The Namib-Naukluft Park covers a vast area of 49 678 km making it one of Africa’s largest conservation areas. The park protects the oldest desert in the world and is most famous for the towering dunes of Sossusvlei which form the quintessential desert landscape. While much of the park is inaccessible to visitors the Sesriem Canyon, the Welwitschia Trail, Sandwich Harbour, hiking in the Naukluft Mountain and the photographic opportunities at Sossusvlei offer enough attractions to make this one of Namibia’s top travel destinations.
The Namib Desert
The dunes of the Namib have a rich peach colour. The sand is washed down the Orange River from the Kalahari and dumped on the coast by Atlantic waves and strong winds. Rusty iron particles in the sand give it its characteristic colour. The towering dunes are shaped by changing winds and some have been measured to be 325 metres high. The best place to view these dunes is still Sossusvlei. The first 60 km from Seriem can be driven in a sedan vehicle. From the Sossusvlei parking lot you can either walk the last 5km take a shuttle or drive you own 4×4. To get the best experience and photographs you need to catch the golden light of the early morning. The vibrant colour of the dunes contrasts with dark shadows and clear skies. Make sure not to miss the pan next to Sossusvlei Deadvlei. Blackened skeletons of camel thorn trees stand in pale clay and are framed by rusty dunes and blue sky. Deadvlei looks like a surrealist painting and if you are lucky enough to see a hardy Oryx walk past you have the perfect picture. On your way out of Sossusvlei the Sesriem Canyon plunges 30-40 metres and once was the only permanent water source in the area. The Welwitschia Trail takes visitors on a scenic drive through the Namib section east of Swakopmund. The route gives you ample opportunity to inspect the living fossil that is the Welwitschia mirabilis. These curious plants can live for up to 2000 years and are endemic to the Namib Desert. Avid birders 4×4 enthusiasts and photographers love the Sandwich Harbour Lagoon. The lagoon is home to many coastal and fresh water birds and provides photographers and nature lovers with a pristine and scenic landscape. Sandwich Harbour is only accessible in a convoy of 4×4 vehicles and permits need to be acquired from the Ministry of Environment and Tourism MET .
The Naukluft Mountains
Originally established to protect the Hartmann’s mountain zebra the Naukluft section of the park is now a popular hiking destination with fascinating rock formations a variety of wildlife and rock pools to cool down. Apart from the Hartmann’s mountain zebra the Naukluft Mountains are home to gemsbok, kudu, leopard, baboon, steenbok, duiker, klipspringe,r black-backed jackal, bat-eared fox, aardwolf, African wild cat and caracal. Several day hikes provide rewarding walks or real challenges. Serious hikers can take on the Eight Day Trail which is considered one of Africa’s toughest hikes and consists of 120 km of pristine wilderness.
Permits for the Namib-Naukluft Park are available at the Namib-i information centre in Swakopmund or Walivis-i in Walvis Bay. Permits to enter the Sossusvlei gate can be purchased in Sesriem. Sandwich Harbour permit can be obtained from MET offices in Swakopmund, Walvis Bay, Sossusvlei and Windhoek.
Accommodation in the Namib-Naukluft Park is very basic. Several campsites can be booked through the Central Reservations Office in Windhoek. NWR runs one exclusive lodge in Sossusvlei. Outside the gates of Sossuvlei visitors can choose from a variety of exclusive lodges.