The Namib Desert
The Namib Desert is widely considered the oldest desert in the world having been in existence for over 40 million years. It has been virtually unchanged for about two million years. A massive expanse of perpetually moving dunes and gravel plains stretch along the 600 miles of coastline where the desert meets the South Atlantic Ocean.
Most of the sand dunes are linear but there are several ‘crescent’ dunes closer to the coast with the ones at Sossusvlei being particularly noteworthy. In fact, if there is one place in the Namib Desert you should not leave without seeing, it is Sossusvlei. Despite its huge popularity, the sense of vast emptiness and solitude can never be overwhelmed even during the peak season.
While the Namib Desert is what gives the country its name, it is by no means confined to Namibia’s borders. Part of the desert spills into South Africa’s Cape Province and its northern end extends into south Angola. With seasonal rivers suddenly bursting into the desert landscape every now and then, they add to a rich and complex ecosystem that plays host to a wide array of fauna and flora.
Evidence of human settlement in this expansive desert dates thousands of years back. Nowhere is this more apparent than the numerous rock paintings, pottery, tools and stone circles unearthed over the past century or so. The best known rock paintings are at Twyfelfontein and Brandberg.
Part of the central area of the Namib Desert’s falls within the Namib Naukluft Park, the third largest national park in Africa at more than 19,000 square miles. The Naukluft Mountains within the park are a sanctuary for the Hartmann’s zebra. The park’s key attractions include Sandwich Harbour, hiking and the 4WD trails.
Hiking in the mountains is particularly exhilarating if you are keen on seeing birdlife. Since the mountains are bordered to the north by Damaraland and to the south by the Karoo, bird species often sighted here include Karoo lark, Herero chat, lesser honey guide, warbler, owlet, canary, hornbill and rock runner.
The valleys in the Southern Namib region of Sperrgebiet experience some of the fastest wind speeds recorded on the planet. Other interesting destinations in the Namib Desert include Fish River Canyon, Cape Cross, Luderitz, Kolmanskop, Skeleton Coast, Orange River and the Namib Rand Reserve.