“Namibia, land of contrasts.”
It is part of our national anthem, but few words can describe a country like Namibia better than these. But how much contrast can there be in one country?
Entering Namibia from the south, you are met by moon landscapes of nothingness. Roads so straight you can see to the end of earth. Meandering to the east, you are met by the red dunes of the Kalahari. To the west, these very dunes become lighter and lighter until they are almost white against the green Atlantic Ocean.
Along the coast, the Namib Desert and its infamous Skeleton Coast welcomes the gawking visitor. How can life exist here? And yet, if you remain long enough among the dunes, you will spot animal life – from the smallest gecko to the bigger Oryx – they have all adapted to life in the desert. But the coast is full of surprises. From sparkling diamonds in the far south to the protected wetlands in Sandwich Harbour, a hip and vibrant German Swakopmund to the Atlantic Ocean breaking against the dunes of the Namib Desert. Is all this in Namibia? Yes, and this is just the coast.
As flat as the south of Namibia is, so mountainous is central Namibia. Our capital, Windhoek, is sprawled between mountains and is struggling to find space for the increasing amount of immigrants from all over the world. Windhoek might not be as historical as London or as vibrant as New York, but the capital has one thing going for it – Joe’s Beerhouse and Tafel Lager.
In Namibia, all roads lead from Windhoek. Heading north, one enters Bushveld. Dry Bushveld for most of the year, but when green, these are the most beautiful stretches of road in Namibia. Whether dry or wet, the roads in Namibia are littered with warthog, kudu, oryx and very often hartebeest. To be constantly on the lookout is thus a good idea. Northeast Namibia is blessed with one of the most beautiful mountain ranges in Namibia – the Waterberg Plateau with its massive sandstone formations. Northeast Namibia has the Erongo Mountains, the majestic Spitzkoppe and the Brandberg. Favourite hiking spots to the adventurous.
Keep going north (because Namibia is longer than it is wide) and you will find Etosha, because it doesn’t matter if you go straight, left or right – you will pass one of its three gates. Etosha National Park. No, it doesn’t compare to the Kruger or the Serengeti, but you will have a hard time finding more diversity elsewhere. With its Mopani Bushveld, the white Etosha Pan and open savannah stretches – you are sure to find wildlife. It is here that the term “Zebra Crossing” comes to life as hoards of zebras, springbok and impalas constantly cross the road in front of you. Lions hunting an oryx, elephants chasing rhino and eagles circling above become real here and you can almost hear Sir David Attenborough narrate the scenes in front of you.
Heading North West from Etosha one enters Damaraland – a photographer’s dream. With massive open spaces, horizons littered with rock formations and the rare elephant crossing below – this is beauty. Going further north into the heart of Kaokoland are the Marienfluss and Hartmann’s valleys – more beautiful I have yet to see. Here wildlife still walks free, from the rare adapted Desert Elephants to the highly protected rhinos. The nomadic Himba move among the valleys here and know every crook and neck of each mountain. Birdlife is also prolific, especially along the Cunene River. Yes, Namibia has rivers and two of them form our northern borders – the Cunene to the west and the Okavango to the east. Along the Cunene there are also two waterfalls – the Epupa waterfall and the Ruacana Waterfall. Both are thunderous and earth shaking when in full flood.
In the extreme east of Namibia is the Khaudom – a whole different landscape nestled in the Kalahari Sandveld. It is here that you still find the San people living their traditional lives. Moving unto the arm of Namibia, we find the Caprivi. A strip of land marred by conflict of interest but it is also the greenest stretch in Namibia. Cape buffalo, elephant, hippo, leopard and lion are all found here in the various parks of which Mamili remains a firm favourite. If the bird life in North West is great, this is a dream. With Malachite Kingfishers, Fish Eagles and Paradise Fly Catchers colouring the trees and sky – this is a birders’ paradise. The Caprivi Strip still has vast tracts of unexplored and undeveloped land, making this ideal for the true wanderer. But it is a paradise that needs to be respected and protected – like most of Namibia.
This is Namibia in a nutshell. The country I call home. The land I dream of when overseas. The bush I smell when longing for home and the horizons I head towards when on the road. Namibia has its shortages. But what it lacks for in culture and history, it more than makes up for in nature.
“Namibia, land of the beautiful.”