Southern Damaraland 4×4 routes

Great 4×4 routes in Southern Damaraland

17 June. After a few days resting and reorganising in Swakopmund (including sweeping half the desert out of Landy) we decide to head a short way up the Skeleton Coast and then head inland on some 4×4 routes to southern Damaraland. We break the drive up with a night in Henties Bay which, during the summer, is rammed with fishermen but at the moment it is really quiet and not a place to linger. The drive along this part of the coast is on a good tar road with great views of the ocean and it even has a place to stop and walk onto the beach to see a shipwreck. However, even out here, miles from the town, we are bombarded with guys trying to sell us rocks of varying size and hue. The mineral rich environment here does mean that there are some beautiful rocks, particularly the varying hues of quartz, but the constant pushy salesmen do get very tiresome to say the least. We resist the temptation to load our already heavy Land Rover up with lumps of rock and head off inland to, hopefully deserted, southern Damaraland in the Kunene region.

Shipwreck just south of Henries Bay, Damaraland
Shipwreck just south of Henties Bay

Some serious Off roading 4×4 tracks

We are heading first to the Brandberg massif, Namibia’s highest mountain at 2573m and measuring about 30km by 23km at its base. To get from the coast to Brandberg we decide to go across country using the extensive network of 4×4 routes, starting out on the Mineral route and then joining up with the Brandberg one and hopefully managing this in one day. As we turn off the tar road we can see for miles all around us as the land is seriously flat, with only salt pans and occasional plants breaking the monotony of gravel and sand. This goes on for mile after mile and we are beginning to think we might never arrive at the mountain, surely we would see it from miles away? We take a small detour to take a look at an old quartz mine, known as the Dead Sea, which is now a deep saline pool with water so clear and still that it is difficult to see where the ground ends and the reflection begins.

Old quartz mine on mineral 4x4 track
Old quartz mine on mineral 4×4 track

The terrain is beginning to change and become a little more interesting. The track becomes rockier and more challenging and we are glad of our “tracks4africa” gps because in several places we just can’t see the “road.” There are other vehicle tracks around us but they all seem to be heading in different directions and so, in the end, we just key in the co-ordinates, point towards our destination and weave between rocks until we find another, more official looking, track. We hit a lot of deep sand on the way as well and we can see where people have had to take detours to avoid the worse bits. Once again we are pleased with Landy’s performance, she doesn’t let us down and eventually we find a good, well graded, gravel track and ahead of us we can see the looming lump of rock that is Brandberg, dominating the desert plains around it.

Landy on Brandberg 4x4 route
Landy on Brandberg 4×4 route

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Lüderitz and the D707 to a German castle

Straight Road to Lüderitz

The B4 to Lüderitz is long, straight and remote. The intense sun causes the road to shimmer ahead of us and the flat, arid land offers no protection from the wind. We were thrilled to witness sand blowing across the tarmac in front of us, offering a good opportunity for a classic desert photo.

B4 Namibia sand
B4 to Lüderitz complete with windswept sand.

We step out of Landy in Lüderitz into a wind in which we can barely stand up. After a brief visit to a campsite on the coast we concede defeat and seek out a guest house instead. Kratzplatz is a funky little place. The yard is filled with all sorts of quirky objects, including lots of vehicle parts and “up-cycled” objects used as plant containers. The rooms are comfortable and they even have a busy attached bar and restaurant. It is the perfect place to catch up on clothes washing and internet use.

4×4 tracks and flamingoes

After a quick lunch we set off along the peninsula to the west of the town which has abundant tracks for the adventurous off-road enthusiast. Some of them are extremely tricky and although Keith enjoys himself I am a little nervous as Landy tips precariously to one side or slides down a particularly rocky part of the track. The views are worth the trouble though, as we find lovely isolated bays, sandy beaches with skeletal boat remains poking out, and beautiful pink flamingoes around every corner. The various beaches and bays have lovely names, such as Sturvogel Bucht, Guano Bay, Halifax Island (which has African penguins) and Diaz Point.

