The Namib Desert

The Namib Desert is a coastal desert found in Southern Africa, and means “vast place” in Nama. The desert spans more than 2,000 km along the Atlantic coasts of Angola, Namibia and South Africa. The Namib ascends as from the coast eastward, reaching up to 200 km inland to the foot of the Great Escarpment. The Namib is said to be the oldest in the world at 55-80 million years old while its most arid parts only receive 2mm of rain a year.

The Namib’s geology changes from sand seas at the coast to gravel plains and mountain outcrops inland. The dunes sit at 300 m high and are 32 km long, the second highest in the world after the Badain Juran Desert dunes in China. The cool Benguela current of the Atlantic drifts over the desert and often creates a fog belt when it combines with the warm air of the desert. The coastal regions of the Namib can often experience up to 180 days of impenetrable fog annually. This provides a source of water and moisture for desert life but means destruction for ships. The Skeleton Coast is lined with shipwrecks that have run aground because of the all-consuming fog.

Due to its dry and arid character, the Namib remains almost completely devoid of human settlement bar the indigenous groups of the Ovahimba, Topnaar Nama and Obatjimba Herero. The oldness of the desert means that many of the animals and plant life that exist within it are endemic. The Namib-Naukluft National Park, the largest in Africa, makes for an incredible place to game watch; from the large African Elephant, gemsbok and the mountain zebra to the small and resourceful Namib Desert beetle who gains its moisture from cold fog that rolls in. The most recognised endemic plant to the desert is the Welwitschia mirabilis is a shrub that grows two long strap-like leaves that grow tall and become twisted from the strong winds. The plant is known for its remarkable ability to survive in this extremely arid region and can be found on the Welwitschia Plains. The reserve is also home to the famous solitary Sossusvlei Dunes.

The Namib Desert is not just a sanctuary for flora and fauna, it is the site of major mines for tungsten, salt and diamonds. The northern Namib is where you will find the scattered shipwrecks, testament to the strong southerly sea winds, currents and fog. Some can be found as far as 50 m inland. This area is referred to as the Skeleton Coast and Portuguese sailors once called it, “the Gates of Hell.” Many people believe the name stemmed from the remains of the shipwrecks, but it originated from the large bones and carcasses of whales and seals that were left by the whaling industry. Most of the area, 16,000 km, is part of the Skeleton Coast National Park. Around this area, tourists can enjoy visiting the seal colony at Cape Fria, the Agate Mountain salt pans or the clay castles of Hoarisib. In addition, the coast is known for its ideal surfing conditions.

Enjoy the sparse beauty and natural wonder of the Namib as you travel along Rovos Rail’s luxury tour.