© Nova Fisher 2015

Namib-Naukluft Park in the Namib Desert

The Namib Desert, one of the oldest deserts in the world, is a swathe of coastal land dried by the offshore currents taking moisture out to sea. It's a vast sea of red sand with the world's highest dunes and a surreal, almost-lunar landscape. The Namib Naukluft Park in the Namib Desert is Namibia’s largest nature reserve. With no light pollution and virtually guaranteed clear nights, the Namib is considered to be one of the best star-gazing areas in southern Africa. Although the area is not particularly rich in game, the wildlife found here is interesting and often unique – having adapted itself to the harsh environment. Among the larger animals we encountered are springbok, oryx (gemsbok), ostrich and zebra. We passed many Nama settlements and called into one of the most remote school communities in the country – the JP Brand Primary School.

Gobabeb Desert Research Station, Kuiseb

We drove through the spectacular landscapes of the Namib-Naukluft Desert to one of the most important and impressive arid areas of the country; the Kuiseb (dried) river system, which forms a natural barrier preventing the northward spread of the ancient and beautiful sand-mass. The climate is hyperarid. Located 120 km south-east of Walvis Bay at the southern most end of the Kuiseb Canyon, Gobabeb, an internationally recognized centre for dry land training and research, lies at the meeting point of three different ecosystems: the ephemeral Kuiseb River, the Sand Dunes Sea to the south and the gravel plains to the north. This offers an excellent diversity of environments in which to conduct research. Forming a natural barrier against the Namib Desert’s northerly drift, the site of the centre was specifically chosen by an eminent Austrian entomologist in 1962, and has been running since 1998 as a joint venture between Namibia’s Ministry of Environment and Tourism and the Desert Research Foundation. The complex consists of the research centre, library, laboratories, office block, meeting hall, iconic water tower and staff houses. Our accommodation was simple villas with three twin bedrooms, bathroom, fully kitchen, dining-room, living area, and a terrace with a braai (barbecue). Goabab activities Doctor Goering told us about the evolution and composition of the dunes, before we took an informative walking tour around the dried Kuiseb riverbed and then up higher for sundowners whilst viewing the spectacular scenery. We took a night walk to see the scorpions.


We had lunch at the home of Namibian, Boesman, a third-generation resident and expert in desert ecology. His German grandfather settled in Namibia in the 1940’s to raise Karakul sheep, prized for their pelts (skin and fur), which must be taken within eight hours of birth. This was a huge industry for Germans in Namibia throughout the 1900’s, but the industry crashed in the 1970’s and most farmers went bust. Boesman rejected the ‘city’ life and moved back to the desert, purchasing many acres of land for next to nothing. He lives a life of solitude with his wife and young daughter (another child on the way) and his nearest neighbour is 45km away. Boesman depends on giving desert tours and a small campground for income. He has a 200-meter-deep-well that provides limited water, so expansion into anything more wouldn’t be possible. We were taken on a drive through the desert during which he gave us much information, including some survival techniques. He told us that in this area rain sometimes doesn’t come for 10-20 years. It is so dry, it takes an orange peel sixty years to degrade. However, he is concerned about the climate change as there was severe flooding in 2011 following the heavy rains in 2010.  “Rain is bad for the desert” he kept telling us. Many animals live just below the surface of the sand where it’s cooler and with too much rain, they literally drown under the sand, disrupting the whole food chain.  We were shown how the plants in the desert function to ensure maximum survival. Boesman held a dried seed pod in his hand and poured a bit of water on it. Instantly, it opened, but the seeds remained inside. When no further water comes, the dry pod closes again The plant will not let go of those seeds until it is sure there will be more water to help the seed grow.


The San people (aka “Bushmen”) were the first residents of this area (and all of Southern Africa). They were nomad hunter- gatherers and followed water and the game and edible plants that could be found. They lived in harmony with the land for 30,000 years before other populations arrived and their demise began. Traditionally the San had no leaders or chiefs; personal decisions were made individually and group decisions were left to the group. When times were good groups could swell to over one hundred people but during drought times groups might dwindle to family units of less than 10 people. The San have 7 clicks in their language as opposed to the 4 of the standard Afrikaans language. It is thought that when the first Bantu tribes arrived the San coexisted peacefully with them, but as the Bantu numbers swelled pressure was placed on the placid San. Many San ended up as slaves while others abandoned their traditional hunting areas and moved into the drier Kalahari Desert of Namibia, Botswana and South Africa. The early Boer settlers in the Cape launched an extermination campaign and killed about 200,000 people in around 200 years - to these people the San were seen as sub-human and no better than animals. Of the 55,000 San people who remain about 60% live in the Kalahari in Botswana, 35% in Namibia with the rest scattered all over southern Africa. The outlook for the San is not hopeful although some organisations are working to preserve the culture. It is said that in this blazing hot environment San people rarely drank water. They had a saying that translated to “men don’t need water”. Only women and children got what little water they might find or filter from the sand. The men obtained all they needed by eating the eyes and drinking the blood of oryxes, or from ostrich eggs. The San people believe that when you die, you go to the moon.  When the moon is crescent shaped it is because it is so heavy with the spirits it carries.