Call of the wild
|Night safaris offer more
opportunities for game sightings.
Photos by Mary King
Mary King goes wild on safari in Etosha.
Namibia and many people either draw a blank or recall vaguely a guerrilla war with South
Africa. Few are aware that this country, wedged between the Kalahari desert and the chilly
South Atlantic Ocean, boasts both enormous potential and spectacular beauty. Beyond having
one of Africa' largest game parks, Etosha, Namibia possesses a whimsical array of floral
and faunal oddities-from a plant that has lived 1500 years to surreal desert landscapes
and a coastline shared by flamingos, penguins, seals, elephants and ostriches. It is a
country of extremes, of blistering heat and bitter cold, where the visitor must be
prepared to travel thousands of kilometers through a Daliesque world to witness
attractions that are scattered like rare pearls across this vast land.
The good news, for those who don't already know, is that the war is over. Namibia became
self-governing in 1990 and is a peaceful and easy country to travel in, offering creature
comforts that you would expect to find in Japan and the West. Many visitors to Namibia
simply fly into Windhoek, the capital, and join tours from there but it is more popular,
cheaper and easier to book with one of the adventure tour groups in neighboring South
Africa. A mid-range 16-day tour by minibus (including food and camping equipment) starts
at around 3000 rand (about JY45,000).
|Quiver trees near the Giant's
Having crossed into Namibia from South Africa at Ariemsvlei, the tour group I had joined
followed the main asphalt road to Keetmanshoop. Hardly any traffic passed us on the road,
and our eyes were dazzled by the sharp reflections on the asphalt that threw out mirages
of water. Ant hills, a meter high and more, dotted the scorched red earth, stretching out
to the horizon, and kudu, one of Namibia's most elusive animals, were sightable
occasionally running into the bush. It was sunset by the time we reached our destination,
the Quiver tree Forest and nearby Giants' Playground. The Kokerboom, or quiver tree, is
found only in Namibia and close to the country's border on the South African side. The
tree, which has adapted to the harsh desert environment, grows as high as seven meters and
is characterized by a waxy surface coating, fibrous trunk, spindly branches and pithy
leaves that develop into water containers. This supernatural-looking tree bursts into a
radiant yellow bloom in July and earned its nickname from the Bushmen's use of its hollow
branches for quivers. An eerie silence filled the Giants' Playground where we climbed up
the bizarrely shaped rocks that rested upon each other like an enormous version of
children's building blocks. As we walked through the maze of volcanic rocks that have
cracked and weathered over millions of years, it seemed as though they must have been
arranged purposefully by a playful Goliath.
Game sightings came during our two days in Etosha, which covers an area of 22,270km2.
Winters (June, July and August in the Southern Hemisphere) are cool and dry and this is
the best time to spot game as the animals tend to congregate around the water holes. There
are 114 species of mammals in Etosha, including elephant, black rhino, lion, cheetah,
brown hyena, giraffes and various antelope. A wonderful evening was spent watching animals
around the floodlit water hole at Okaukuejo campsite.
|Etosha offers many chances to spot
Early the next morning we
made our way gradually through the park, keeping our eyes peeled for activity in the bush.
Ostriches, giraffes, elephants and zebras were visible in abundance, as were wildebeest,
gemsbok, springbok and dik dik. Finally, we entered the true rough terrain of the Kaoko
Veld wilderness in search of the nomadic Himba people, one of Africa's last
hunter-gatherer tribes. But the Himba were too elusive for us and the only sign of human
life was that of the Herero people with their scattered kraals of rondavel huts. At
Twyfelfontein we stopped to look at sandstone-rock animal engravings made by Bushmen
between 2000 to 3000 years ago. Then it was on to the wild Spitzkop mountains and the
foothills of what is dubbed the Matterhorn of Namibia, boasting hidden caves and rock
paintings, where we camped for the night under a star-studded sky.
|Kolmanskop is now a ghost town that
has been reclaimed by the sand dunes
Ghosts of the desert
The next day we headed for the coast, to the Cape Cross seal colony with its thousands of
seals. Following the barren Skeleton Coast, a 200km stretch that earned its name due to
its treacherous waters, we entered the German colonial town of Swakopmund. From there, we
drove 25km east to Goantikontes, an oasis nestled in a dramatic moonscape besides the
Swakop River. Here, an area has been created for the sole protection of the rare
Welwitschia plant, referred to as a living fossil, which is unique to Namibia.
Recognizable by its two long and leathery leaves torn into a disheveled tangle of
windblown strips, the oldest surviving specimen is said to be 1500 years old. This
grotesque-looking plant is also unisexual. Changing its gender depending on the demands of
the environment, to produce male or female cones, but never both simultaneously.
|The welwitschia plant is unique to
Continuing through the Namib
Desert, we arrived at Sossusvlei, the world's highest sand dunes, in time to climb their
sandy summits and enjoy the subtle lighting of the desert sunset. We made a fascinating
excursion from Luderitz to Kolmanskop, once a diamond-mining town, but now a ghost town
that has been reclaimed by the sand dunes. Dating from 1908, when the first diamond was
picked up from the dust, Kolmanskop developed swiftly into a bustling town of 1000 people
with its own casino, skittle alley and theater. Immediately after World War I, the death
knell for the town was sounded when richer deposits were discovered near the Orange River,
300km away. The last day of our odyssey through Namibia, with some 7000km already behind
us, culminated with us moving through the diamond desert belt to Fish River Canyon, the
second largest canyon of its kind in the world. A fitting end to a fascinating journey
through one of the world's most unique landscape.
The Herero people
Singapore Airlines (www.singaporeair.com)
operate flights to Johannesburg via Singapore or Taipei. South African Airlines (www.saa.co.za) have flights from Johannesburg to Windhoek.
Where to stay:
Windhoek Country Club Resort & Casino, (Tel: +264-61-2055911), Aris Hotel, (Tel:
+264-61-236006). For information on hotels in Namibia see http://interhotel.com/namibia/en/localidades/29859.html
ORYNX TOURS, PO Box 2058, Windhoek, Namibia, See www.iwwn.com.na/oryx/,
(Tel: +264-61-21-7454, Fax: +264-61-26-3417), Email: firstname.lastname@example.org