Namib-Naukluft National Park spans a large area along the coast of Namibia. Its southern part is in the ǁKaras region, its northern part in Erongo, and the main part is in Hardap. The western part of it, the Namib Sand Sea, is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Namib-Naukluft is one of the oldest protected areas in Namibia, having been established in 1907. The park today covers a huge area of nearly 50,000 km². It is Africa's largest and the world's 4th largest nature reserve.
Much of the park is inaccessible to humans, partly because there are no roads, partly because access is forbidden. The impassable areas can be explored only by air.
Protection of the area dates back to colonial times. In 1907 the Germans proclaimed three nature reserves, one of them the Namib-Naukluft National Park. Its borders were the Swakop River and the Kuiseb River. The park was continuously expanded over the years until it reached its current boundaries in 1986. Touristic development only started in the late 1970s, though.
The evidence of Stone Age life in the Kuiseb River dates back to 200 000 years. Other archaeological finds indicate that the area was used by semi-nomadic communities when rain provided enough grazing for animals. The Topnaar people still live along the Kuiseb River inside the park and were guaranteed rights of residence by Queen Victoria more than a century ago.
Flora and fauna
- from 1 Walvis Bay drive on the C26 towards Windhoek, the road will cross the park.
- from 2 Lüderitz drive the B4 inlands and turn northwards at Aus
Fees and permits
Except for using the public roads that cross it you need a permit to enter the park. You can buy it only at a Ministry of Environment and Tourism office which are often co-located at outlets of Namibia Wildlife Resorts. There are offices in Windhoek (corner of Bismarck Street and Sam Nujoma Avenue) and Swakopmund (Uhland Street). Withing the park there are offices at Sesriem and at the Naukluft Camp, both listed below.
- Entrance fee
It costs 80 N$ per person (Namibians 10-30 N$ depending on destination within the park, neighboring countries' residents 60 N$), children u16 free, and 10 N$ per car to enter the park. "Entering" means turning off from any C or D road in the park onto an unnumbered road, or using any D road towards Gobabeb. There are clearly visible plinths on any turnoff that requires a permit.
- Camping fee
If you stay over at one of the small camp sites in the park you also need a permit. Prices are higher than on private camp sites.
The major attractions can be reached by gravel roads in various states of maintenance. A 4x4 is not necessary for crossing the park on C-roads but is more comfortable and safer to drive in. To drive on some of the D-roads in a sedan you need strong nerves. Expect sandy patches, river crossings without bridges, steep ascents and descents, closed farm gates, and the like. For "roads" without official designation you'll need an all-terrain vehicle.
Inaccessible parts of the park can be explored by air. The park has several airstrips. Bookings for panoramic flights can be made in the coastal towns of Swakopmund, Walvis Bay, and Lüderitz, but not in the park itself.
- 1 Gobabeb, email@example.com. Gobabeb is an environmental research center for desert conditions. The center holds an annual open day on which you will be shown around. If you miss that one you might still contact them to ask if you are welcome
- 2 Dune 45. This 170-m-high star sand dune is around 45 km from Sesriem on the way to Sossusvlei. That is not the reason for its name, though, as all large dunes in Namibia have numbers, starting with Dune 1 at the coast.
- 3 Sandwich Harbour, a bay and a lagoon 45 km (28 mi) south of Walvis Bay. Home to large bird colonies, most famously flamingoes. The track starts from Walvis Bay, tours can be booked in Walvis Bay and Swakopmund. These tours are done in specialised vehicles, for instance 4x4 quad bikes, to allow for driving across the dune field. To drive the track yourself without guide is challenging; A 4x4 is needed to navigate the sand, and any ordinary 4x4 will be too heavy to drive across the dunes, leaving the beach as the only path to the harbour. When driving along the beach, just before you arrive at Sandwich Bay, the passage is very narrow for a few kilometres. Here the dunes reach the shoreline. This part of the track is impassable during high tide, or when the Sea is rough. Check the timing of the tides, and consider that you still have to drive back. You should not continue driving if the waves reach the track: While it is somewhat safe to drive over the wet sand even if it is slightly submerged, any stop will erode the sand under the tyres within seconds. Yours wouldn't be the first vehicle to disappear into the Atlantic, and no insurance pays for this stupidity! Of course also never park your car close to the water when the tide is rising, and bring food and sleeping bags in case the track conditions have changed on your way back.
- 4 Sossusvlei. A clay pan produced by deposits of the Tsauchab River. After good rainy seasons there is water in the pan. The Dead Vlei is in walking distance, that is a pan that is no longer reached by the river. It features centuries old dead tree trunks which are a spectacular sight. Both pans are surrounded by some of the biggest sand dunes in the world. For photographers sunrise or sunset are the best times to visit.
- 5 Sesriem Canyon. A canyon that was used during the times of the Dorsland Trek
- Hiking trails: There are hundreds of scenic hikes in this park, and every accommodation recommends a few of them. Three of the best-known trails start off at the Naukluft Camp listed below where you will also get a simple map. The three-hour and the one-day hike require no special preparation. There is also an 8-day hike (with a shortcut after 4 days) for which you will need a special permit, a doctor's letter, and an booking confirmation from Namibia Wildlife Resorts.
- At Solitaire you can book and go on a ride in a hot-air balloon. On the many days without wind, though, this simply means rising up a few hundred feet, enjoying the view, having a glass of Champagne, and landing on the exact spot where you started. Around N$ 4,500 per person, December 2019.
