The NAMIB-NAUKLUFT NATIONAL PARK is one of Africa’s largest protected areas. It has increased in size from a small game reserve in 1907 to a vast national park – larger than Switzerland – that now encompasses a huge tranche of the Namib Desert, including former restricted mining areas. Only a fraction of this immense and unique landscape, however, is accessible to the public.
As a tourist destination, the park is renowned above all for the desolate beauty of the vibrantly coloured dunes round Sossusvlei, on the eastern edge of a rippling dune sea, whose relentless progress is eventually halted by the Atlantic Coast to the west, and the Kuiseb River to the north. Yet the Naukluft Mountains, which loom out of the gravel plains further east, prove an equally compelling destination for hikers, where the permanent water sources that lurk in the massif’s deep ravines (kloofs) support a surprising diversity of flora and fauna.
In the northwest corner of the reserve, north of the Kuiseb River, a rockier desert landscape emerges. It is interspersed with pockets of dunes, beyond which extend gravel plains strewn with specimens of the planet’s oldest plant, the welwitschia mirabilis. Along the northern section of the park’s windswept coastline lie the constantly shifting contours of Sandwich Harbour – a shallow lagoon encircled by majestic dunes, and a major wetland site for resident and migratory birds. This northern section of the national park is accessed via, or en route to/from, Swakopmund and Walvis Bay. The southern section has two main access points: at Sesriem for the dunescape around Sossusvlei, and southwest of the tiny crossroads and farm at Büllsport, where there is an entrance to the eastern side of the Naukluft Mountains.