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Namibia Trekking

Trekking in Namibia

Namibia has one of southern Africa's toughest public hiking trails, some say the toughest; the 4-6 day Fish River Canyon Trail, open from May to September and administered by the Government's Nature Conservation Department.


Fish River Canyon

The Canyon is 161km long and its depth ranges between 457 and 549 meters - you can imagine how hot it gets on the canyon's floor (up to 3km wide in places) at midday. The hiking trail follows 86km of the canyon from Hobas to Ai Ais where the trail ends.

It is very ancient; its rocks have been dated to around 1000 million years old and were at one stage heavily eroded by glaciation which is hard to imagine now. Hot springs break through the crust of the canyon floor in several places, the best known of which has now been turned into a spa called Ai Ais where the trails ends. Here a group of 3 to 4 people can do the trail, but medical certification of fitness must be submitted to the reservations office in Windhoek at least 40 days prior to the hike. There is a technique to this hike based around saving energy and make sure you walk before 11am and after 4pm, and rest during the heat of the day. Go easy on the first day, when the loose sand and ankle turning rock take their worst toll.

You can take shorter hiking trails on some of the farms surrounding the Fish River Canyon. Lois Fourie runs the Fish River Lodge between Sechiem and Hobas and takes guided day hikes into the upper reaches of the canyon, while the privately run Canyon Nature Park takes guided 3 day hikes in the south of the canyon, walking between permanent tented camps. About 20km east of Keetmanshoop, spend a day hiking by yourself through a quiver tree forest and the strange, geological phenomena known as Giants' Playground.

Namib Naukluft Trail

The Namib Naukluft trail in south-central zone of the National Park is probably Namibia's most challenging hike after the Fish River Canyon. If you do the full trail, it's 120km spread over 8 days, but you can do the first half of it, this is 4 days and ends up back at the camp, or two day sections the Waterloof Trail and the Olive Trail, each about 18km long and ending back at the overnight camp. If you do the 8 days or 4 days hikes you sleep in caves and rock overhangs, except for the first and last days which are spent in an old farmhouse near the trailhead. To be safe, the long hikes are guided, though you have to carry all your own food and clothing. The two days hikes are self-guided.

Best Time

Due to heat, the long trails are only from March through October with groups leaving on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Groups must consist of minimum of 3 and a maximum of 12 people. There is much to see apart from weird vegetation such as Kokerbooms, halfmens and other succulents, there are sudden grassy stretches near permanent springs and tall banks of reeds set incongruously against the bare rock of the mountainside.

There are private hiking trails on Bullsport Guest farm. These are day trails, only open to guests at Bullsport and take in some superb rock formations including a large natural arch. You can hike back to the farm each day or stay overnight in the dry veld.

The Kavango Hiking

You can hike at will in the Mahango game reserve, on the Botswana border about 30km south of Popa Falls. You have to be careful as all the big game is there especially large herds of elephant and hippo along the banks at dawn and dusk. Buffalo and lions live there too. Despite these rather daunting hazards, many people visit the park every year and seem to come away unscathed. Because of the game it is dangerous to walk any great distance in Mahango and there are no marked hiking trails.

Lianshulu Lodge

The Linyati swamp has superb guided walking trails in the surrounding Mudumu National Park as well as forays into the neighbouring Mamile National Park.The walks go out for 3-4 hours morning and evening. You can hike into the remote Madumu and Mamili National Parks with Kalizo fishing and photographic safaris based in Johannesburg. The hiking in Mudumu goes out from the company's expensive and exclusive Mvubu Lodge, while the forays into Mamili go between tented camps.

Hiking with Bushmen

Although Bushmanland is technically under protection of the government's nature conservation department, little is being done to s Ovambo and Herero cattle herders from annexing more and more wild land for grazing. In a gesture to take control of the land, the !Kung Bushmen decided very recently (1996) to open up to tourism. For a fee, a small group of travellers (almost 25) may go out with hunters as long as they keep quiet and with the women who gather wild fruits and vegetables.

You can spend up to a week in the bush with the !Kung, based on a rough bush camp near their main settlement. You follow behind the hunters and help the woman to gather, taking as many photographs as you like. If the animal is hit with an arrow you have to track it with the hunters for up to two days if necessary, and then carry out your share of meat. You also have to carry your own water and food.

