Words and pictures by Pieter Oosthuizen
You don’t need a wild imagination to recognise the many faces that await your arrival in this place of rocks, plains and ravines, where man is but a visitor, and time a meaningless commodity.
Cast in granite – solid, stacked and broken – these silhouetted faces have been waiting for millions of years for your arrival. Whether they stare across the Homeb Plains of Mirabib, or down the gullies of the muted Khan River, their profiles seem to read your mind while you contemplate your campsite for the night.
That’s the best thing about a visit to Namibia’s Naukluft National Park: its many rocky faces that offer both cool shadiness and stifling radiant heat. Camping in their midst, deep within their domain, is (without a doubt) camping that rocks!
The first time we spotted the light-orange granite outcrop – near a liquid mirage on the Homeb Plains – we correctly guessed it as Mirabib. At 840 metres above sea level, it’s about half the size of Spitzkoppe.
After passing a Tropic of Capricorn sign for the second time that morning, we finally arrived at the “caves” of Mirabib, where the shade, wide views and granite formations excited us. Better still, we were the only ones there, so we could pick any one of the dozen camp sites. We chose a smaller site around the back, which was elevated and offered a view all the way to the Namib’s red dunes, waiting in the south as an eternal sentinel. Our campsite also offered wonderful protection from the sun’s glare reflecting off the rock face, and a soft breeze helped, too.
Except for a few flies buzzing about, the silence was absolute. And, even though we saw no signs of life out on the grassy plains, the nothingness was just as special. It’s in places like these that people find the “nothing” to be the true beauty.
That night, as the only people in camp, we were shocked out of deep sleep by something crashing heavily into our tent. Was it a rock, a snake – or something more serious? Then I remembered the acrobatic bats that we’d seen swooping between us and the rock faces – maybe one’s sonar was off.
In the morning, we were surprised to see a friendly robin in this stark, open place, but it was the fluffy little springhare right under our camp that impressed us most – with its calmness, as it headed from the grass flats to a cave. A little while later, I trekked with my camera up to the “roof” of the granite complex: a place where the more adventurous can camp in the shade of Mirabib’s biggest granite towers, which are like domed flats offering the best views on site. It’s also a great place to have a picnic.
We left mid-morning for an area with names that have a nice ring to them: Tinkas and Rock Arch. It lies less than 100 km to the north; you’ll also find a granite koppie called Blutkuppe or Bloedkoppie.
The gravel roads give way to a track that moves across rocky banks, loose stones and small river beds. Apart from a heap of big, red, perforated granite boulders, nothing caught our attention quite like Rock Arch and its surrounding camp.
Just like Mirabib, Rock Arch was empty of visitors, so we picked the signature campsite on a rocky outcrop. A Long- Billed Pipit (Nicholsonse Koester) sang for us while we set up camp, while the annoying buzz of Mopani bees balanced things out.
That afternoon, the sunset cast a rainbow against dark rain-clouds, and the scene kept us glued to our seats on the roof of the arch. Not long after, the wind picked up, to blow for most of that evening. Rock Arch, with its 360-degree views, including Mount Onanis in the east and the edge of the Tinkas flats in the south, offers a truly unforgettable and unique camping experience.
We exited the area via Groot Tinkas, where you can camp under the trees and enjoy animal sightings as they come down to the Tinkas River for a drink. Groot Tinkas doesn’t offer the same expansive views we’d enjoyed thus far, and I knew that our next destination (the Khan River) would dramatically remove any sense of vastness with its confined and tortuous banks.
The Khan is an ephemeral river that starts near Otjisemba (north-west of Okahandja) and runs south-west into the Swakop River some 40 km east of Swakopmund. The start of the Khan river-bed trail is easy at first, and on solid ground – which is just as well, because half the time you’re craning out of the window, taking photographs of the spectacular scenery, and not concentrating on the track ahead.
The route is a geological history lesson, chiselled in stone: a glimpse into our mysterious planet’s incalculable age. With its wide, sandy floor, regularly dotted with small bushes, thorn trees and (in our case) signs of recent rain, the rock walls and formations make you feel like you’re trekking across an unearthly landscape far from our water-logged planet.
Since we planned to camp two nights along this relatively short route (70km), we stopped after 5 km in a branch that offered shade between cool rock faces, and later, under a beautiful camel-thorn tree on riverbed sand.