The Namib Desert
The Namib Desert, the oldest desert on Earth, is located in Namib Naukluft Park, the fourth largest wilderness area in the world, covering 49,768 square kilometers. The name “Namib” means “the place where there is nothing” in the Nama language.
Namib stretches for 1,900 km along the Atlantic coast across Namibia to the mouth of the Olifants River in South Africa. From the ocean, the desert extends 50 to 160 km inland to the foothills of the inland plateau; to the south, it joins the southwestern Kalahari.
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Desert conditions have existed here continuously for 80 million years, meaning that the desert dates back to the time of the dinosaurs.
This has led to the development of several endemic plant and animal species, such as the black bear beetles, which are adapted to live in this extremely hostile climate and can be found nowhere else in the world.
One of the most amazing native plants is Tumboa, or Velvicia, which grows in the northern part of the desert. Velvicia grows only two giant leaves, slowly growing throughout its life, which can last a thousand years or more, but nevertheless the leaves rarely exceed 3 meters in length because they are constantly wiped out by the wind, which tears the leaves into thin pieces and binds them together. The leaves are attached to a stem which resembles a huge conical shaped radish, 60 to 120 centimeters in diameter, and sticking out of the ground 30 centimeters. The roots of Velvicia go into the ground to a depth of up to 3 meters. Velichivia is known for its ability to grow in extremely dry conditions, using dew and fog as its main source of moisture. Velvicia, endemic to northern Namibia, is depicted on the national coat of arms of Namibia.
Another famous Namib plant found in slightly wetter parts of the desert is the nara, another local endemic that grows on the sand dunes. Its fruit forms the food base and source of moisture for many animals that cannot otherwise survive in the desert, from African elephants to antelope to porcupines.
Another characteristic desert plant is the cokerbom, or quivering tree, a succulent up to 7 meters tall.
The hollows and dunes of the inner Namib provide shelter for some species of antelope, such as gemsbok (oryx) and springbok, as well as ostriches and sometimes zebras. Elephants, rhinos, lions, hyenas, and jackals are found in the northern desert, especially in the river valleys that flow from the inner plateau into the Atlantic. The dunes of the outer Namib are home to some spiders, mosquitoes (mostly beetles and ants), and reptiles, especially geckos and snakes, but mammals are virtually absent here.
The Atlantic Ocean waters that bathe the shores of Namib are extremely abundant with life; the desert shores attract numerous seals, seabirds, and even penguins, which, despite the African heat, nest on desert shores and coastal islands.
Near the coast of the ocean, temperatures rarely drop below 10 degrees or rise above 16 degrees. In the interior of the desert, summer temperatures reach 31 degrees. In places where cool sea breezes don’t reach – on the windless sides of the dunes or in deep canyons – temperatures can rise above 38 degrees, typical of low-latitude deserts.
Temperatures sometimes drop to zero at night in the interior of the desert. Every year for a few days, usually in the spring or fall, a hot, dry wind blows in from the east. It raises the temperature above 38 degrees over the entire desert and brings huge clouds of dust that reach the ocean and can even be seen from space.
The rare rains come in the form of brief but extremely powerful downpours. The annual rainfall on the coast is 13 millimeters and gradually increases as you move inland, reaching 52 mm near the foot of the inland plateau on the eastern edge of the desert. But there are years when it does not rain at all. Nevertheless, due to the peculiarities of the climate, very abundant dew falls in the morning, and for some plant and animal species it is a much more important source of moisture than precipitation. Winter storms sometimes reach the far south of the desert and rule over South Africa in the Cape of Good Hope area; snow sometimes falls on the high southern mountains.
What to see and try
It’s an unforgettable experience to climb the world’s tallest red and gray sand dunes at sunrise or sunset, as their tops offer a view of the wind’s creations – rock formations, valleys and plains, and the sunlight turns the dune sand a huge variety of pink, yellow and purple hues.
Climbing a 300m dune is quite a challenge, and you may have to catch your breath several times. Standing on top of these dunes, you feel as if you’ve crested one of thousands of sea waves.
During the rainy season many birds come to the desert, and during the dry season you can see oryx chamois, jumping gazelles, and ostriches. Thanks to the fog that comes through here from the Atlantic, this lifeless land is home to many species of birds and animals.
A night spent in a tent under an endless blanket of stars may be one of the most memorable of your entire stay in Africa.
The Namib Desert
The Namib Desert in Africa is considered one of the oldest deserts on Earth and has a harsh climate. Both natural and man-made sights can be seen here.
The Namib Desert in southwest Africa is one of the oldest and most unusual natural areas on our planet. Unlike most other deserts, it directly borders the coast of the Atlantic Ocean, stretching along it for almost 2,000 km. The sands begin at the settlement of Namibe, managed by the Angolan government, extend across Namibia and end at the mouth of the Olifants, the largest waterway in the Cape Province of the Republic of South Africa.
If you study exactly where the Namib Desert is on a map of Africa, you will notice that compared to its length, its width is insignificant. In the south, its territory smoothly passes into the famous Kalahari. The distance from the Atlantic Ocean to the mainland plateau, where the desert zone ends, varies in different places from 50 to almost 200 km. The total area of the ecosystem exceeds 100,000 km2 .
Interestingly, in the language of the local aboriginal Nama tribe, the name desert means “the place where there is nothing”. This is explained by the exceptionally dry climate and, as a consequence, the scarcity of plant and animal life.
