In the rush to experience what for most people is the “real desert”, namely the dunes round Sossusvlei, first-time visitors to Namibia often overlook the Naukluft Mountains, an impressive escarpment that falls off the Central Highlands and a rewarding, if challenging, hiking destination. This vast plateau boasts near-vertical cliffs in places, which rise over 1000m from the surrounding gravel plains. Formed 500–600 million years ago, it consists predominantly of porous dolomite and limestone rock, riddled with caves, galleries and ravines, sitting atop a solid granite base. Indeed Naukluft takes its name from a Germanic corruption of the Afrikaans “nou kloof”, meaning narrow gorge or ravine. Where the underground water spills out in springs and streams in these fissures, crystal-clear pools form that support a surprising variety of plant and animal life, including around two hundred bird species – look out for klipspringer, kudu, steenbok, oryx and Hartmann’s mountain zebra, as well as soaring black eagles that nest along the cliffs.