June, 2017: The Namib-Naukluft National Park is an enormous stretch of land in Africa’s south west. It contains some of the oldest desert in the world, is the largest game park in Africa and has those crazy red sand dunes of Sossusvlei. Yes, we did get bogged there, the roads stink massively but damn is it stunning. While Sossusvlei is undoubtably the most renowned spot in the park we liked Naukluft camp and Spitzkoppe even more. These two hidden gems were crazy beautiful and the scene of some rather fun Namibian hiking misadventures.
Namibian hiking misadventures: Naukluft’s Olive trail, roast lamb and banana bread
92km from Sossusvlei’s Sesriem camp site, down a heavily corrugated road punctuated with sump busting dips, Naukluft camp is like a quiet garden of eden. The surrounding countryside is filled with craggy desert ranges and isolated cattle stations come wineries (go figure??). After the crowds and soaring red sand dunes of Sossusvlei it was quite the relief to wind our way into Naukluft’s tranquil isolation. A crystal clear stream gurgled past our camp site while all around cliffs and boulders enclosed us into one of the prettiest camps of our trip. It would be the site of some outstanding hiking on the Olive Trail and our first attempt at some serious camp fire cooking.
Other than drinking in stunning scenery with a Windhoek Lager in hand, Naukluft also has some pretty amazing hikes. And, while we seem to be doing less and less strenuous exercise since buying Bertha (our 88 Toyota Land Cruiser), dusting off the hiking shoes seemed right up our alley. A few minutes drive back along the main road into camp, the Olive Trail is a 10km loop named after the wild olive trees which dot the rugged hillsides. A relatively steep path winds it’s way up an escarpment filled with huge pre-historic looking grasshoppers, thorn bushes and delicate wild flowers. From the top, ochre red ridges stretch into the distance like a never ending stone surf break. The path then does a quick loop across at the top before plunging back down into a deep canyon beset with quiver trees, hidden rock pools and the constant chattering of birds. The dudes at camp reception said the hike would take about 3.5 hours but after 2.5 hours we emerged back at the start of the trail pumped by a good morning’s hit out.
After a day of strenuous activity, and inspired by our picturesque little camp site, we felt it high time to have a crack at some camp oven cooking. A 2kg leg of Uppington lamb was crying out to be roasted and some old bananas basically begged to be baked into bread. After a few sundowners and with our fire crackling in the background we felt certain that a masterpiece of a meal was in the making. And, it was, kind of. Our fire burnt down to a satisfying mound of red hot coals and our big camp oven was filled with rosemary rubbed lamb, spuds, carrots and onions. The bread tin was filled with banana bread batter and we were ready to go. Less than hour later the encouraging aromas of crispy lamb fat and fresh banana bread which filled our nostrils suddenly changed to the distinct scent of burning. Sh*t!
Our initial foray into camp oven cooking hadn’t gone quite as smoothly as we had hoped but was delicious none the less. Apparently I should have listened to my wife a little more (don’t tell her) and raised our camp ovens higher away from the coals. Still, once we had cut away the more charred bits, what was left was damn good and encouraging enough to make us want to try again (check out this little blog for what we’ve learned since). The whole camp cooking experience rounded out an excellent few days at Naukluft.
Namibian hiking misadventures: Climbing Spitzkoppe
In between Swakopmund and Windhoek, Spitzkoppe is a nature reserve known for it’s beautiful isolated camp sites, soaring rock formations and cave paintings. Set amongst huge, bald, granite peaks, nearly every camp site is situated such that you can’t see your neighbour. For the Aussies amongst us, it’s very much like Kata Tjuta and for me had an almost spiritual vibe to it. For those not prone to hyperbole it’s just another example of the Namibia’s stunning and varied landscape.
The afternoon we arrived at Spitzkoppe, we did a stunning circumnavigation of the reserve and then scaled the rocky hills above our campsite for sundowners. As the harsh afternoon light mellowed, the colours changed from sun bleached brown to bright orange and then a deep, rich red. We saw the other odd overlanding vehicle and groups of tourists but in general revelled in a deep sense of solitude. Then as the milky way gradually spread out across the night sky we stoked the camp fire and made some pretty tasty shepherds pie from the left overs of our Naukluft roast. As luck would have it some rather friendly Koreans who we had met in Swakopmund had pitched camp just across the way so we closed out the evening sharing cask wine and comparing stories. An awesome end to an awesome day.
The following morning we had another unusual burst of energy which drove us to try and climb up the highest hill we could find. From the comfort of our bed we had a perfect view up to the summit and in our post slumber stupor estimated that we could probably be up and down in no more than 30-45 minutes. A great little spot of exercise to start the day. After giving the Koreans a quick tutorial in changing a tyre we marched off confident that we would soon be back for breakfast. YEAH RIGHT!
As we neared the base of our climb, it suddenly occurred to us that the easy hill climb we had seen from bed may be a touch more strenuous than planned. Indeed as we started climbing the incline grew ever steeper, the thorns thornier and the path none existent. At first we were unperturbed but it didn’t take long for us to question whether this was a complete foolhardy venture and serious hiking misadventure. At times it was so steep that we didn’t know whether we would keep going up or trip and fall back down. We came very close to turning back but pushed on. Clambering over house sized boulders, jumping across metres deep crevices and pushing past highly unhelpful thorn bushes we gradually made our way up.
I think we would have actually turned back but about two thirds of the way up we found small cairns of rock indicating a previous attempt. Following the cairns, eventually, 1.5 hours after starting we came to a sufficiently high point we felt we could claim as the top. Naturally FOMO Fi wanted to push on to the highest point but with water supplies seriously lacking and no breakfast in my belly, I convinced her that we should turn back. A similarly strenuous and at times rather painful mission back saw us finally reach the bottom just as the days heat really started to crank up. The confident strut of earlier was gone as we shuffled back to camp lamenting our seriously scratched legs. Never has a toasted ham and cheese sarnie tasted so good. Turns out our easy climb wasn’t so easy after all.
Namibian hiking misadventures: the fine print
- Naukluft camp is part of Namibian Wildlife Resorts. The camp site is relatively small but very beautiful with each camp site having a braai pit and water. Amenities are clean and the water is hot. Fire wood can purchased at reception. Camp site cost NAD170/night/person. Bookings can be made here.
- While we did the Olive Trail, it’s definitely worth even just taking a small stroll down the Waterkluft trail. The entire trail is 17km long but there are some lovely little pools a few kilometres from the main Naukluft camp site. Well worth it.
- While there are no doubt many awesome camp sites at Spitzkoppe, we loved our camp number one. It was tucked right up against a sheer granite cliff and had amazing views over to the seen of our hiking misadventure. All camp sites have a braai area and surprisingly clean long drop toilets (at least ours was). Hot water showers can be found back at the entrance. Camp site cost NAD150/night/person. Bookings can be made here.