How the unique Namib Desert was formed
The Giant Desert was formed mainly in Namibia nearly 80 million years ago, during the reign of giant prehistoric lizards. It was formed for two main reasons:
Winds blowing from the east across the African mainland lose their strength over the high plateau of southwest Africa. For this reason, the moisture they carry does not reach the Namib, settling entirely on the mountain slopes. Green vegetation simply cannot appear in an area where the average annual rainfall does not exceed 10-13 mm.
The Bengal Current of Antarctic origin, which originates at the Cape of Good Hope and heads north, runs directly along the ocean shore of the desert. Its cold waters greatly cool the ocean off the west coast of the continent, so that any precipitation that should fall in the desert is transformed into fogs.
Researchers distinguish three climatic belts of this African desert, which run in strips along the coast:
- The coastal belt, which is small in width and flush with the Atlantic Ocean;
- The outer Namib, which occupies the remainder of the western part of the ecosystem;
- the inner Namib, located to the east of the desert zone inland.
The Namib is characterized by variations in elevation. The sandy strip along the Atlantic coast is considered the most low-lying, with the terrain gently rising to about 900 m above sea level at the base of the mainland plateau. Occasionally, the desert has fairly high cliffs with slopes that are difficult for humans to reach and deep precipices with dangerous precipices. Several rivers flow through them without reaching the coast. The largest of these are the Kunene, on the Angola-Namibia border, and the Orange, which is the watershed between Namibia and the Republic of South Africa.
The other small rivers occur only once every few years, during brief periods of heavy rainfall. In the south of Namib, most of them turn into salt marshes or mud streams that skirt the sand dunes.
The channels of some rivers are virtually invisible to the human eye, as their waters seep unobstructed into the sand and flow freely beneath its surface through a layer of impermeable rock. This unique phenomenon is used to build water pipelines in coastal cities.
Most of the desert has no soil layer, being creeping sands or completely exposed rock. In some places, a layer of soil is present, but it is too saline or contains a lot of gypsum and lime.
Dune ridges of the desert stretch strictly parallel to the shore of the Atlantic Ocean and are impressive in size: they are up to 20 km long and 240 m high. Sometimes these sand hills together with barchans move right along the slopes of the cliffs, giving them a futuristic look. There is very little sand in the north of Namib: stony and rocky plateaus dominate here.
The desert is home to the highest dune on Earth, Dune No. 7, which towers over the surrounding countryside by almost 400 m.
Climate of the Namib Desert
The climate of Namib is quite harsh, so a trip here requires especially careful preparation. On the Atlantic coast, it almost never rains, but the humidity is very high and severe fogs cause numerous shipwrecks. There is virtually no variation in temperature during the day and even months. The thermometer steadily shows +10-16 ° C.
In the interior regions of the desert, drought usually reigns. The average air temperature is +31 ° C, and in deep crevices or behind large dunes that protect from winds, it can rise to +38-40 ° C. At night the thermometer often drops to 0 ° C. In spring and autumn period it is not recommended to visit Namib: during this period hot dry wind “berg” often blows. It significantly increases the heat and brings huge dusty clouds, which are visible even from the space satellite.
The nature in the Namib Desert cannot be called diverse: only flora and fauna especially resistant to temperature changes survive here. Along the coast there are some succulent plants, capable of storing water in their stems and leaves, absorbing it from the fog and dew. The most original representative of such flora is tumboa with two giant leaves up to 3 m long. The plant is found in the northern regions of Namib, and its life span reaches 1000 years.
In the outer Namib there is almost no vegetation. The interior of the desert is green only after the rainy season. Dense stands of grasses sprout here, whose seeds survive the drought period underground. Near the major rivers there are good climatic conditions for the growth of shrubs and even tall acacias. The main representatives of the local flora also include nara, found on the slopes of the dunes, and the quivering tree, which reaches a height of 7 meters.
There are several varieties of antelope in the inner Namib. Ostrich and herds of zebra also wander here occasionally. In the northern areas of the ecosystem, especially near river beds, there are:
- lion prides;
- elephant herds;
The outer Namib is absolutely not adapted for the life of mammals, so it is a real kingdom of reptiles and insects: snakes, geckos, spiders, mosquitoes, wasps.
Seals often make rookeries near the shore. Also sea lions, cormorants, flamingos, pelicans, and there are colonies of penguins.
The average cost of a tour to Namibia with a visit to the desert is 3500 EUR – 5500 EUR. During the trip you can visit the following attractions of the desert:
- Namib-Naukluft National Park, home to leopards, spike buffalo, rhinoceros birds and other unique African fauna. This is Africa’s largest wildlife sanctuary with scenic mountains that are considered rugged.
- Sossusvlei Lake, which emerges only during the rainy season. It is famous for the tallest fiery red dunes on the planet.
- Concepcion Cove, where the famous German ship Edward Bolen is still slowly breaking apart among the dunes. The ship ran aground off the coast of Namib due to strong currents and impenetrable fog in the early twentieth century. It was never recovered from the sands.
- Dune Alley. The sand on its hills constantly changes its shade from yellow to purple depending on the light.
- The dead town of Colmanskop, located 10 km from the coast. It was once the center of the “diamond rush” that gripped Africa, but the deposits of precious stones quickly ran out and the inhabitants left the town.
There is no direct flight connection between Moscow and Windhoek, the capital of Namibia, so you have to change planes in Frankfurt am Main, Vienna, Warsaw or Capetown. The flight time is 16-19 hours and the ticket price starts from 40000 rubles.
Then, after arriving, you should buy a ticket to Wallfish Bay, a small village on the border of the Namib-Naukluft National Park. This flight will take no more than 1 hour.
The Namib Desert is one of the most unusual places on our planet, which is worth a trip for those who are tired of popular resorts and the bustle of the city.