by Karen Watkins
The eight-day, 120-kilometre (74.5-mile) Naukluft hiking trail is regarded as one of Africa’s toughest. I went along to find out why.
Our first and last nights were spent in the old farmhouse of the appropriately named Hikers’ Haven. On the first day we set off along a dry riverbed alive with brightly coloured birds darting in and out of prickly acacia trees. The park is a ‘twitchers’ paradise, with 193 species recorded to date, including the Rosyfaced Lovebird.
After lunch at Fonteinkloof, much of the trail followed an easy zebra path along the ridge of the Elephant Skin Path, so named because of the shale it resembles. Then we tackled a tough climb up Heartbreak Pass, dotted with zebra carcasses, their demise a mystery. Once on the plateau, our reward was the yellow vistas of the Naukluft spreading to infinity, 300 metres below.
Accommodation for the night was in a shelter of chest-high stonewalls and a gravel floor topped with an iron roof. Putte Shelter takes its name from the nearby well, equipped with a hand pump. We took turns collecting water before making supper. Lying in our sleeping bags later on, we picked out constellations from a star-studded sky.
Plenty of game
A cold wind blew throughout the night and we waited for the sun to rise before crawling out of our sleeping bags on the second day. As we rounded a bend in the path, we startled a herd of klipspringer, and later saw zebra, this time alive, and two gemsbok with their magnificent vertical horns and black belly stripes.
The trail was easy while traversing an undulating plateau to a disused well at Bergpos (Hill Point). Then we entered the spectacular Ubisis Kloof. About halfway we had to clamber, with the aid of chains, over enormous boulders, a scary experience with our backpacks throwing us off-balance. Just before arriving at camp, we followed fresh leopard spoor, most exciting. Could this be the cause of the zebra skeletons? It was a long walk to the end of the ravine and by the time we reached our overnight house complete with mattresses, cold showers and running water, we were exhausted.
A cold wind blew on the third day as we retraced our steps along the ravine. After the chains we were able to appreciate the Namaqua figs, their roots spreading like tendrils over impenetrable rock in search of moisture and support. We also spotted the baobab-like phantom trees, possibly named thus because their white bark looks ghostly in the moonlight.
The rest of the day was easy, crossing the Kudu Plains to our overnight shelter at Adelhorst. This was our worst night, as the temperature had plummeted by the time we crawled into our beds for an early night.
A stiff climb on the fourth morning helped to thaw aching bodies. We then followed the beautiful Zebra Ravine, carved by the Tsams River, snaking through a steep-sided valley lined with fig trees. Next was a knee-wrenching climb up a scree slope, bypassing a waterfall before winding down to the river once again. High above, a troop of baboons had fun scattering us with rocks. A short detour to the top of the waterfall was a welcome place for lunch and a swim. We passed a number of springs before reaching the campsite at Tsams Ost Shelter and the halfway point of the trail. It was here, in September 1894, that after several battles a treaty was signed between Germans and the local Khoikhoi.
Day five started with an arduous three-hour climb to Broekskeur, followed by undulating terrain in the Euphorbia Ravine. From here it’s a short climb to Quiver Tree Ridge, named after the trees from which locals carve containers for their bows and arrows. Some of us hiked to the end of the ravine and the enormous dry waterfall. The Naukluft Mountains form part of the catchment area of the Tsauchab and Tsondab, rivers that drain to the west after forging their way through the dune belt, ending in the clay pans of Sossusvlei and Tsondabvlei respectively.
The sixth day had the steepest ascent on the trail, Groot Hartseer (Big Heartbreak) in store for us. After a steep climb out of the ravine, our reward was a swim through three magnificent pools to the top of a 100-metre (328-foot) waterfall, with spectacular views across the valley. From here the path twisted and turned through a narrow gorge, ending at the rosy-coloured quartz Arbeid Adelt valley. Gaining altitude gradually, we reached Tufa Tavern, a huge cave next to an enormous fig tree.
Namibia is geologically fascinating. The porous limestone deposit known as ‘tufa’ is found throughout the park. These caves and pools were formed thousands of years ago when calcium carbonate-rich water evaporated through filters of dolomite rock, a process that continues today.
Our long, tiring day ended with a walk across a valley. Weary, I sauntered off on my own, enjoying the remoteness and tranquillity. A Cape hare suddenly crossed my path, and on its heels, a bat-eared fox.
We decided to combine day seven and eight, which started out like scenes from a cigarette commercial. After climbing up, over and around huge boulders covered in creepers and roots, we found ourselves below a 28-metre (92-foot) waterfall with a chain to one side. By now we were experienced climbers and with our lighter packs, soon scrambled up the sheer rock face.
At the top of the gorge we reached World’s View and what a stupendous view it was! A little further was the highest point on the trail, Bakenkop (Beacon Head) at 1 980 metres (6 494 feet) on a rough and rocky path amongst limestone and quartz. We then wound our way across Kapokvlakte, named after the woolly cotton plants growing here, to a hut of the same name.
After lunch we traversed the Never Ending Hills and a rocky watershed covered in yellow daisies. At last came our final descent into a dry riverbed joining the Waterkloof day trail, with many crystal pools. A refreshing swim ended this exciting trail.
Exhausted and weary yet happy, we agreed that the Naukluft trail was one of the best in the world, especially for hikers looking for excitement and a real hiking challenge.
Fitness: Hikers need to be very fit! When making your booking, you must present a recent medical report attesting to your fitness.
Getting there: Take the D854 for 10 kilometres driving south west to the C14, the road linking Solitaire and Maltahöhe. From here it is a further 92 kilometres to the park. From Windhoek, pass Bullsport, turn right onto the D854 and then right again onto the sign-posted road to the park entrance.
8-Day trail – The first four days make up the 4-Day Trail
This article appeared in the Feb/March ‘06 edition of Travel News Namibia.