The vastness of SOUTHERN NAMIBIA is daunting, as is the absence of people: only about seven percent of the population live here. It stretches 700km from the lush banks of the Orange River in the South, marking the border with South Africa, up to the undulating central highland plateau south of Windhoek. Bounded by the cold Atlantic Ocean to the west, southern Namibia encompasses most of the mountainous dunes, gravel plains and rocky outcrops of the Namib Desert as it reaches inland to meet the flatter acacia-studded grasslands of the semi-desert that is the Kalahari. Much of the Namib, one of the world’s oldest deserts, is protected within the boundaries of the largely inaccessible Namib-Naukluft National Park, which includes the magical, richly coloured dunes round Sossusvlei and the impressive Naukluft Mountains, home to the rare Hartmann’s mountain zebra, and a popular hiking destination. Tucked away on the coast at the southwestern limit of the park sits the anachronistic German port town of Lüderitz, now an emerging tourist centre and the only point of access to the former diamond mining area that is now the Tsau ||Khaeb (Sperrgebiet) National Park. Southern Namibia’s other great attraction is the spectacular Fish River Canyon; a 160km-long serpentine ravine, it hosts a challenging five-day hiking trail that ends in the popular hot-springs resort of |Ai-|Ais.
In the centre of southern Namibia, where the main tarred road from Windhoek divides – heading west to Lüderitz and south to the border – sits Keetmanshoop, the region’s bustling administrative capital; a good place to fill up with petrol and stock up with supplies, its main tourist attraction, the scenic Quiver Tree Forest, lies outside the town, off the main road, but is well worth the diversion.