6. “Fairy Circles”
From the air, “fairy circles” – one of the Namib’s more curious, unexplained natural phenomena – appear to be giant polka dots on a vast piece of scorched cloth. Closer inspection reveals them to be discs of bare earth, encircled by rings of grass that are taller and healthier than the surrounding vegetation.
Possible explanations for their occurrence have included poisoning by rival toxic plants, being eaten by sand termites or even created by aliens, though self-organisation theory is the current favoured explanation.
7. Oshanas in northern Namibia
When the rains from the Angolan Highlands eventually flood the flat, dusty terrain of central northern Namibia, they transform the landscape into a picturesque patchwork of life-giving oshanas (or iishana). These are shallow depressions presided over by makalani palms that become seasonal ponds, hosting frogs, crustaceans and sometimes fish, which Owambo women catch in reed baskets.
Standing sentinel at the western edge of the Kalahari, this impressive table mountain with its striking sandstone cliffs (pictured here) is a top place to camp and birdwatch. Waterberg (water mountain in Afrikaans) retains moisture in the porous sandstone nourishing vegetation that supports more than 200 bird species.
The plateau’s inaccessibility also encourages the breeding of endangered species to supply other national parks: look out for roan and sable antelope and white and black rhino while on a guided game drive.
The crown jewel of Namibia’s national parks, Etosha is chock-full of large mammals, including the continent’s greatest concentration of black rhino, large cats galore and perennial favourites such as giraffe – all drawn to the reserve’s numerous water holes during the dry season.
Etosha’s defining feature is a vast, ghostly salt pan – Africa’s largest – which is visible from space; in years of exceptional rain it transforms into a giant mirror attracting clouds of pink flamingos that come to breed.
10. The dunes of the Kalahari
Often playing second fiddle to the giant sand dunes of the Namib, the scenic, more vegetated Kalahari dunescape in southeast Namibia is less frequented by tourists. Yet the area’s sprinkling of lodges and campsites make ideal retreats for those seeking out some of the country’s more curious or shy mammals: bat-eared foxes, aardvarks, meerkats and honey badgers.
Marking the border between Angola and northwestern Namibia, the Kunene River carves its way westwards through remote mountain scenery and desolate dunescapes, before emptying into the ocean on the Skeleton Coast. The river is most impressive at Epupa Falls, where you can watch it trip and tumble over a series of cataracts before it plunges dramatically into a ravine.
12. Quiver trees
The quiver tree’s distinctive crown of waxy leaves is a common sight around the arid rocky terrain of southern Namibia. At times a lonely sentinel on an escarpment, the tree's greatest concentrations can be found in the Quiver Tree Forest and Mesosaurus Fossil Site, north of Keetmanshoop.
Actually a giant aloe, the quiver tree gained its name from the Khoisan people, who are said to have used the hollowed-out branches as quivers for their poison-tipped hunting arrows.
One of Namibia’s most distinctive landmarks, the imposing Spitzkoppe mountain rises 700m above the surrounding desert plains, amid a handful of other bornhardts – dome-shaped bald granite outcrops. Glowing like gold in the afternoon sun, the place attracts climbers, hikers, stargazers and cave-painting enthusiasts in equal measure.
A stay at the community-run campsite affords the opportunity to explore the mountain’s surreal, weathered rock formations: giant granite boulders and fascinating rock arches formed millions of years ago are just two of the attractions.
Forming part of the Great Escarpment, the imposing Naukluft Mountains constitute prime hiking country, offering a couple of strenuous day-walks and a gruelling multi-day trail. Unexpected springs and pools tucked away in ravines nourish a wealth of wildlife, including klipspringer, kudu and Hartmann’s mountain zebra. The views from the plateau top are simply breathtaking.
One of the largest private reserves in Africa, NamibRand boasts some of the country’s most spectacular desert scenery and most exclusive wilderness accommodation.
Bordering the famous Namib-Naukluft National Park, this reserve – backed by the imposing Nubib Mountains – is a patchwork of sand dunes, fairy circles, granite boulders and gravel plains that transform into shimmering grasslands after rainfall. In short, it’s a photographer’s dream.
Header image: ronnybas/Shutterstock. Images from top: Oleg Znamenskiy/Shutterstock; Oleg Znamenskiy/Shutterstock; milosk50/Shutterstock; Kushnirov Avraham/Dreamstime.com; Francesco Dazzi/Shutterstock; LUCKOHNEN/iStock; imageBROKER/Alamy Stock Photo; brytta/iStock; Dmitry Pichugin/Shutterstock; Znm/Dreamstime.com; Grobler du Preez/Shutterstock; ansharphoto/Shutterstock; Radek Borovka/Shutterstock; Karel Gallas/Shutterstock; LUC KOHNEN/Shutterstock.