The Doros geological mosaic

Swakopmund through a different lens
December 23, 2016
Scorpions of the Namib Desert
December 27, 2016
Swakopmund through a different lens
December 23, 2016
Scorpions of the Namib Desert
December 27, 2016

Text and photographs Helge Denker


T he dictum of Conservancy Side-Tracks is ‘finding the real’: real people, real places and real wildlife in all the captivating tracts of communal land around the country. Side-Tracks encourages travellers to slow down and to spend time in areas off the well-trodden transit routes.

The Doros Crater area is one of these bypassed quarters. It lies just off the road between the famous White Lady of the Brandberg and the Twyfelfontein World Heritage Site. Yet it is easy to put in an extra day here to explore and to find the real Doros geological mosaic. Geology is an obvious focus and the Namibian Association of Community Based Natural Resource Management (CBNRM) Support Organisations (NACSO) has published a Sidetrack route brochure that becomes your explorer guide, providing a key to some of the area’s secrets.

The introductory paragraph of each Side-Track brochure points out that ‘Conservancy Sidetracks are for discerning and adventurous travellers who:

  • respect local people and have a genuine interest in their cultures and livelihoods
  • want to spend extra days and true quality time exploring one place
  • have a real interest in the environment and the plants and animals that live there’.

Conservancy Side-Track brochures facilitate local exploration. They are full-colour publications with a large, detailed map to enable you to find your way around. They contain a variety of information that will help you interpret what you see along the way. Like all Conservancy Sidetracks, the Doros route is a designated tourism route in a community conservation area, developed to enhance visitor experiences by providing authorised access to sectors off the beaten track, and by sharing a variety of information to explore them. The proceeds from the sale of the brochures are reinvested into community conservation initiatives.

Geology is such an innate aspect of every landscape that we often overlook it without recognising its beauty, its complexity, or its fundamental force in shaping the bedrock of life. Yet in arid lands, geology is tangible and graspable, even for the novice. There is little vegetation to obscure it. The Doros Crater area is such a place. Here the overall topography, the individual formations, and each rock of cataclysmic formation within a vast world.

A common thread throughout that story concerns the repeated joining and splitting apart of continental land masses over several thousand million years, as the Earth itself took shape. The continental oscillations culminated in the formation of the super-continent Gondwana 550 million years ago. Gondwana, in turn, began to break slowly apart 180 million years ago to create the modern-day continents of Africa and South America, as well as Antarctica, Australia and India. The shifting and shaping of entire continents obviously involve extreme forces, including extensive volcanic activity, which created vast fields of lava that covered much of what today are parts of Namibia and Brazil. In many places, the edges of the forming continents lifted and entire mountain ranges were created and shifted. Over time, the forces of erosion washed away the debris and smoothed the edges. Left for us to marvel at is one of the most interesting and intricate patchworks of geology in Namibia, known in geological circles as the Damaraland rock complexes in the greater Erongo-Brandberg-Doros Crater area.


“Species such as Welwitschia mirabilis and a variety of Commiphoras dot the plains and washes, while along larger ephemeral watercourses, mopane is the dominant species.”

There is much more to see here, of course, than interesting geology. Plant life is sparse but diverse and fascinating. Species such as the famous Welwitschia mirabilis and a variety of Commiphoras dot the plains and washes, while along larger ephemeral watercourses, mopane is the dominant species. Like the flora, wildlife tends to be scarce in such drylands, but it is there and when it shows itself, it always brings the stunning surroundings alive. Giraffe, Hartmann’s mountain zebra, kudu, gemsbok, springbok and steenbok make up the more regular sightings, but you may be lucky enough to see an elephant or a leopard, or any one of a number of other rare species.

Along the route, you will also pass interesting local homesteads, and there are a few interesting car wrecks to photograph. Farming here is difficult for communities who depend on livestock herding, which they must supplement with other sources of income. Conservation and tourism provide options to diversify local livelihoods and enable life with the wildlife, be it elephants or lions. The Doros region, like most communal lands of the northwest, is partitioned into registered communal conservancies, which together form the huge Erongo-Kunene Community Conservation Area.

Conservancies are in essence social units, defined by a group of people who have decided to work together to form a conservancy and jointly manage the natural resources of their area. Conservancy boundaries thus tend to have unusual shapes, which are often unrelated to natural features. Interlinked neighbours create a contiguous conservancy patchwork that covers most of the communal lands of the Erongo and Kunene regions. The Doros Sidetrack route meanders across the Doro Nawas, Sorris Sorris and Uibasen Twyfelfontein conservancies.

Many vehicle tracks lace this landscape, some created by reprobate four-wheelers driving where they like, some used by local farmers to access water points or grazing areas; others were created by mining and geological exploration activities. One of the aims of Conservancy Sidetracks is to reduce indiscriminate driving, and travellers are encouraged to remain on the route designated in the Doros Side-Track brochure.

The Doros Crater itself is a wonderful place to explore. A walk to the crater rim is well worth the effort, providing expansive views across wonderful landscapes. While the actual crater shape is best appreciated from above and shows most clearly on satellite imagery, the views from the rim do give a good impression of the crater geology. Doros Crater is a ring complex (or ring dyke) created by the volcanic activity that accompanied the breakup of Gondwana. Magma broke through the Earth’s crust in a process known as an igneous intrusion. The outflow created a cavity beneath the Earth’s surface, which subsequently collapsed and formed the caldera.

From most vantage points along the route, the Brandberg, Namibia’s highest mountain, looms as a distant colossus – the mountain in the background. The Brandberg is also a ring complex, albeit a much more imposing one than the Doros Crater. It consists mostly of granites formed beneath the Earth’s surface, which now stand exposed.

Today, the landscapes of Doros are enveloped by great silences. Yet even a rudimentary understanding of geology can bring this monumental world to life in our imagination, until we seem to hear the rumblings of an Earth alive. Or is it just the ringing silence in our ears? Go there and find out.

1. Goantagab Poort – a narrow passage of the Goantagab River between sheer rock ridges
2. Doros Crater – the volcanic ring complex at the heart of the route
3. Twyfelfontein Plateau – sandstone formations providing the canvas for the famous engravings
4. Brandberg – Namibia’s highest mountain, towering over all the land

1. Calcrete conglomerates – rocks and pebbles of various origins bound by calcareous material
2. Schist plates – metamorphic rock occurring in distinct layers or plates
3. Basalt – the widespread evidence of volcanic activity
4. Dolomite rock – the ‘elephant skin rock’ that arches in colossal ridges across the land


Conservancy Side-Track route brochures are available at CYMOT outlets in Windhoek, Swakopmund and Otjiwarongo, and at selected accommodation establishments in conservancies.

For more info visit

This article was first published in the Travel News Namibia Summer 16/17.

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