by Peter Bridgeford
The earthworks for the construction of the campsites at the Moon Landscape in the Namib desert started about two million years ago. The Swakop River, in its youth a mere few millennia ago, was a vigorous, raging torrent that carved out a huge valley through soil and hard layers of granite. As you drive along the edge of this valley, its sheer size and the brutal, arid, moon-like topography overwhelm you.
Few campsites are approached through such dramatic scenery. A myriad of small, often deep, valleys, narrow gorges, ridges, rocks and a pervading sense of timelessness fill this vast expanse. The lack of vegetation adds to the perception of a lunar landscape and the geological term, ‘badlands’, enhances this.
The best approach to this impressive area, known as the Moon Landscape, is along the C28 from Swakopmund. You pay your entrance and camping fee and obtain a permit/map from the Ministry of Environment and Tourism in Swakopmund, Walvis Bay or Windhoek. To reach the Moon Landscape, you take the turn-off to Welwitschia Drive just after entering the Namib-Naukluft Park. It is best viewed in the early morning or late afternoon, when the valleys are shadowed and provide excellent opportunities for photography. Several viewpoints allow you to see the ‘badlands’ from different angles.
Continue along this route, on which numbered stone beacons refer to points of historical, biological and geological interest. Your map and accompanying brochure will provide more information. Turning left at the junction and descending into the valley is like a journey to the centre of the earth. Barren rocky walls rise around you and a few scraggly shrubs and trees appear, somehow managing to survive in this hostile environment.
However, like in the song, The teddy bears’ picnic, ‘If you go out in the woods today, you’re in for a big surprise’. ‘Woods’ there certainly are, once you’ve driven through the waterless Moon Landscape into the Swakop River. Huge camel thorn, tamarisk and ana trees fill the riverbed, and bright green thickets of the mustard bush line the bank. The alien invasive trees, prosopis and wild tobacco, thrive in the river course. Life-giving water flows beneath the dry surface sand of the ephemeral Swakop River. Since time immemorial, the river has been a haven for birds and animals and later to the first humans to leave their footprints in the sands of the Namib. This and other important ephemeral rivers in Namibia are referred to as linear oases.
There are six basic campsites on the northern riverbank, with the usual tables, stools, fireplaces and toilets. Ancient camel-thorn and wild ebony trees provide welcome shade, even early on a summer’s morning. A tame Red-billed Francolin welcomes you to the site and begs for food, presenting a colourful topic for close-up photography. Other birds seen here include tit-babblers, Mountain Wheatears, Dusky Sunbirds, Red-faced Mousebirds and Swallow-tailed Bee-eaters. Springbok and Ostrich are seen sheltering under the trees.
In addition to your camping equipment, remember to take water, firewood and (very important) a fly swatter.
This article was made possible by Cymot Namibia
This article appeared in the April ‘07 edition of Travel News Namibia.