Namibia stretches 1400 kilometres from the Orange River bordering South Africa to the Kunene River in the north. It’s a vast country with the northern and central areas of the country along the Kunene more akin to Botswana and the Okavango Delta with summer rainfall patterns. The southern part gets rainfall in winters with cold fronts that sweep off the Atlantic Ocean. The country is mostly very arid, especially along the coastline.
Highlights for photographers
- Arid landscapes and excellent light
- Mobile dune fields
- Desert-adapted plants such as kokerbom and weltwitchia
- Desert adapted elephants and black rhino
- Waterhole activity in Etosha
- Very good cheetah viewing
- Clear skies offering excellent astro photography.
The most visited and photographed highlights of the country are the Sossusvlei dunes in Namib Naukluft Park and Etosha National Park– but Damaraland and Kaokoveld are areas not to be missed. Namibia is an ideal destination for a self-drive, do-it-yourself safari as there are very good roads and accommodation along the way. But the roads are long – and charter companies that link up the smaller camps are best if you have less time.
Windhoek, the country capital, is a modern, very clean city that is the arrival and departure point for most travellers. Guests usually fly into the international airport, which is on the outskirts of town, and then connect from Eros, which is in the Centre of town.
North of Windhoek are several private game reserves, which have been set up for the rehabilitation for animals especially cheetah (Namibia is a stronghold for this species) and some offer really excellent game viewing of wild dogs, cheetah, lion and other species. It’s a great idea to warm up your cameras at one of these places. Waterberg Plateau National Park is a flat-topped plateau which has populations of giraffe, cheetah, kudu and leopard and introduced populations endangered white-rhino, roan and sable antelope
Photographers often will head directly for Etosha National Park. which is the best-known wildlife area in Namibia. It means literally “the place of dry water” and a pan that is 130 kilometres long and 32 kilometres wide covers much of the park. Long strings of springbok and ostriches marching across the plain always make an impressive sight, but the main game activity in the park occurs at seepage points (some are natural and others are fed by water pumps) that attract lion, leopard, springbok, kudu, zebra, black rhino, cheetah and elephants. The Namibian Wildlife Authority maintains the park, its roads, fences, waterholes and four camps– Namutoni, Okakuekuejo, Halali and Dolomite. Okakuejo and Halali have floodlit water holes which offer photographers excellent game viewing opportunities at day and night.
There are also several private reserves on the outer limits of the park, which also offer more luxurious accommodation as well as great game viewing and excellent service. Photographers staying outside Etosha must be aware they need to be out of the park between sunset and sunrise, which is a bit frustrating
Namibia is named after the Namib — the oldest and most life-rich deserts in the world. The desert is just 200 kilometres at its widest point and has the rocky escarpment to the east and the cold Atlantic Ocean to the west. While much of the area receives less than 10 mm of rainfall a year a fog bank hangs over the coastline most mornings and when this blows inland it drops moisture and provides life to a habitat to a wide range of fascinating desert-adapted plants, insects and animals.
The dune fields extend from Luderitz northwards ending abruptly at the Kuiseb River, south of the German town of Swakopmund. Visitors are particularly drawn to a remarkable place called Sossusvlei, which lies right in the middle of the dune fields and includes towering sand dunes with names like Big Daddy and Dune 45. Its hard to know where to point your camera in this amazing landscape – but make sure you spend at least one evening or morning at Deadvlei, or, literally Dead Lake. Water stopped flowing to Deadvlei more than 500 years ago leaving behind a skeleton of camel thorn trees silhouetted against the red dunes. Wherever you go or drive its easy to see why the ever changing shades of red, bronze and black, make this Namibia’s most photographed landscape. If photographers wish to have early and late access to the mobile Sossusvlei dunes then the Namibian Wildlife Resorts run by the government is currently the only option.