Hiking from Etendeka

From Etendeka, a rough tented camp underneath the Grootberg Mountains, you set off on 3 days walking trails, tracking the local rhino and elephant. With only four to six people in the group, you can be fairly close to the game and you need to carry only drinking water and cameras.
There is a small rest camp on the D3706 public road near Etendeka at Palmwag which does not offer guided hiking but you can explore the surrounding area on a day hike following dry riverbeds to permanent spring often visited by the desert elephant.

River Hiking

This is run by national parks so all the bookings should be at the Windhoek office at least 6 weeks in advance, they often tell you it's full, but you have to persist, then you are in for a rare experience of wild Namibia: a 3 day guided trail along the Ugab riverbed from Damaraland to the ocean at Torra Bay on the Skeleton Coast. The hikes leave on the second and fourth Tuesday and Thursday of each month from April to October. This is very wild country, changing slowly from wind blasted, tortured mountains to barren dunes, with again a good chance of seeing desert elephant and other Damaraland wildlife.

Hiking to the Rock

Aba Huab is the best run of Damaraland's community camps. Situated along the D3254 dirt road west of Khorixas, it sits next to a wide dry riverbed shaded by a big camel thorn tree. The camp is a short drive away from both the Twyfelfontein rock Engravings (a half day's hike to get round them all) and the organ pipe rock formations at Burnt mountain (a shorter, hour long hike to get around). These you do yourself, but the staff at Aba Huab will also take you on guided hikes to look for desert elephants in the vicinity of Camp

Ugab River Trail

At the southern extreme of the harsh and inhospitable Skeleton Coast of Namibia, this trail follows the Ugab River for 50km. It is a guided, self catered trail which follows the Ugab River for 50km and leaves on the second and forth Tuesday of each month between April and October. Booking is through Director of Tourism, Windhoek.

Unguided Day Hikes

Khowarib used to be a Damara run community campsite, with the money going straight to the local villages. However it changed hands early in 1996 and although it is still open to casual visitors at cheap camping rates, you can pitch a tent, stay in a mud hut or take a comfortable permanent tent with bed.

Although there is as yet no guided hiking, a number of excellent (and demanding) day walks can be done. The easiest is to head up the river valley as far as you can before turning back for the afternoon. There are large uphill hikes over shale and sharp rocks, so leave early while it's still cool, allow plenty of time to get there and hike back in the cool of evening. Please remember to take water and look for signs of leopards kill around the cave entrances. If the bones are old and bleached go in and if not keep out.
About 23km further on from Khowarib is Ongongo, surely one of the most magical places in Namibia where there is a permanent spring and waterfalls drop through a narrow cleft in the rock, creating a pool of crystal water deep enough to swim in. The roots of wild fig trees stretch down the rock above the pool and touch moisture to give life to green sunshade of rustling leaves. You can walk pretty much at will, either to the local Damara and Herero villages or into the wild bush.

Damaraland

The Spitzkoppe and neighbouring peak the Klein Spitzkoppe are two steep, jagged mountains about 600m high that rise from the flat plain of the Erongo region of southern Damara run community camp. At the foot of the rocky slopes, a series of hiking trails runs up into the mountains taking in four sets of bushman (san) paintings on the way. One is accessible by chain ladder and another through a natural rock tunnel. The geology is fascinating - too huge granite outcropping buttresses and pipes and the views out over the empty plains are superb. If you want to be sure of not wandering off track, you can hire one of the local Damara guides at the community.

Another isolated Massif though much larger than the Spitzkoope, the Brandberg, rises sheer from the flat plains of southern Damaraland. A compact little self-contained mountain range in itself with near vertical walls, it looks like a fairytale castle jutting up from the wide empty flatlands. You can hike up it along the main watercourse, which is dry for most of the year, along the way taking in the "Whitelady", one of the best known southerafrican Bushman paintings, which depicts a shaman (not a lady at all) and is estimated to be at least 30,000 years old, perhaps much older.

Note
Mountaineers and climbers should camp near the foot of the Brandberg, from where the trails begin you can make it up to the Whitelady and back inside 3 hour without pushing and you can hire a guide at the camp. There are several overnight hikes involving steep ascents and descent through crazy, almost abstract rock gardens in the Brandberg's village ravines. If you have never hiked before you had better hire one of the locals to guide you. Mountaineers and climbers guided trips into Brandberg are run by Sand Rose Safaris.

Last Updated on Thursday 26th November 2009

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