Visible over 80km away, as you speed along the B1 north of Keetmanshoop, the forbidding massif of Brukkaros looms out of the surrounding flat, parched plains, dwarfing the nearby Nama settlement of Berseba (!Autsawises), one of the oldest villages in Namibia. The original name for the mountain was Geitsigubeb, the Khoekhoen word for a leather apron, which they thought it resembled; this led to the Afrikaans combination of “broek” (trousers) and “karos” (leather apron), which resulted in Brukkaros.

Despite its imposing stature, it is often overlooked by tourists, but is well worth a detour if you like hiking, as it offers commanding views, fascinating rock formations and surprisingly good birding. In the colonial era, the Germans used the crater rim as a heliograph station; then in 1926 the National Geographic Society teamed up with the Smithsonian Institute and ran a solar observatory here for a few years.

For a long time it was assumed to be an extinct volcano, suggested by its squat conical shape and existence of a caldera. Yet it’s now thought to be the result of an enormous gaseous explosion that occurred around 80 million years ago: magma pushing upwards encountered groundwater, which then heated, vaporized and expanded, while pressure from the magma continued to build. When the Earth’s crust, which had been welling up, could no longer take the strain, it exploded, spewing forth rocks that now form the crater rim. Over time, the central area eroded away, leaving a scree-encircled caldera floor some 350m below the rim. Quiver trees are present, hosting the inevitable sociable weavers’ communal nest, and the area generally supports numerous bird species, particularly raptors; look out for black and booted eagles riding the thermals. The mountain also hosts the endemic Brukkaros pygmy rock mouse, though being nocturnal and minute, the chances of spotting one are not high.

Hiking to the Crater

After passing under an unlikely gateway announcing your arrival at Brukkaros, the road bends round a hillock to the former lower campsite and car park; most visitors leave their vehicle here, though it is possible to take a 4WD 2km further up the very rocky track to the upper campsite and parking area, but it’s a very bumpy ride. From the upper camping area, a narrow, steep, meandering path takes you up a further 1.5km to the lip of the outflow, marked by a rock waterfall, where you’ll only see cascading water after heavy rains. Here you can choose to explore the vegetated caldera, or make a sharp left turn to scramble a further 500m onto the rim itself, and soak up the breathtaking views. The vertigo-hardened might want to navigate a further 4.5km along an increasingly indistinct path round to the northern side of the rim, and nose around the decaying buildings of the abandoned research station, before taking the same route back.

Don’t hike on your own since there’s no mobile phone coverage and the walk involves a lot of boulder-hopping and rock scrambling, with the real risk of going over on your ankle. Make sure you have robust footwear, plenty of water and protection against the sun, as there’s no shelter along the way.

Arrival and information

Access is via the M98, signposted off the B1, 86km north of Keetmanshoop, and just south of Tses, signposted to the village of Berseba (!Autsawises in Nama), which lies 38km down the road, and where there are a couple of basic shops and a fuel station. About a kilometre before the village itself a poorly marked dirt road, the D3904 (accessible in 2WD), leads 10km up to the mountain. Theoretically, a community fee is payable upon entry, but there is rarely anyone there to take the money, as the community enterprise – including maintenance of the two campsites – has all but closed down.

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