Namibia was a country that had been on my dream list for a long time. It had gone past the wish list and the bucket list into a very special list I reserve for the most special of places. Little did I know that, despite the very high expectations and the trip being years in the making, the country would still blow my mind away and have me glued to the light aircraft window on the 10 flights that I took criss-crossing the country. I can’t deny I took hundreds of normal and aerial photos of Namibia.
Namibia is a land of contrasts and of geological wonders. It is a young country, only independent from South Africa since 1990, but its unique landscapes have been there for millions of years. The challenging environment has given Namibia the second lowest population density in the world, after Mongolia. The existence of the Namib Desert, arguably the oldest desert in the world, covering a large part of the territory, makes it a hard country to inhabit. Conditions are arid, desolate even, but incredibly beautiful. In Namibia, the journey is the destination.
1. Dried riverbeds
Most of Namibia receives less than 3cm of rainfall a year. The rivers appear dried out on the surface but they are alive underground, sometimes as much as 30m below the surface. The existence of these subterranean rivers is obvious by the seeming vegetation growth along the dry riverbeds
2. Dirt and gravel roads
In the southern part of the country roads are more common as the country is more developed. On the way to Sossusvlei, there are a few roads crossing the vast desert dunes. The desert wind and dust often erases them
3. Tall mountain
The Brandberg is Namibia’s tallest mountain and its name comes from the German, Afrikaans and Dutch for fire mountain as it is said to glow in the setting sun. It is almost 3,000 meters high
4. The Skeleton Coast
Receiving its name from the large amount of ship and whale bones scattered along the shore, the Skeleton Coast park extends from the Swakop River to the Kunene River, on the border with Angola. The area is engulfed in fog 340 days of the year and the waters are colder ashore than they are further away from the beach. The strong Benguela current and the limited visibility as believed to be the cause for the many shipwrecks. The bushmen call Skeleton Coast “The Land that God made in Anger”.
5. Salt works
North of Swakopmund you can find this colorful salt farming lands that provide the perfect feeding ground for thousands of flamingos. the salt is transferred from the ocean into flat plains where the water evaporates. It is then packed and sold.
6. Cracking soil
Along the dry river beds, the occasional existence of flash rains bring floods that cover arid and deeply dry sand with moisture. As soon as the water evaporates, the soil cracks making these beautiful patterns. The area is so dry that, often times, the rain drops don’t reach the ground.
7. Powerful Ana trees
Ana trees are a source of food and water for the many desert-adapted animals of Namibia. It is a thorny tree with deep roots that can penetrate deep below the surface to reach for water. It can live with as little as 2,5cm of rainfall a year and it is widely spread in the country as it can survive droughts.
8. Sprouting bushes
In the north, as soon as the few rains arrive, vegetation can sprout straightaway covering otherwise brown and desert plains with bright neon green plants.
9. Sesriem canyon
Located about 5km from the entrance to the Namib-Naukluft National Park the canyon is an easy and pretty place for a stroll. The Tsauchab River has shaped the Canyon over millions of years. There is even a small pond with catfish. Our guide said the pond is connected with larger subterranean waters. The canyon was named after the Afrikaans for six (“ses”) and leather straps (“riem”) because they needed them to create a rope long enough to lower buckets into the canyon and fetch water.
The borders of Namibia follow age old rivers for the most part. The Orange River marks the border with South Africa and the Kunene River, to the North, the separation with Angola. Up in the mountains above Serra Cafema Camp, we could see Angola across the river
11. The changing colors
Despite being one of the driest places on Earth, the mountains and deserts of Namibia are an ever changing pantone of colors with various types of minerals, rocks, sand and vegetation covering anything from yellow to red, through orange, green, grey and brown
12. The Kunene River
One of the very few perennial rivers in Namibia it starts in the mountains of Angola and ends in the Atlantic Ocean. Along its course, there are several waterfalls and even water sports available. After days in the driest of deserts, water flowing and crocodiles were a welcoming sight.
