The Namib Naukluft Mountain Zebra Park - The Perfect Stop-Over Between Sossusvlei & Windhoek
I knew this day had been coming for some time. But knowing what's going to happen doesn't make it any easier. I stood beside my 4x4, the wind gently blowing the desert sand in my face. In the distance the red sand dunes of Sossusvlei stood silhouetted against the blue sky. We'd just finished packing up the last of our stuff and were now unplugging our broken fridge from its charging point. I wished our food good luck for the journey ahead, hoping it would warm too much during our 3 hour drive today.
Today we were starting our journey back towards Windhoek, the capital of Namibia. There were only 3 more nights left of our 14-day road-trip round Namibia and I was really feeling a weight in my heart. I was not ready to leave. There was still so much to see of this beautiful country. If we continued the road south we'd reach Aus and the desert horses as well as the abandoned mining town of Kolmanskop. Alas, it was not to be for this trip. We'd tactfully cut-out southern Namibia when we realised we'd severely mis-calculated our entire trip and would be driving for 5 hours each day if we really wanted to fit those stops in.
So, today we began our leisurely drive back to where we began. Tonight we were booked to stay at the Namib-Naukluft Mountain Zebra National Park. Honestly, I hadn't heard anything about this place so was curious to see what it was like. Due to its name, I was expecting to see a lot of zebras and a lot of mountains. But, who knows?
I suppose this park is rarely talked about as I was not taking the usual Namibia road-trip route. Normally people would continue south to Aus (perhaps they had longer to explore Namibia). As a result, I felt a slight sense of 'going off the beaten track'.
I waved goodbye to the Sesriem campsite within Sossusvlei, feeling an aching tug that Deadvlei was still out there close by and I still hadn't found it yet. I guess conquering Deadvlei is an adventure for another time.
Our beast of a car at the Sesriem campsite within Sossusvlei National Park
The patterns on these mountains caught my eye - reminds me of America in a way
A Mountainous Oasis In a Vast Desert
Our journey commenced. We didn't talk much along the drive; I could tell we were both feeling rather deflated. I didn't whip my camera up to take photos of our surroundings anywhere near as much as I had been doing. My sad mood didn't dull the environment around us, however. The mountains shifted once again and instead of being pebbly or sandy they became patterned, carved by lines upon lines of different rock. Lol, are you digging my description? I'm no geologist so sadly couldn't tell you the exact differences, all I know is they looked different, okay. I've never been to America outside of Florida, but these mountains reminded me of those I'd seen in pictures of the Grand Canyon. They had the same patterns along the rocks.
Suddenly, the road got really bad and I mean really bad! We were bouncing along sharp gravel, desperately trying to avoid any rocks that looked like they'd do any damage to our tyres. Alas, this was in vein. