The Namib Naukluft National Park is a vast area of desert situated near the west coast of Namibia bordering the Dorob National Park as well as the NamibRand Nature Reserve.
This renowned Park is an ecologically protected area and considered to be the largest game park in Africa (and fourth largest in the world) as well as including the oldest desert in the world (the Namib Desert). It is said to be Africa’s super park.
Its spectacular desert landscapes make up an area of roughly 49,800 km2 (19,216 sq. mi.), stretching roughly 600 km from North to South, starting at the Northern border, which is close to the Swakop river, running all the way down to Luderitz, stopping before the South African border.
When visiting Namibia, the Namib Naukluft Park and the world’s oldest desert is definitely a thing to be seen. Its beauty and vast landscape are unimaginably beautiful and unique.
In this article we will go into in depth detail about the Namib Naukluft National Park …….. continue reading to learn more about this ancient and magnificent wonder.
This highly protected piece of desert land was found way back in 1907 in German South West Africa. Its proclamation as ‘Game Reserve No. 3’ took place in August 1979 by the German Colonial Administration and its governor Friedrich von Lindequist when they decided to put the area between the Kuiseb river and the Swakop river under protection.
At this time, it was considered to be the largest protected area in the country. It was one of 3 game reserves/national parks at the time, the others being Etosha and Omuramba Omatako.
With the passing of World War I, this proclamation of the Germans was confirmed by the South West African Administration after which the desert area now known as Sandwich Harbour was included in 1941, the Kuiseb Canyon, Swakop River Valley and the Welwitschia Plains in 1956, and an extension along the Southern border of the park in 1962.
Later in the 1960s — 1966 to be exact — a deproclamation of ‘Game Reserve No. 3’ happened and the Namib Naukluft National Park was founded. The Namib Naukluft now includes the Moon Landscape — which is situated east of Swakopmund — as well as a small area on the North end of the Swakop river — which is where you will find the Welwitschia plant growing.
More areas were added to the Park in 1979. The Naukluft Mountain Zebra Park, which now meant that the incredible Naukluft Mountains made up part of the protected area, and a large piece of land running along the Atlantic Ocean, which included a large area known as ‘Diamond Area 2’ (Diamond Area 1 was later added in 1986). This 1600 km (1000 mi) strip of, now protected, land was dubbed Namibia’s first Marine Reserve.
The borders that are surrounding the park today were established in 1986 at which time the government gained control over the Sperrgebiet, which is also today part of the Namib Naukluft Park. The Sperrgebiet is a vast strip of the Namib Desert that is restricted for diamond mining. It has been inaccessible to the general population for many years.
Since 2010, the park belongs to the Namib Skeleton Coast National Park.
The park and oldest desert consists of different terrain, depending on where in the park you are situated. The terrain ranges from silky soft sand to rocky and mountainous terrain.
Starting in the area closest to the Atlantic coast, you will find wetlands and lagoons, where one is able to find an incredible bird life located at the shores of the Park.
Moving a bit further inland, towards the Namib Desert, you will find that the terrain becomes rather sandy and consists of large sand dunes carrying a beautiful shade of burnt orange with them.
Fun fact about the color of these captivating sand dunes: the more orange they appear, the older they are. This is due to the iron oxidation that happens in the sand over the years.
You will also find that some of these dunes are considered to be among the largest sand dunes in the world, some of them, one named Big Daddy for instance, is around 325metres high (over 1050 ft).
As you come closer to the mountain landscape, the terrain becomes more rocky and mountainous. This terrain includes rocky outcrops and inselbergs of incredible red granite. The earth is rich in sandstone and feldspar.
Fun fact: the word Namib translates to ‘open space’.
Namib Desert Climate
Generally, the Namib Naukluft National Park — being part of the Namib Desert — has an extremely hot and dry climate and is classified as a hyper-arid region.
There is very limited rainfall and temperatures range from below freezing point to well above 38 degrees Celsius (100 Degrees Fahrenheit). These extreme temperature changes are thanks to the largely varied altitude found along the park. The parts that are situated at a lower altitude — such as Sossusvlei — tend to be a lot warmer than those in higher altitudes, such as the Naukluft mountains.
Winter in Namibia
Winter in the Namib lasts from May to October. These are considered to be the coolest and driest months, with extremely limited rainfall and the average afternoon temperature reaching roughly 23 degrees Celsius (73 degrees Fahrenheit).
In the early hours of the morning during the dry season, you will find that the temperature is a cool 9 degrees Celsius (48 degrees Fahrenheit).
Temperatures will slowly start rising in September. You may experience isolated rain showers during October in exceptional years.
The most popular time to visit weather wise is in August, when it is not too hot yet. This is also a fantastic time for birdwatchers and the best month for wildlife viewing.
Summer in Namibia
During summer, the climate is still mostly dry and sunny with blue skies. The average daytime temperature is around 27 degrees Celsius in the afternoon and 14 degrees Celsius in the morning.
If rain falls, it would most likely happen between January and March. There is always a danger of flash floods happening in dry river beds after heavy rain, that one should be aware of.
Temperatures start dropping and the chances of rain start decreasing towards April, when autumn starts sneaking in.
Even though the area has limited rainfall throughout the year, its flora and fauna are surprisingly varied.
In the rocky areas of the Namib Naukluft National Park where there is little to no soil you will find Aloe plants such as the quiver tree, as well as (what were formerly known as acacia), Vachellia, Senegalia, euphorbia and commiphora.
You will find that most vegetation grows close to the ground. They grow at a slow pace and are adapted to holding onto water in preparation for the drought season.
In the deeper valleys of the mountainous areas, you will find a much denser vegetation with loads of lush broadleaf species of plants such as wild figs. Some trees that grow well here are camel thorn, buffalo thorn and shepherd’s trees.
Fauna of the Namib Naukluft Park
Some of the captivating wildlife that you may spot — although this is difficult due to the vastness of the park — include Oryx, Chacma Baboon, Bat Eared Fox, Hartmann’s mountain Zebra, Kudu, Springbok, Warthogs and Ostrich.
Other smaller wildlife found in the Namib Naukluft National Park are Steenbok and Klipspringer. Most of these larger animals are commonly found on the plains around or at the foot of the mountains.
If you are very lucky, you may even find a Leopard or other smaller wild cats in the mountains. These animal sightings are however quite a rare occurrence.
If you are incredibly lucky you may even spot some amazing desert elephants. Although they no longer venture as far south as the Kuiseb Canyon, there was a sighting of a lone bull on the outskirts of Swakopmund in December 2019.
There is a fascinating range of arachnids in the Namib Naukluft Park, we have several articles which may interest you.
Birds of the Namib Naukluft Park
If you enjoy bird watching, the Namib Naukluft National Park is definitely a good place to be. It is said that there are roughly 200 different species of birds found in the park and its terrain attract hundreds of thousands of them.
From water-loving species like African black ducks and Brubru to birds that prefer drier areas such as the Karoo robin, rosy-faced lovebirds and Monteiro’s hornbill.
Highlights of the Namib Naukluft National Park
Apart from all the interesting wildlife sightings, plant life and birdlife found in the Namib Naukluft Park, the landforms and geology are also found to be quite fascinating and bring the desert to life. Continue on for some highlights of this incredible park.
As mentioned above, the famous sand dunes of the Namib Desert make up a part of the Namib Naukluft Park. These towering beauties are created by the wind coming from the coastline and make up some of the highest dunes.
This wonder is nothing short of magical and houses a number of small animals and insects such as snakes, geckos, tok tokkie beetles (desert beetle) and jackals.
Another part of the Namib Naukluft Parks natural features include rivers that run through the area during a good rainy season.
This river comes from the Khomas Highlands — an area close to the capital, Windhoek — and flows westward towards the coast of Namibia.
On a good rainy day it flows all the way through the Namib Naukluft National Park via the Kuiseb Canyon until it reaches the Atlantic Ocean at Walvis Bay. If the sky does not bring enough rain, it typically starts to dry out once it reaches the Namib Desert.
The Tsondab river — although not as popular as the Kuiseb — also runs through the Namib Naukluft Park. Its source is located in the Remhoogte mountains and as it flows it makes its way westward towards the coast, evaporating as it reaches Tsondabvlei.
The name Tsondab is also given to a type of rock called Tsondab sandstone which exists as rocky outcrops thought to be 20 million years old which can be seen from space.
Should there be a flood, the raging river is stopped by a dune barrier at the end of the vlei.
The Tsauchab River is one of the more popular rivers that is found flowing through the Namib Naukluft Park. Its source comes from the Naukluft mountains, and it flows west through the Sesriem canyon until it reaches Sossusvlei, where dunes hinder the river from reaching the ocean.
The Sesriem Canyon can be found close to the entrance of the Namib Naukluft National Park, and it was formed over the years by the Tsauchab river.
It consists of beautiful rock formations and is definitely worth exploring. The word ‘ses-riem’ translates to ‘six-straps’.
This name was given to the canyon by Afrikaans explorers due to them using 6 leather straps tied together in order to reach the water to fill their buckets.
There is parking close to the canyon as well as accommodation in the area. You can also use the camping facilities at Agama Lodge.
This little desert gem is one of the highlights when passing through this national park. It is a very small settlement in the middle of nowhere, consisting of a gas station, a small shop, a bakery and a small café.
It is a great little pit stop on your journey, where they happen to sell the best freshly baked apple pie that I have ever come across in Namibia. Definitely worth your while, though of course, we would advise you to wait until you reach Agama Lodge where you can take advantage of the Desert Restaurant for all your eating and drinking requirements!
They also offer parking and accommodation.
The Southern region of these remarkable mountains form the Eastern part of the Namib Naukluft National Park and, as previously mentioned, have been a protected area since 1968. It is a range of mountains full of surprises. Rich in wildlife and plant life.
In some parts you may even find natural springs or hidden rock pools of crystal clear fresh water.
This mountain range is a great area for hiking as well as adventurous 4×4 drives.
This is a very popular park site to see in Namibia. Sossusvlei is a clay and salt pan which is surrounded by incredibly beautiful red dunes.
Some of these massive sand dunes have an unimaginable height of 400 m and their beautiful red color creates an amazing contrast against the almost white desert floor.
The word ‘Sossusvlei’ translates to ‘dead-end marsh’, which is fitting as its red colored sand dunes stop the Tsauchab river from flowing any further.
This place is easily accessible and filled with incredible sites and abundant wildlife. Accommodation is available in the area. We are sure that you will find that Agama Lodge is perfectly situated to offer the best accommodation in the Namib Naukluft Park, being ideally located for many highlights on offer including Sossusvlei, hiking trails, birdwatching and game drives.
Dead vlei is located in the Sossusvlei region. It is a dried-up marshland, which makes the name quite fitting — ‘vlei’ means ‘marsh’.
Deadvlei used to be a flood plain filled with water coming from the Tsauchab river. At the time, many camelthorn trees started growing in the area. But unfortunately they died of thirst when the plain started to dry out.
These trees are, however, still standing today, as the unique dry climate prevents them from decaying. These trees are estimated to be 900-1000 years old.
The red dunes, white pan and black trees are really a sight for sore eyes and incredibly beautiful.
Getting to Namib Naukluft National Park
There are many different ways to get to the national park; it all depends on your preference. There are scenic flights available as well as guided bus or car tours. One is also able to go there in a private car. Most roads in the area accommodate 2WD, but we would suggest cars with 4WD.
Get your park entrance permit to enter the national park at any Ministry of Environment and Tourism office, and you are good to go.
From Walvis Bay
Simply take the C26 towards Windhoek and you will find that the road leads you through the national park.
Heading from Luderitz, take the B4 and take the turnoff to Aus. This will also lead you to the national park.
We sincerely hope that this written journey will entice you to visit and explore this wonderful park, whether it be by scenic flight or a safari road trip. One thing is for sure, you will most definitely not regret it and an amazing experience is guaranteed when visiting the Namib Naukluft Park.