Travelling along the tarred road between Aus and Lüderitz, you may be lucky enough to catch the incongruous sight of wild horses roaming across the desert’s gravel plains. Failing that, there is now a strategically positioned viewing hide, just off the main highway, that allows visitors to get a closer look at these resilient animals – possibly the only herd of feral desert horses in the world. Their origin is a source of great conjecture, ranging from the view that they escaped from a shipwrecked cargo vessel on the coast to the notion that they belonged to Khoikhoi raiders who came north from South Africa. The ancestry of these athletic, lean-limbed horses would appear to have been of good stock, hence the current prevailing theory that they stem from a mix of stud and cavalry horses from the German colonial period. A stud farm was known to have existed nearby and during World War I a German pilot reportedly dropped a bomb on a South African encampment in the area, probably causing their horses to scatter. These horses may also have been joined later by steeds that were abandoned by the retreating Germans. In the turmoil of war, little effort would have been made to recapture the beasts; even after the conflict, being a diamond mining area, human access was restricted.
Now, a hundred years on, these feral horses are protected within the extended Namib-Naukluft National Park. Their numbers fluctuate between ninety and three hundred depending on climatic conditions, though the establishment of a permanent water trough is likely to guarantee their continued survival, as is the fact that they’ve become a firm fixture on the tourist trail. The viewing hide is situated 100m off the main road, 20km west of Aus (and 90km east of Lüderitz). The dirt track leading to the car park is manageable in an ordinary saloon car. The best time to see the horses is late afternoon, when a few oryx are also likely to be making use of the water trough.
There are some excellent informative displays on the horses and the ecology of the area in a small tourist centre in Aus as you turn off the main road into town. If you want to linger, the recently modernized Bahnhof Hotel (Main St; t 063 258091, w hotel–aus.com) has kept its lovely polished wooden floors and high ceilings (rooms have wheelchair access). It also has a great deck overlooking the main street, and does good food: it’s a popular stopover for lunch.