Namib-Naukluft National Park
The Namib-Naukluft National Park lies on the coast of Namibia in South-West Africa. It is the largest game park in Africa, covering 49,216 km² (19,216 sq mls). Its dominant feature is the Namib, meaning ‘open space’, a massive coastal desert that runs the length of the country. The sand dunes which make up this desert are up to 300 metres (980 ft) high and extend for 32 kilometres (20 mls). It is the second largest dune system in the world. It is the world’s oldest desert and its vast age has allowed the iron in the sand to oxidise to a deep rusty, burnt orange.
Rainfall is a tiny 106 mm (4.1 ins) a year but in spite of this a surprising number of species survive here including snakes, geckos, hyenas, gemsboks and jackals. The dunes taper off towards the coast and lagoons, wetlands and mudflats along the shore attract hundreds and thousands of birds.
To the east of dunes are the Naukluft Mountains with high, rocky plateaux and mountainsides sparsely vegetated with euphorbias, acacias, commiphora and aloe plants (including quiver trees), contrasted with verdant ravines and valleys where sycamore figs are particularly prevalent. Naukluft means ‘narrow ravine’. The mountains are home to the rare Hartmann’s mountain zebra, which in 1968 were given protection when the Naukluft Mountain Zebra Park was proclaimed. Ten years later the park was merged with the Namib, itself first proclaimed as a park in 1907 when under German colonial administration. There are many other animals which inhabit the Naukluft including oryx, kudu klipspringer, steenbok, springbok and warthog. Over 200 species of birds have been recorded, notably ostriches and several types of raptors.
Two rivers, the Tsauchab and the Tsondab, flow westwards from the mountains into the Namib, but never reach the ocean. Both end by forming flat white pans dotted with green camelthorn and acacia erioloba, in striking contrast to the surrounding brightly coloured dunes. On the Tsauchab lie the two small settlements of Sesriem and Sossusvlei. Near the former is the Sesriem Canyon, a narrow fissure up to 30 metres deep, which the river has carved into the sandstone. It was used by the early settlers, who drew water from it by knotting together six lengths of hide rope (called riems). Hence it became known as ses riems. Further west, near Sossusvlei, the skeletons of dead acacia trees, some over 500 years old, mark old river courses. After rare torrential rain these pans, or vlei, can fill with water, albeit briefly, and like a miracle flowers bloom and birds arrive.