Despite its designation as a national park in 2008, and renaming to Tsau ||Khaeb (meaning “deep, sandy soils” in Nama), the diamond mining Sperrgebiet (“Forbidden Area” in German) remains true to its colonial title as it’s still pretty much a no-go zone except on a strictly controlled guided tour from Lüderitz. The park stretches 320km northwards from the important Ramsar-protected wetlands at the mouth of the Orange River, encompassing vast sand sheets and dune areas, mountains, inselbergs and gravel plains, to some 70km north of Lüderitz. From the wild Atlantic coast, whose most photographed feature is the impressive 60m Bogenfels Rock Arch, the park extends 100km inland.

Having been effectively off-limits for over a century, this whole environment has remained pristine, apart from the five percent exploited for mining, where the scars are all too apparent. In particular, the park is renowned for its outstanding plant biodiversity, boasting the greatest variety of succulents on the planet. After spring rains they explode in a profusion of colour, enlivening the otherwise stark landscape. And nowhere is the desolation more tangible than at the abandoned mining towns of Bogenfels and Pomona, where a forlorn graveyard is gradually being engulfed by sand, and the wind speeds regularly top 60kmph in the summer, generating ferocious sandstorms.

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