The previous part of the journey had gone via Windhoek, Namibia, to the Central Kalahari game reserve, Botswana, back to Windhoek, down to the Fish river canyon and back again to Windhoek. Our next trip would head west to Swakopmund through the Namib desert, taking the C26 gravel road from Windhoek. An early start took us through the city before the working day started and we were “in the sticks” before the sun came up. We were fortunate enough to have a quite road and saw some Mountain zebra, which are recognised by their “socks” (stripes down to the hooves), klip springer, an amazingly agile antelope that hops from rock to rock (klip springer means rock jumper, roughly translated) and some female kudu. These migrate in small herds while the male kudu tend to be solitary, sometimes in pairs. The C26 goes through the Khomas Hochland Mountains via the Kupferberg Pass and then the Gamsberg Pass until one gets to the C14 in the valley between the red dunes and the mountains.
Turn left on the C14 and one gets to Solitaire, home of the famous apple pies and then the Sossusvlei dunes, but we turned right and headed towards the Namib-Naukluft national park via the Kuiseb Pass, which traverses the Kuiseb river. Here one can find isolated pools of water with fish in them, incredible – where did they come from? – and we have also spotted leopard tracks a few hundred meters off the road. A little further down the C14 a short detour takes one to the vicinity of the caves used by Henno Martin and Hermann Korn, who evaded the British during World War 2 by hiding in the Namib desert (The Sheltering Desert / Wenn es Krieg gibt, gehen wir in die Wueste; Henno Martin).
Further along, we turned south onto the D2186 towards Homeb, our community camp site for the night. It was swelteringly hot, probably around the 40C mark, and even the feet needed cooling! There was very little animal activity except around the waterholes that are fed by windmill pumps. At one waterhole we saw ostriches, oryx, zebra, lappet-faced vultures, a lone jackal and some pronking springbok. We stopped at the Tropic of Capricorn, where two puffadders were sheltering in the shade; I had not seen them, but fortunately my wife did!
It is difficult to describe the attraction and intrigue of desert country to somebody who has never had the privilege to interact with this environment. To some extent the latter parts of the day are highlighted by intense heat and miles & miles of “nothing”, until one starts actually inspecting the environment closely. How do these large mammals survive, where do the butterflies come from? Beauty does not need to be complicated.
After crossing a large, flat expanse we got to the point where we dropped down to the river bed at Homeb and were met by some browsing horses that appeared to belong to the local community, which lives here with goats, cattle and horses, while mining small pits for minerals. We set up our caravan and rooftop tent and were later joined by a German couple from Hamburg. We camped next to the dry river bed with a wonderful view of rocky outcrops on one side and the marvellous red dunes of Sossusvlei on the other side.
The next day we headed north to Bloedkoppe (Blood Hill) driving past the Gobabeb Research & Training Centre. Leaving the red dunes behind us, the vast expanse of the Namib greeted us on another hot day. The Bloedkoppe is an enormous granite dome that invites a walk; there are several caves with roosting sites, potholes, the typical Namib plant species, well-camouflaged lizards and views to die for. After our walk, we returned to our camp site to be greeted by a bucket shower, thus we had a good shower to wash away the heat and dust of the day. The next morning we were joined at breakfast by a beautiful bokmakerie bird, probably waiting for titbits, bright in its yellow plumage and very distinctive call.
Unfortunately, our holiday was slowly coming to an end and we drove to the Moon Valley and the seaside resort of Swakopmund for a few days of down time. We returned to Windhoek via Hentiesbay and the Spitskoppe, a very distinctive set of granite peaks that are visible from the main road to Windhoek . To our surprise, the Spitskoppe camp site was full – we had come on the weekend of the Spitskoppe Challenge half-marathon; my wife immediately decided to register and the next morning at 7 am she was on the start line. The rest of us got out our chairs and enthusiastically encouraged the runners as the passed us; one entrant ran in football boots, while another rode a unicycle. We spent the evening reminiscing about our trip, enjoying the stars and, every now-and-then, hearing the bark of a leopard.
It was time to return home to London and the UK.