Getting supplies in the park can be difficult. It is a very sparsely populated area. You'll find petrol stations and/or general dealers here:
- 1 Rietoog (On the MR47 between Rehoboth and Maltahöhe). This settlement has a general dealer.
- 2 Solitaire (On the C19 turnoff of the C14 between Walvis Bay and Maltahöhe). This settlement has a petrol station and a general dealer, as well as a restaurant, a bakery, a car repair shop, and a motel.
- 3 Sesriem (On the C27 at the entrance to Sossusvlei). This spot has a petrol station and a campsite which runs a small shop and a bar. There is also an office of Namibia Wildlife Resorts where you can buy a park permit.
- Within the National Park
There are many camp sites in the park, some so small that only one group can stay over. You need a permit to drive to them as well as a permit to stay overnight. With the exception of the sites listed here, you will only find a long-drop toilet and a few refuse bins there, but no water or electricity.
The larger sites with more infrastructure are:
- 1 Naukluft Camp, ☏ 063. Check-in: 2PM, check-out: 10AM. Beautiful campsite under old trees in a natural setting on a creek that often carries a little water. Water and light available but no power sockets. There are rock pools uphill (30 min walk) that have water throughout the dry season. The site is frequently raided by baboons; lock all food in the car. There is also an office of Namibia Wildlife Resorts where you can buy a park permit. 190 N$ pppn, children 90.
- Outside the National Park
On the edge of the park there are several private camp sites:
- 2 Buellsport, Farm Buellsport C14/D1206 (Situated on the C14 between Walvis Bay and Maltahöhe at the D1206 turnoff to Rietoog and the D864 turnoff to Sesriem), ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. Check-in: 2PM, check-out: 10AM. Two camp sites, one for exclusive use around the ruins of the 3 Old Police Station, and one on top of a mountain. Many hiking trails, meticulously signposted, maintained, and documented on paper handouts. Chains, staircases, and handrails on the more difficult sections. Several rock pools are an hour's walk away---20 minutes if you have a 4x4 that can drive some of the way. 285 N$ pppn, children half price, or 1,550 N$ per group, max. 10 people.
- 4 Koiimasis (The farm is signposted from the C27 but cannot be reached in that way: One of the gates of the neighbouring farm (that one would have to transit) is locked. Instead use the District Road D707 and turn east at the signpost. Although the trail is a bit sandy a 4x4 is not needed). Installations and buildings blend into the surrounding rocks. During dusk and dawn small antelope and rock dassies are all over the place. There are chalets, rooms, and a campsite. There is also a pool, unfortunately only for the guests of the lodge. Camping 200 N$ per person, children half price.
- 5 Solitaire Guest Farm (Follow the road signs to Solitaire. Where the settlement turns off to the West, the guest farm is signposted to the East). Check-in: 2PM, check-out: 10AM. Chalets and camp site, restaurant, bar, pool and wifi. There are 4 short hiking trails. The camping spots are large and on sand. There is little natural shade but each spot has a shaded rondavel with a table and chairs. Water and electricity on site. Chalets between N$ 1,200 and 1,500, camp site N$ 225, children half price. Solitaire also offers hot air ballooning at N$ 4,500 pp and a drive to a group of cheetahs in captivity at N$ 350 pp.
- 6 Tsauchab River Camp (Off the D850), email@example.com. Check-in: 2PM, check-out: 10AM. Reception with swimming pool and bar and an astonishing collection of metal sculptures which is worth a visit even if you don't stay over. The camp sites are further away, at 7 Oerwald [Primeval Forest] and 8 Riverview. Each camp site has their own general worker and is well-maintained. The worker alights candles after dark so that you can still find your way to the ablution facilities. The establishment managed to brand itself as 'best campsite in Namibia', and while this is certainly arguable it keeps the place comparatively busy. If you want a spot of your choice, come at lunch rather than at sunset, or book in advance. 170 N$ for the campsite plus 140 N$ per person, children 80 N$. Slight reduction for residents of Southern Africa.
The park is notorious for its many car accidents, almost exclusively involving tourists, almost always due to speed, and often in combination with burst tyres. While the speed limit is 100 km/h on gravel roads, there is hardly any stretch of road where it is safe to drive that fast. To drive safely on badly maintained gravel:
- Don't overload the car. Many pickup vehicles with full camping gear, particularly from car rental companies, are overloaded even without any passengers in them. Check the rear spring blades, they need to be in u-form (bend upwards), not flat.
- Reduce tyre pressure so that all tyres form pockets that are just noticeable. This gives a lot more traction on gravel, makes bursting a tyre a lot less likely, and it extends the life span of the tyres, too. Once you are back on tar, don't forget to inflate them again.
- Avoid all sharp stones, including those hidden by loose sand. To achieve this, drive in the existing tracks, not in the loose heaps left behind by the street grader, and not in the middlemannetjie, the heap between the tracks. In well-established tracks the sharp edges of the rocks have been smoothed by the vehicles in front of you, that's why. If there are loose rocks on the track itself, quite common in the Naukluft, slow down. How far down? So that a burst front tyre doesn't make you overturn the car, and that is not much speed.
- Avoid collisions with animals by driving slowly, not by steering abruptly, or by breaking hard. Emergency breaking does not work on gravel, and a hard pull on the steering wheel will roll the car.
- Exercise extra caution on freshly graded stretches. The street grader will have uprooted plants, turned stones around so that the sharp tip now faces up, or filled holes with loose sand. If the only track on the road is much wider that that of your vehicle, meaning that you are the first car behind the grader, slow down to about 40 km/h.