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Namibia - a country of amazing contrasts

From the rich colours of the famous Namib desert dunes to the white cracked mud of the Etosha Pan, shimmering with mirages and upward spiralling dust columns, Namibia is a land of contrasting landscapes, an abundance of wildlife, a combination of modern and developed infrastructure and a rich mix of cultures and traditions.

For most travellers, it is the areas of vast pristine bush and wilderness, the surreal rock formations, the wealth of game in untouched areas and the diversity of people and cultures that draws them to Namibia.

Windhoek, Namibia’s capital, is located centrally and is likely to be the starting point for most visitors’holiday to Namibia. Situated among rolling hills it is a mix of modern and old, European and African. Well preserved German colonial buildings contrast with modern architecture while Herero women, dressed in their traditional clothes mix with business people dressed in the latest western fashions.

Southern Namibia is a land of wide open spaces and solitude, of breathtaking ever changing vistas. Surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean and the Namib Desert in the west and the orange sand dunes of the Kalahari in the east, this vast area consists of some of the world’s highest dunes, gravel plains and rugged mountains.

The 50000 square kilometre Namib Naukluft Park stretching along the southern part of Namibia’s coastline from Walvis Bay to Luderitz is one of the world’s largest nature conservation areas containing mainly arid and semi-arid eco-systems.

The main attraction of the Namib Nauklaft Park is Sossusvlei, a depression lined by red dunes that reach up to 325 metres, being some of the highest in the world. Although very rare, during months of good rains, the pan fills up from the Tsauchab River. This water wonder in the middle of the desert, is spectacular. Despite being one of the driest places on earth, sand and water have shaped the land into a mosaic of patterns and colours that attract photographers worldwide.

Another awe-inspiring attraction in the south is the Fish River Canyon, the second largest canyon in the world. The most spectacular section is 65km long while the exposed sides of the gorge plunge 549 metres down to the normally dry bed of the Fish River, Namibia’s largest river. The Fish River hiking trail, which starts near Hobas is one of the unique trails in the world. It is approximately 85km long and ends at Ai-Ais, a resort renowned for its thermal springs.

The northern parts of Namibia are a wildlife haven, with Etosha National Park, meaning “the great white place of dry water”being the most famous. From the rainy season when life blooms on the plains to the dry season when the animals converge on the waterholes, Etosha is a spectacle not to be missed. Etosha owes its unique landscape to the Etosha Pan, a shallow depression of about 5000 square kilometres that fills with water in the rainy season after which thousands of waterfowl flock here, including up to approximately one million pink flamingoes. Apart from over 340 species of birds, visitors to the Park may see a host of game including wild dog, elephant, black rhino and other endangered species. In winter, the pan dries out becoming a huge expanse of white cracked mud, shimmering with mirages and spiralling dust. Waterholes along its southern perimeter guarantee rewarding and often spectacular game viewing when the animals come to drink here.

The Namib region is one whose beauty and the contrasting landscapes of the desert environment are awesome. The region encompasses sand, sea and stone in a fascinating myriad of colours, shapes and life forms. One of the most amazing is the icy upwelling of the Bengulea current that generates moisture that rolls in from the Atlantic Ocean, often shrouding the coastal desert in thick wet fog. The fog blankets the landscape with life-giving moisture, and life has adapted over millions of years to capture and utilise this lifeblood.

The central Namib coast is a very popular destination for visitors. Swakopmund, the country’s most popular holiday resort has a wealth of well-preserved German colonial buildings and typical German cakes and confectionary can be enjoyed at many of the town’s cafes.

Situated between the dunes of the Namib desert, the ocean and an extensive lagoon lies Walvis Bay with its bustling harbour. The Walvis Bay wetlands are internationally renowned for large concentrations of wadets, flamingoes and shorebirds. The town is ideally situated for a multitude of adventure sports - The southwesterly winds create ideal conditions for boardsailing and other watersports on the lagoon, while the coastal dunes offer activities such as sandboarding, parasailing and quadbiking.
A trip to Cape Cross Seal Island, an unusual mainland reserve north of Walvis Bay, should not be missed.

The Skeleton Coast is an amazingly beautiful place – wild, desolate and isolated. Covering approximately a third of Namibia’s coastline, the legendary Skeleton Coast Park stretches from the Ugab River in the south to the Kunene River in the north. While it is dominated by sand dunes, gravel plains and hills, its main attractions are its solitude and excellent angling. The coast is infamous for its treacherous sandbanks and has been described as the world’s largest shipping graveyard, testimony to past accidents.

The Kunene is one of the wildest and most untouched rivers in Africa, and here the visitor will be exposed to a rare wilderness, including the rich culture of the Himba people. The adventurous can tackle river rafting along the Kunene rapids, an exhillarating and exciting experience.

Inland from the coastal towns lies the Namib section of the Namib-Nauklift Park with its gravel plains, fascinating Moonlandscape and the rugged Kuiseb Canyon, with the famous welwitschia mirabilis. This ancient fossil plant produces only two leaves throughout its lifetime of up to two thousand years. Further inland is the Spitzkoppe, a granite outcrop that is a typical example of an island mountain. With sheer granite rock walls up to 600m high, this mountain is Namibia’s top rock climbing destination.

The Bransberg is Namibia’s highest mountain and also famous for its more than 44000 rock paintings. Visitors will need a guide here, as there are no clearly demarcated routes. Also of interest in this area are the Erongo Mountains, southwest of Omaruru. In the caves and on the overhangs in the valleys and mountains one will find many more rock paintings, amongst them the famous “white Elephant” in Phillips Cave.
Near Keetmanshoop is the Quiver Tree Forest where more than 300 prehistoric Aloe dichotomoa trees grow from the rocky outcrops.

Namibia can be experienced as a self-drive or escorted option, with camping or lodge accommodation available as required. An additional option is a one day trip aboard the “Desert Express”, Namibia’s luxury train service that runs between Windhoek and Swakopmund or vice versa. The journey offers a unique experience of Namibia’s wide open spaces and desert scenery with side excursions and a stop a Okapuka Ranch, for a viewing of lions feeding. The Desert Express also offers 4 day trips to southern and northern Namibia.

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