, where stone tools dating back 3500 years BC are found. Before the rock paintings in Brandberg Mountain were revealed, the findings in Phillips Cave were arguably the most valuable evidence of ancestral life in Namibia. Rock paintings line the cave walls and begin to reveal a narrative of life thousands of years ago. Giraffes, ostrich and antelope begin to emerge but by far the most beautiful is the famous painting of the “White Elephant“ that commandeers the wall - there truly is nothing more remarkable than spending time alone in a place as ethereal as this.
To better understand the culture that underlies the beautiful rock paintings of the Phillips Cave, I visited the San Living Museum in the Erongo Mountain Nature Conservancy along the D2315 (75km from Ameib) and it was worth it in every possible way. Other sites and activities worth mentioning in Erongo Mountain Nature Conservancy are Omandumba Rock Art Tour, Ai-Aiba Rock painting Lodge, Erongo Singing Rocks, Ekuta Cave and Paula Cave Rock Paintings to name a few.
Namibia truly is a jewel - a gift that keeps on giving. You could easily spend months traversing the desert plains, climbing mountain peaks, uncovering ancient marvels and geological wonders, in the process quenching one’s thirst for adventure and feeding the soul. As J.R.R. Tolkien once wrote, “Not all those who wander are lost.”