Why we like it
- Challenging Naukluft Mountain hiking trails for thrill seekers.
- Stargazing in the NamibRand Nature Reserve rated some of the best in the world.
- Multidimensional terrain, from undulating red dunes, to inselbergs, to rocky mountains and coast.
- Desert walking trails with sleep-outs and luxury camping.
- Hidden gems between some of Namibia’s most popular tourist attractions.
Walk, drive, hike, horse-ride, or balloon yourselves across one of the largest national parks in the world. Namib-Naukluft is Namibia’s crown jewel and includes the country’s top destinations, like Sossusvlei and Sandwich Harbour, but there is so much more than meets the eye. Here is where you’ll find mountainous oases on the edge of the desert, experience luxury in private Namib reserves, and discover wildlife diversity across the spectrum, from coastal creatures to resilient desert species and endemic inhabitants.
The Namib-Naukluft is one of the largest national parks in the world at about 50 000 square kilometres. It incorporates the ancient Namib Desert all the way up the Atlantic coast in the west, the impressive Naukluft Mountains in the east, the Kuiseb Valley and Sandwich Harbour in the north, and is bordered by the NamibRand Nature Reserve in the south. Its landscape is super diverse, and it includes some of the country’s most popular tourist destinations – like Sossusvlei – and some of its least visited parks, like Naukluft Mountain Zebra Park. This is where keen hikers will celebrate the mountainous terrain and where stargazers will find themselves in heaven.
NamibRand Nature Reserve
The NamibRand Nature Reserve is essentially an extension of the Namib-Naukluft National Park, but it is private land rather than public. It was created by joining a string of private farms together and declaring the area a private nature reserve, intended to protect and conserve the precious Namib biodiversity. It’s a hugely vast area (getting used to that in Namibia?) and takes up around 200 000 hectares!
The best way to experience the immense silence and sheer desert beauty is to book into one of the luxury lodges or join a professionally guided walking trail. We’re always promoting adventurous experiences and we’re honest about which ones are worth it. Let us be the first to say that the Tok Tokkie Trail in the NamibRand is one for the books, not because it’s physically challenging, but because it immerses you in the details of the desert. Just two nights spent wrapped up warmly under the stars, you’ll walk in the mornings and evenings on gentle terrain while the ground crew invisibly sets up your camp and cooks your three-course meals. You’ll be astonished by the wonders of the desert.
If you’d rather explore in a vehicle or perhaps from a hot-air balloon, we’d recommend Wolwedans, which has a collection of superb luxury desert lodges with views of those red sand dunes you’ll never get tired of. NamibRand actually encompasses all of the desert landscapes, including mountains, gravel plains, dunes, and savanna grassland. It is also Africa’s first ever Dark Sky Reserve, which makes if one of the world’s best stargazing destinations. Officially.
Naukluft Mountain Zebra Park
Another hub of adventurous activity, Naukluft Mountain Zebra Park is one of Namibia’s most sought-after hiking destinations. Some of the trails are considered the most challenging and the eight-day trek through the Naukluft Mountains is the country’s longest hike. It is not for sissies, as they say!
Hiking it is one of the most rewarding experiences you can imagine, so get out and do it if you’ve got some experience and are looking for an epic adventure with friends. It’s a carry-all excursion covering 138km over eight days and involves a lot of steep inclines and some technical boulder scrambling. Fall asleep – exhausted – to the sound of hyenas and enjoy the presence of water on the edge of the great Namib Desert. Once you’ve done it, it’s tradition to drink a Windhoek lager from your hardworking hiking boot!
If you’re keen on some outdoor activity but can’t commit to the big hike, there are a couple of less demanding options: the 10km Olive Trail and the 17km Waterkloof Trail. Neither are easy, but you don’t hike in the Naukluft Mountains if you’re looking for easy! You’ll cross beautiful mountain rock pools, use your balance at a chain crossing, and take in some of the most spectacular scenery. The terrain is totally different to the desert to the west of the park and so you can expect to see different animals – those that rely on a bit of water. Hartmann’s mountain zebra, baboons, rock dassies, klipspringers, and kudus are among the large mammals living in these mountains.
This destination is not at the top of the list for every visitor because it attracts mostly hikers, so while it is entirely convenient in terms of location, it is considered off the beaten track. All the more reason to love it! The park is only an hour and a half from Sossusvlei, which is perhaps the country’s most visited destination, yet so few people include it on an itinerary. We have to recommend it on a southern Namibia circuit if you’ve got a penchant for semi-dangerous hiking! Just four hours from Swakopmund.
Kuiseb River Valley
Making up the northern territory of the Namib-Naukluft National Park is the Kuiseb River Valley. It’s packed with history and is a varied and scenic part of the country, ideal for walking trails, 4×4 excursions, and even horseback enthusiasts. The river itself starts near Windhoek and tries to reach the Atlantic Ocean just south of Walvis Bay, but gets swallowed up by the coastal dunes before it joins the sea. Historically it has burst through the dunes on a few occasions, but not often and not recently.
The famous story of the Kuiseb is about two men who escaped conscription during World War II and fled into the desert with a dog named Otto. This story of Henno Martin and Hermann Korn is a favourite among Namibians, and rightly so. The men and their dog survived for a couple of years living off the natural resources and ultimately lived to tell the tale. Now, you can visit these old shelter sites in the Kuiseb River Valley and marvel at the reality these two men must have lived.
Over its lifetime Kuiseb’s course has carved a canyon through the desert’s surface. It’s a beautiful place to hike and admire the tall walls rising up from the riverbed. The canyon is somewhere around the halfway mark between Solitaire and Walvis Bay and the main road crosses the canyon via one of the country’s famous scenic passes.
The best way to explore this ephemeral river and its desert life is to walk it with a guide. Overnight trails through the dunes from Homeb towards Walvis Bay are three-night excursions and involve sleeping in silence under the stars and meeting the local Topnaar people who have lived rurally in the Kuiseb Valley since the 1820s. The elders in these villages have deep-rooted knowledge into the traditional ways to live off the desert. You’ll leave with fascinating insight into this clan of the Nama and as a bonus you’ll get to watch sunsets from deep in the dunes, which is something spectacular.
Take some time to explore some of these less-travelled parts of the Namib-Naukluft – it will deepen your appreciation for this ancient land, and you’ll get the luxury of an exclusive experience. Naukluft hikers must be physically trained and make sure you go in winter to avoid intense heat.
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