There are outstanding private concessions some with vast areas that stretch deep into the Naukluft Mountains. The largest is the 100 000 hectare Namibrand Reserve where photographers can get up close and personal with wildlife, desert adapted plants and magnificent scenery. Don’t miss the opportunity to fly over the dunes by balloon or light aircraft at first light. The dunes are wonderful from the air – and, keep an eye out for fields of geometric circular patterns, which are completely without vegetation. The Fairy Circles are thought to be caused by termite activity extend from South Africa all the way through Namibia and into Angola.
At Walvis Bay you may even be able to photograph flocks of flamingos with the red desert dunes in the background, take a trip through the dunes to Sandwich Harbour, or go by kayak past whales, seals and amazing birds. Walvis is somewhat industrial and the nearby town of Swakopmund, with its art nouveau German architecture, cafes and restaurants is far more sophisticated and has some excellent guesthouses.
Stretching northwards is the Skeleton Coast so named because of the numerous ships that have run aground along its coastline. The bleak and inhospitable coastline has an impressive seal colony at Cape Cross and a shoreline that supports black-backed jackals, brown hyena and sometimes the occasional lion. The wildlife authorities protect it in a national park, but there are also private concessions in the region and the option for adventurous fly in safaris.
Ephemeral west-flowing rivers with names like the Ugab and the Hoanib bisect this Skeleton coast and form the northern and southern boundaries of the Damaraland region. These rivers are prone to flash flood but for the most time they are dry providing sustainable shelter for desert adapted elephants and giraffe. These elephants walk up to 70 kilometres a day and have a remarkable ability to find water in dozens of gorra, which they excavate in the sandy riverbeds. The Twyfelfontein Rock Paintings and engravings reveal that people have been living here for 2700 years. The Brandberg, which are the tallest mountains in the region at 2500 meters also conceal a treasure of rock art.
Further north is Koakoveld and the home of the Himba people. They have retained much of their original customs including dependence upon cattle, living in traditional homesteads and covering their hair and bodies in red ochre. The highlight of the region – and perhaps all of Namibia – is in the extreme north where the Hartmann’s and Marienfluss Valleys reach the Kunene River. For photographers wanting to see Himba people and oryx trudging up high dunes these are place to visit.
This riverine corridor in northern Namibia is a bizzare testament to the politics of Africa. In 1890 it was decided that in exchange for Zanzibar becoming part of the British Empire this tract of land should become part of then German Southwest Africa. It gives Namibians access along the Owambo river to Muhango, Mamili and Madumu which have more in common with the Okavango than they do with the rest of Namibia. The Caprivi extends all the way to Chobe where several camps and houseboats offer access to this wonderful game-viewing region. Intrepid photographers wanting to drive from Botswana through Namibia will be rewarded by a most dramatic experience.
The Orange River, which marks the southern boundary of Namibia, borders South Africa and many people will drive up from Cape Town along the N7 to enjoy this route. The river, which rises far to the west in the mountains of Lesotho, snakes through the dramatic, arid landscape on its way to the Atlantic and can easily be explored by on multi-day canoe trips. It’s best to do this outside school holidays and also be well advised to avoid mid summer.
The 27 kilometre-wide Fish River Canyon which is one of the largest canyons in the world is not far from here and can be photographed from the summit, the depths or from the air. The road that runs west to Luderitz is also worth exploring. Near Aus are signs pointing to where a herd of more than 100 wild horses come to drink. They are feral horses thought to date back to the 1918 war.
An even more bizzare photographic subject is the town of Kolmanskop, which was founded as a diamond mine in 1908 and ultimately abandoned in the 1950s. Its once grand rooms, music halls and structures have become covered with sand and succumbed to the elements of wind and time. It’s best to can book time slots to capture it at the best time of day.
Sandwiched between the desert and at the southern limit of the Sperrgebied National Park is Ludertiz. The art nouveau German architecture as well as bakeries, cafes and tall spires gives it the feeling of a small German village, but for the flamingos, the penguins and fields of dunes that stretch northwards. Intrepid photographers will find real adventure by venturing north with experienced outfitters.