From Oranjemund to Walvis Bay

Photo 11 by Nicole Grünert

From Oranjemund to Walvis Bay

A geological journey through southern Namibia

24 May 2021 | Tourism

The only good thing that I experienced as part of the corona-virus is that I eventually had enough time for a trip, which has always been on my to-do-list: travelling from Oranjemund all the way to Walvis Bay and enjoying the natural wonders.

By Nicole Grünert


After a good rain season the country looks fresh and green, the dams – particularly in the South – are well-filled and the rivers have been in full flood. After a tough drive south down to Oranjemund, I am taking it easy on the way back.

Day 1
Taking a scenic Drive
Standing on the bridge that spans Orange River at Oranjemund, I am reminded of all the diamonds, which have come down the river underneath my feet. These precious stones, which have contributed to Namibia’s mineral wealth originated in volcanic pipes in the central parts of the subcontinent. Exposed by erosion, the stones were eventually swept along by the Orange River transferring them from the interior of South Africa down towards the Atlantic Ocean. Just imagine this incredible journey over hundreds of kilometres, down the Augrabies Falls until these valuable stones reached the shores of the Atlantic. There they were picked up by the strong Benguela Current and deposited along the Namibian shoreline or embedded in sediment on the ocean floor. No surprise the Namibian diamonds are amongst the best and hardest in the world, if they are able to survive such a trip!
The road between Oranjemund and Rosh Pinah has been tarred for a while now and is accessible to the public. The scenic drive through this remote part of Namibia takes you past abandoned diamond mines, which are also known for their fossil finds. Some 23 million years ago, the Orange was home to early forms of rhinoceros, elephant, crocodile, warthog and many other mammals – this is proven by fossil evidence. Fossil sculls and other body remains are exhibited in the Geological Museum at the Geological Survey in Windhoek, a place worthwhile visiting.
Unfortunately I do not have the time to take the ferry at Sendlingsdrift to visit and discover the Richtersveld Park on the South African side. In the evening I sleep over in the quaint mining town of Rosh Pinah, where numerous guesthouses cater for all types of traveller.

Day 2
Majestic Dolerite Canyon
Today I am still heading eastwards. This lovely stretch of road along the Orange from Sendlingsdrift to Aussenkehr is one of the most scenic roads the south has to offer. Numerous hills next to the river invite for a quick climb to enjoy the spectacular view
(Photo 1). Many sand banks and beaches make me stop for a cooling bath in the river. Readers will remember a previous canoe trip of Chloe Durr, who went downriver – I now drive upriver. The geology is absolutely spectacular with age-old rock formations impressively dating back to nearly 2000 million years along the way (Photo 2). The Fish River is still in flood as I cross the cement bridge near its conflux with the Orange (Photo 3). Too soon I reach Aussenkehr with its green vineyards as far as the eye can see. I book in at the Norotshama River Resort, where I take a short, but pleasant rest in my bungalow overlooking the river, before undertaking a sundowner-drive into the Dolerite Canyon. What a spectacular scenery with rugged rocky outcrops towering above, having formed some 180 million years ago (Photo 4) on account of subvolcanic activity.
I retire after a great meal, enjoying a good nights’ sleep soothed by the sounds of the flowing river.

Day 3
Giant groove created by Nature
Now I am saying good bye to the Orange River as I head north towards the Fish River Canyon. The road is an extra-ordinary drive over the plains as I proceed to the Ai-Ais junction. As a result of the floods, the resort is closed for renovations until the beginning of May.

The heavy floods caused by recent good rain have caused the great Fish River to leave its banks and damage the infrastructure of Ai-Ais – a common occurrence during better rain seasons.
I turn north-east to Hobas, the main entrance to the Fish River Canyon. Although, I have been at the canyon many times before, I am always stunned by the impressive sights from the many viewpoints, thinking of geological forces the tectonic shifts and pressure as well as erosion, which have created this huge natural notch in the earth’s crust (Photo 5). During a walk from the main viewpoint along the edge towards Hiker’s Point, I even find evidence of ancient life forms. Stromatolites already occurred here more than 500 million years ago, long before the canyon was formed (Photo 6). These small little remains of cyano bacteria were the dominant life form of those early days and greatly contributed to the formation of oxygen that we breathe today.
As the Fish River Canyon is THE attraction in the South, traveller can choose between a wide assortment of lodges and campsites. I decide to pitch my tent at Hobas, which is the nearest camp to the canyon.

Day 4
Backroads in the land of the Nama
I get up early in the morning as I need to be on the road early so as to take on the long drive northwards to the Naukluft Mountains. Along the way there are several opportunities for quick stops, such as the lime kiln at Holoog not far away from Hobas on the C12 road. Unfortunately time does not allow for a detour neither to the Naute Dam nor to the newly constructed Neckartal Dam, which is still overflowing. You would be well-advised to make the time available, as it is still running over a mere year after the conclusion of the construction project – not even the greatest optimist expected this miracle!
Instead I decide to take the shortest way via Goageb and Bethanie. This is a road less travelled and thus a unique experience. In Bethanie I visit the Lutheran Church and cemetery as well as the Schmelen Haus. It is the oldest stone house in the country, erected at about 1815 by missionary Heinrich Schmelen.
I follow the C14 road along the Schwarzrand Escarpment (Black Mountains), which arises to the east. Eventually, after a long drive, I reach my next destination, Büllspoort Guest Farm at the south-eastern edge of the Naukluft. A nice cold beer and friendly hosts are already waiting for me. It is a perfect ending to a day after a long drive.