Lüderitz Peninsula 4x4 tracks
Lüderitz Peninsula 4×4 tracks
Flamingoes in Lüderitz

Reaching Diaz Point involves a careful walk over a rickety bridge and lots of rock scrambling but we are rewarded with the sight of seals sunning themselves on the rocks. Also here is a cross, a replica of the one placed here by Bartholomeu Diaz, the first European explorer to enter the bay. He sheltered here in the late 14th century. It must have been a pretty lonely desolate place back then.

Decayed boat on Luderitz Peninsula

As we make our way back to town we pass a few signs on fences and at the start of tracks, warning us not to proceed further. This is the Sperrgebiet National Park, previously a diamond mining area, covering 26,000 square kilometres. This park, however, cannot be visited independently and the signs warning of fines and imprisonment are apparently very serious. We duly take them seriously.

Lüderitz is a fascinating old German town with impressive buildings from the early 20th century. It became a supply base for the German Schutztruppe during the war with the Nama people in 1904-07. However, it was the diamonds, first discovered nearby in 1908, that enabled the town to prosper as a centre of supplies for the diamond mines, and the communities that grew up around them. The Consolidated Diamond Mines  company moved to Oranjemund in 1943 and the town slid into decline. It still looks a bit tired but the tourist industry is helping build it back up again and we found that the locals were friendly and keen to chat (without too much of an ulterior motive).

The waterfront in Lüderitz

A diamond ghost town

The next day we set off to Kolmanskop, once the main town for the diamond industry, but now deserted and slowly being reclaimed by the sand. This place is absolutely fascinating and, although we are not generally fans of guided tours, this one is extremely well conducted. Some of the buildings, including the impressive concert hall, have been restored but most have been left exactly as they were when the workers and their families left them. Amongst sand dunes inside the houses we find bath tubs, rickety stairs and wonky doors and it is all very eerie. We throughly enjoy exploring all the houses and clambering up sand dunes in what used to be someone’s living room. This booming little town had comfortable staff quarters and very beautiful homes for the managers as well as a school, swimming pool, several shops and a hospital. They even had an ice factory and water and fresh food were transported in from Lüderitz. The restored buildings, together with the information provided by our guide, really brought the place to life for us and it is a real insight into the diamond industry and the workers’ way of life.

Inside a house in Kolmanskop
Kolmanskop Ghost Town

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Wild coastal camping in Namaqua

On our way to Namaqua

14 May. So it’s onwards to our next destination, Namaqua National Park. We decide to break the journey up with a stopover around Clanwilliam. We set off early to enjoy the scenery on the way. This area is flat, flat, flat, with lots of farming on either side of the road as far as the eye can see, including ostrich farms and fields of squash.

The road is good and we make excellent time, arriving in Clanwilliam early enough to have a look around. The town itself has some lovely examples of Cape Dutch houses and the centre is dominated by the Five Roses tea factory, home of rooibos. Love it or hate it! We decide to stay at the municipal campsite, mainly because we can’t find anywhere else, and this turns out not to be a great decision. It is tatty, covered in litter and, despite security guards roaming around, we feel a bit uncomfortable and wary, so  various “deterrents” accompany us into the roof tent. Fortunately they are not needed and we are up and out of there pretty quick in the morning!

Off the Beaten Track 

The next stretch of our journey, to the entrance of the park, is about 280kms and for the most part this is on the N2, a straight road with Karoo on either side, barren looking land that is home to countless sheep. It is utterly amazing how they thrive on such dry, arid ground. We turn off the N2 onto a gravel road for the last 70kms to the gate. This is a truly remote area, occasional farmsteads set amongst the harsh landscape where the only green is the trees lining the dry river bed of the Groenriver.

N2 north on our way to Namaqua
N2 north on our way to Namaqua
On our way from the N2 to the Namaqua National Park
On our way from the N2 to the Namaqua National Park

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