NamibRand – A Layered Landscape

“When I choose the overview, I miss most of the details. When I go closer to observe details, I lose sight of the whole.”

– Freeman Patterson –

The machine gun fire k-k-k-k-k sound of the barking gecko bursts from the silence around me. My heart skips a beat, and I pull the blanket tighter around me. I wonder what animals move around in the darkness without me hearing or seeing them. A shiver runs down my spine. I fill my lungs with a deep gulp of fresh air, and turn my gaze back to the heavens.

The clarity of the air, the fact that there is virtually no light pollution, the total absence of any aircraft flying over the reserve at night, the low humidity, and the absence of clouds make the sky above NamibRand Nature Reserve a perfect place for astro-photographers or ordinary lovers of night skies.

Staring at the sky that inspired the myths and legends of the “First People” clans who tell stories of the sun, moon, stars and galaxies, it is clear why the Milky Way is called what it is. In the 30 minutes I’ve spent looking at the millions of blinking stars, I’ve counted five shooting stars, and wished upon each and every one of them. One can see seven of the eight planets with the naked eye here, and even experience the Gegenschein (a faint brightening of the zodiacal light overhead at midnight), when the conditions are right, which apparently is quite often. But as I’m not a knowledgable sky watcher, I simply relax into the breathtaking beauty of the night sky I don’t often get to experience.

When the stars start to fade, I unwrap myself to fetch coffee and rusks, before returning to the generous porch to watch the day break.

NamibRand, at 275, 000 hectares and growing, is one of the biggest private Nature Reserves in Southern Africa. Its story started when the late Johann-Albrecht (Albi) Brückner bought the farm Gorasis in 1984 at a bankruptcy auction, when the droughts of the early 1980s were devastating for the farmers who farmed on the edge of the Namib Desert. As more land became available, he continued to purchase adjoining farms until he owned 120,000 hectares. Here he farmed with Nguni cattle and Damara sheep, both indigenous breeds, until another drought in the late 1980s made him abandon farming altogether. It was then that the idea of a privately owned and managed nature conservation area came to him, and NamibRand was born.

Today NamibRand maintains a conservation policy based on minimal interference with constant monitoring, while one of their successes includes the taking down of fences between them and the Namib-Naukluft Park, creating a bigger area for wildlife to roam freely.

As the crow flies, NamibRand is only 48 km from the ocean, and as a result benefits from the sea fog, even though it lies on the extremity of the sea fog’s eastern penetration. Rainfall here is low and erratic. Summer temperatures can reach highs of 48°C, while freezing winter nights can drop to -11°C. It is a harsh climate for both animal and plant life.

The Oryx or gemsbok is well adapted to this landscape, and most probably the animal one spots most often on a trip through Namibia. Although their body temperature can reach over 40°C, their brains remain much cooler, as blood is pumped through cooler vessels around their nose, while breathing rapidly (up to 210 times per minute). Their high body temperature means that almost no water is lost through sweating, and as water sources are scare, they obtain most of their water requirements from their food intake.

Acacia or camelthorn trees have taproots twice as long as their height, as they are reliant on underground water and not rain. Hence they are indicative of water sources and are often found in clumps or belts. The most famous of these are perhaps the remains of those in Deadvlei, which dates back to around 600 years, but have not rotted away as a direct result of the extreme dryness of the area. The age of acacia trees can be determined by measuring their diameter, as every 40 centimetres indicate 50 years of growth.

NamibRand’s landscape is layered with mountains, red dunes, and gravel plains, which can consist of sand or gravel, or a mix of the two. It is a landscape that offers a succession of breathtaking vistas, and is best explored in the soft morning or evening light.

In the afternoon, during the summer months, the westerly to north-westerly plain-to-mountain winds blew strongly, but thanks to the generous porch that wraps around two sides of the house, we could watch the animals enjoying a drink at the nearby water hole. Springbok, oryx, and even a secretary bird paid us a visit, while we also spotted a Pale Chanting Goshawk who made himself comfortable in a nearby tree. A small water bath in the shade of an acacia tree is a rowdy gathering point for the prolific bird life, their calls punctuating whole paragraphs of silence.

And as the heat of the day shimmered on the horizon the only other sound we could hear was that of the wind picking up speed over the flat landscape, chasing up dust clouds.

To Stay:

# Family Hideout

This renovated farmhouse is completely off-grid, yet lacks nothing in comfort.

To fully enjoy the park one should book one of the drives or walks on offer. Andrew, our guide during our visit, was a fount of information, and added another layer of enjoyment to our time there. We stayed 3 nights, which was perfect to unwind and enjoy the surroundings. Booking early is advised to avoid disappointment.

# Camping

Orion, Venus and Jupiter are all secluded camping spots with a wooden bathroom/kitchen building. Jupiter, their newest addition, is wheelchair friendly.

# Wolwedans Collection

If you have more money to splurge, staying in one of the upmarket lodges in NamibRand, but closer to Sossusvlei, is an option.

**** If you enjoy hiking you should include the Tok Tokkie Trail (a 2 night / 3 day hike with three-course dinners and a canopy of stars as your tent) in your visit.

**** There are special rates for citizens and permanent residents of the SADC countries.

**** If you’ve always dreamed of seeing the desert from the air, sign up for a hot-air balloon ride with Namib Sky Balloon Safaris.

Notes:

# Until recently NamibRand, a Dark Skies Reserve since 2012, was the only place on the African continent that managed to successfully apply for Dark Skies status. They were joined by the !Ae !Hai Kalahari Heritage Park in South Africa, which forms part of the greater Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park earlier this year, when it was designated as a Dark Skies Sanctuary. 

The International Dark Sky Association has a very interesting website, which is worth checking out if you are interested in the negative effects of light pollution not only on the environment, but us as well.

# The best time for spotting shooting stars is after midnight, when their activity increase, as well as on those nights when the Earth passes through the orbit of a comet. The best known meteor showers are: Eta Aquarids (21 April – 12 May), Perseids (17 August – 24 August), Orionids (2 October -21 November), Leonids (10-23 November), and Geminids (7-17 December).

# NamibRand is a great place to see Fairy Circles, barren circular patches found all along the eastern edge of the Namib Desert (stretching from the northwestern Cape in South Africa, through Namibia, and into Southern Angola). They have fascinated tourists and scientists alike, and although many theories exist (from ants to leakage of hydrocarbon gases, to meteor showers and animal dust baths), they remain mysterious and enigmatic, as nature is still guarding her secret.

To Read:

# The Old Way – Elizabeth Marshall Thomas

# A Guidebook to the NamibRand Nature Reserve (available for purchase from one of the guides in NamibRand – N$ 400)

Visited:  February 2019

## Click on any image to enlarge.