Day 5
Nature’s own transport Sled
For this day I have set my sight on the mighty Naukluft Mountains (Photo 7), one of Geology’s most complicated features in Namibia.
The carbonate rocks – dolomite and limestone –, which mainly comprise this massif, were already formed some 700 million years ago, but not where you find them today! Over millions of years they were transported over a distance of at least 78 kilometres from an area where the Gamsberg is situated today.
This is what geologists call a nappe complex. The transfer occurred on a particular kind of bedrock, which acted as a lubricant for this incredible movement. And this amazing rock still exists today! I drive to the office of NWR in the Naukluft Park, where you pay a reasonable access fee and start following the route of the 8-day hike. Only a few kilometres down the riverbed, I get to a brownish distinct rock layer, the base dolomite layer (Photo 8).
Geologists have worked out that this rock acted as the slippery surface on top of which the massive rock structure was able to move to the point where the Naukluft is situated today – absolutely amazing! After this hard core geology lesson, I decide to have a refreshing bath in one of the crystal clear pools (Photo 9), which the Naukluft is also well-known for. While enjoying a little picnic, I realise that I am no longer alone. Resident baboons are carefully watching me, hoping for some morsels when I am done. Always be alert of baboons as they are quick to adapt to human behaviour and are thus able to exploit every opportunity to steal edibles.
I take a long time to fall asleep that night as I am kept wondering how this massive rock and mountain structure was able to “travel” over such a distance, as is the case in the Naukluft.

Day 6
A geological Wonderland
After a sumptuous breakfast I am back on the road, but that does not stop me from enjoying a piece of the famous Apfelstrudel that is available at Solitaire in the Namib Desert. Heading northwest, the Great Escarpment rises to the East. This massive ridge reaches over 2000 metres in places and divides the Namib plains from the central highlands. I am spoilt for time, which allows for several stops along the way.
Thus I come across the famous fairy circles. The origin of these circular structures, which are devoid of any vegetation, seemed to have been explained by scientists, who believed that they were caused by an underground presence of termites. But only recently researchers of the University of Pretoria and the University of St. Petersburg came to the conclusion that not termites, but poisonous euphorbia plants have caused the occurrence of these features. Personally I subscribe to the latter theory.
My next stop is just a few kilometres further north – the Tropic of Capricorn. At this imagined line the sun stands vertical at its most extreme on the 23rd of each December – the December solstice. It is then the longest day and shortest night of the Southern Hemisphere.
Another thing is remarkable here. Red-coloured sediment in the distance, capped by a hard layer of white Calcrete catches my eye (Photo 10).

These are remnants of the Tsondab Sandstone, the precursor of the present Namib Desert. These rock formations, which are visible at several sites along the route, give evidence of an even older sand-sea, which covered the coastal plains some 20 to 16 million years ago.
I pass through the geologically intriguing Gaub Canyon and see the Gamsberg Mountain rising in the east, a replica of the South African Table Mountain that reaches an elevation of 2347 metres (Photo 11). Eventually I enter the Namib Desert section of the Namib-Naukluft Park. Several viewpoints invite for a stop. I decide to take a breath-taking 360° view of the scenery, which even exposes the famous Karpfenkliff.
This area in the Kuiseb Canyon was the refuge of two German geologists, Henno Martin and Hermann Korn, who hid in this isolated desert region for more than two years during World War II, in order to escape South African internment. In his book “The Sheltering Desert”, Henno Martin later impressively depicted survival in this extreme environment.
An endless drive over the gravel plains lies ahead of me, but there is always something to discover. I see Zebra, Oryx and Ostrich in the distance. Towards the south I can even distinguish the longitudinal dunes of the Great Sand Sea (a UNESCO heritage site). Closer to the coast granite hills with spectacular granite weathering rise. Fortunately I have a valid permit allowing me to visit the Vogelfederberg, some 60 kilometres east of the harbour town of Walvis Bay. These artistic rock sculptures and cavities have been caused by the influence of fog and wind over hundreds of years.

The Kuiseb Delta
Just outside Walvis Bay a strong south-westerly wind is blowing, pushing sand over what is in the meantime a tar road. Little Barchan dunes have formed to join the coastal dune belt, which extends between Walvis Bay and Swakopmund. Wetlands with Flamingos and Pelicans surrounded by dune sand remind me to take a detour to the Walvis Bay
Lagoon.
The lagoon is not only famous for its bird life, but also geologically very interesting. Situated in the lee of the Kuiseb Delta, the lagoon is affected by the process of long-shore drift and thus gradually sanding up. The sand spit at Pelican Point gives evidence of the constant strong Benguela Current, transporting sand northwards and depositing the sediment along the coast. These are unfortunate circumstances for the harbour of Walvis Bay, one of the economic backbones of the Namibian economy. The channels leading into the harbour have to be constantly cleared of huge amounts of sediment.
South of the lagoon, the Walvis Bay Saltworks are situated. Fresh ocean water is pumped into evaporation pans and highly concentrated brine develops. This brine is then channelled into concentration pans were precipitation of salt takes place (Photo 12). The salt crystals are harvested, cleaned and shipped mostly to South Africa, where this mineral is used in the chemical industry.
Slowly but surely the sun is setting over the ocean in the West (Photo 13). My trip extraordinaire has lead me from the Atlantic Ocean at Oranjemund through rocky and spectacular landscapes, along the beautiful Orange River, via the impressive Fish River Canyon and through the water-rich Naukluft Mountains, before turning towards the Namib Desert and thus back to the ocean at Walvis Bay.



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