A Land Of Contrasts
The Namib-Naukluft National Park is a definite contender for any travel bucket list, thanks to its fame as Africa’s largest, and the world’s fourth largest National Park.
This must-see destination comprises pieces of Africa’s most enigmatic landscapes patched together to create one of Namibia’s most spectacular and expansive conservation areas.
This is what we love about this incredible destination:
The history of Namib-Naukluft National Park spans more than 100 years and its evolution has been as gradual and progressive as that of nature itself.
It all started with a small park simply called Game Reserve No3, established in 1907. As time wore on, this protected area expanded to include surrounding tracts of land, including:
- Sandwich Harbour (1941)
- Kuiseb Canyon (1956)
- Swakop River Valley (1956)
- Welwitschia Plains (1956)
This union became known as the Namib Desert Park, but it wasn’t done expanding yet. It soon grew to include Diamond Area No 2, comprising Sossusvlei and Deadvlei, in 1979. The resulting 49 768 km2 wilderness area was renamed the Namib-Naukluft National Park in the same year.
In short, this steady progress has resulted in the formation of a massive playground for nature lovers and adventure seekers from across the globe, providing a one-stop destination to showcase Namibia’s staggering beauty and diversity.
There’s So Much To Explore
With so many diverse areas spread across such a large area, there’s no end to the fascinations in store when you visit Namib-Naukluft National Park.
It’s a wonderfully picturesque destination, equally beloved by photographers eager for that once in a lifetime shot, and millennials hoping to set their Instagram feeds ablaze with scenic selfies.
Although there’s a lot to choose from when visiting such a huge park, these are some of the standout features of the Namib Naukluft:
- Sesriem Canyon
Right at the entrance to the park, you’ll experience your first encounter with history and nature in one. The Sesriem Canyon, earned its name from the six (ses) lengths of hide rope (riems) used to harvest water by the settlers who first discovered it.
These early visitors to the area would tie these ropes together to try and lower vessels for harvesting the water from the bottom of this 30m-deep canyon. Eventually, they cut their losses and found a way to walk to the bottom, effectively establishing a route for us to enjoy today.
It’s fascinating to think that these old timers once walked the same path while hiking down the canyon to reach the pools.
The watery depths of Sesriem Canyon rely heavily on rains. Yet, this creates a sense of anticipation wondering whether you’ll come across this refreshing end to your exertions when you reach the bottom.
- The Naukluft Mountains
Towering over the eastern reaches of the Park, the Naukluft Mountains are an impressive landmark featuring rocky slopes and high plateaus adorned with little more than a few sparse bushes.
At their feet, lush pastures flow across the land, creating a significant habitat for birds and animals. They’re the perfect place to enjoy a two-in-one hiking experience with a chance to see a wide variety of creatures spread across two environments.
Hartmann’s zebra, rock hyraxes and klipspringer frequent the sparse mountain slopes, while the valleys and plains are home to gemsbok, kudu, klipspringer, springbok and ostrich as well as numerous bird species. These include hamerkop, brubru and other, water-loving species.
There are over 200 different types of birds recorded here, including showstoppers like Rüppell’s parrot, rosy-faced lovebirds and Monteiro’s hornbill. Look up and you’re bound to see lanner falcons, black eagles, augur buzzards, and pale changing goshawks soaring on the air currents in search of their next meal.
The Sossusvlei is one of the main events of the Namib-Naukluft National Park. It’s awash with huge orange dunes and the eerie landscapes that belong in any photographic portfolio.
It’s a drainage basin for the Tsauchab River and occasionally springs back to life during rainy times, rendering it unrecognizable when compared to its usually dry, salty appearance.
Some of Namibia’s most versatile desert-adapted animals and arthropods thrive in this unpredictable environment, including the iconic oryx and the rare brown hyena.