13. Shipwrecks: The Eduard Bohlen
One of the most photographed and photogenic of the shipwrecks is the Eduard Bohlen, a ship that is half buried over 300m inland from the shore where it ran aground as a result of the wind and shifting sands.
14. Remote and inaccessible camps
Most of the Northwestern part of Namibia is only accessible to fly-in safaris. Lodges and camps are not fenced and try to minimize impact by visually blending in. Like Hoanib Skeleton Coast Camp, the only camp with the right of access to the Skeleton Coast’s Northern part by car. Giraffes were roaming the vegetation in search of food at breakfast.
15. A desert oasis
Desert oasis are not a mirage. At least not in the stretch of land between Hoanib Skeleton Coast Camp and the Skeleton Coast. On our return trip from the shore to the camp we fly over two real oasis in the middle of the desert.
In the salt works north of Swakopmund, the salt attracts flamingos to feed on the algae that grows. From the sky, they are tiny pink dots on the ever changing salt plains.
17. Swakopumnd’s German past
Namibia’s second largest city has one of the best preserved Bavarian houses in the world. As the country became under German rule from the end of the 19th century until the end of WWI, a thriving port was built in Swakompund, attracting many businesses. The city’s name come from the Nama for “excrement opening”, because the Swakop river used to carry all sorts of things down the river, including dead animals
18. Skeleton Coast birds
Despite the dry land that lies beyond the shore, the sea attracts and feeds a large amount of birds. here, they pose in a heart-shaped formation on a sandbank.
19. A lone tree
Despite the apparently uninhabitable terrain, some endemic and drought-resistant trees find a way to penetrated deep down to the water sources.
20. Hot air balloon over the Namib Desert and Sossusvlei
One of the most breathtaking images one has floating above the Namib Desert and Sossusvlei at sunrise. On that day, rain, very exceptionally, threatened and we also didn’t take off but we finally had an incredible light show above the desert. The hot air balloon company, Namib Sky Balloon Safaris, is also committed to the local community and runs a school, Little Bugs, for the children of the staff and the nearby lodges.
21. A sea of sand dunes
Sossusvlei is a large, white, salt and clay pan. The dunes in this area are some of the highest in the world, reaching almost 400 meters. Sossusvlei translates to “dead-end marsh”, as it is the place where the dunes stop the Tsauchab River from flowing any further, some 60km east of the Atlantic Ocean. The dunes expand for over 50km in a landscape resembling a sea of pink dunes. They were formed over millions of years. The sand came from the deposits of the Orange River, on the border with South Africa, which carried the sand into the sea for the Benguella Current to re-deposit it on land. The wind carried the red particles. The dunes change chape constantly and, even if most of the popular ones are climbed every day, by the time the sun rises the next day, their shape and top is sharp again.
Some of the Sossusvlei dunes can be easily climbed. Some have the perfect shape, built over years of sand shifted by the wind. The most popular dunes are Dune 45, Big Daddy and Big Mamma. One of the least visited and most beautiful I saw was Hiddenvlei. Loved its undulating perfection. The dunes have a high percentage of quartz which gives them this pink hue when the sun reflects on them. The Sossusvlei dunes are the most popular landmark in the country.
23. Fly-in safaris
As most of the country is isolated and extremely hard to reach, the best way to travel is to take a fly-in safari where guests are taken between camps on a light aircraft. The bird’s eye view from the plane is otherworldly. Best of all? You can sit next to the pilot
24. Fairy circles
A strange phenomenon can be seen across the country. Circles of plants devoid of any life in the middle. Theories abound as to their origin. I especially like the alien justification. For a more plausible and science-backed alternative explanation there are termites or radiation as the culprits of such strange sighting.
25. Rainbows in the desert
Everyone expects the desert to be dry. And it is. The Namib Naukluft receives less than 3cm of rainfall a year but, when it rains, in flash showers that last only a few minutes, the light reflects to create the most vivid of rainbows. Who would have said I could see a rainbow in the desert?