If you’re exceptionally lucky, you might spot Cape fox, polecats, aardwolf, and aardvark emerging to forage as the sun sinks over the dunes. There’s also a lot of enjoyment to be had from keeping a lookout for smaller denizens like the cartwheeling spider and various desert-adapted geckos.
- The Dunes Of Namib Naukluft
These sandy monoliths provide the perfect grandstand for surveying the lie of the land while proving your athletic prowess.
Some of these ever-shifting challenges are among the highest dunes in the world, and they’re located in the world’s oldest desert too. That gives you bragging rights to two accomplishments.
The largest dunes in this area include:
- Big Daddy
- Dune 7
- Dune 45
Bring water, sun protection and a big match temperament if you want to succeed at these huge challenges.
The Deadvlei is the site of a once abundant plain where camel thorn trees stretched up to the heavens in all directions. Since then, the Tsauchab River has chosen a different path, leaving the trees to shrivel in the Namibian heat.
The most interesting part is that due to the high salt content of the dry air, the trees never decayed. Instead, they’re fossilized in place providing a haunting snapshot of times as they once were.
This clay pan is characterized by these 500-year-old fossilized trees that reach up to the clear azure Namibian skies in contrast to the backdrop of white clay and sienna dunes.
Every photographer craves to catch a shot of these incredible scenes in the near-perfect light of this area.
- Tsauchab River
The ephemeral Tsauchab River is at the heart of all this scenic drama, and it’s still there, cutting a swathe across the Namib Desert deep into the sand dune sea yet never reaching the ocean.
Here, camelthorn trees still thrive, making use of their deep root system to harvest the sparse underground water until the rains eventually arrive. The name Tsauchab comes from the Nama language and refers to the river of many Salsola bushes, commonly known as ganna, that can be found all along the river.
On rare occasions, the Namib Naukluft enjoys torrential rain, that always seem to arrive in the nick of time to restore the river and refresh the landscape. When this happens, this area fills with life overnight. Dormant lilies erupt from the once-dry soil, acacias develop a sheen of green leaves, and animals and birds flock to enjoy the abundance.
Sometimes, the Naukluft flows for months, becoming a place of great abundance for aquatic birds, while just over the horizon, the timeless desert remains as dry and desolate as ever.
In a good year, you could spot crimson-breasted shrikes, dune larks, grey go-away birds, African marsh warblers, and grey herons.
- Welwitschia Trail
The north of the Park offers a chance to amble back in time along the Welwitschia Trail where you’ll discover another one of the area’s most amazing species.
Welwitschia plants can live for thousands of years, standing out in the bleak landscapes with their long, curling, strap like leaves spread all around them. The most aged specimens are clearly marked and there are beacons to guide you toward them.
Fascinating Contrasts and Fabulous Fauna and Flora
The Namib Naukluft blows your mind with its ever-changing scenery boasting lush abundance interspersed with stark granite inselbergs and glowing desert sands.
It’s a place of endless surprises, great and small, that lure you ever onward beyond the next dune toward an endless, shifting shimmering horizon.
The area offers a chance to discover Namibia’s most unforgettable scenery, plants, animals, and birds. It the perfect place to enjoy almost everything the country has to offer.
You can do and see it all on guided hikes and drives, as well as balloon rides at sunrise that showcase the Namib Naukluft in all its glory.
The Never-Ending Appeal Of Namib-Naukluft National Park
The Namib-Naukluft National Park tops our wish list of Namibian destinations for you to enjoy on your travels. If you don’t have a lot of time to spend in Namibia, or if it’s your first visit, this is the place to start.
If you’ve been there before, go again. You’re bound to come across something new this time.
Now, all that remains is to get your journey started at Arebbusch Travel Lodge when you arrive in Windhoek.
Please Note: The details shared herein were correct at the time of publishing. However, with time some of this information may change. We recommend confirming information with suppliers prior to making final travel arrangements. If you do happen to find an issue with any information we’ve shared here, please feel free to contact us so that we can make the relevant changes.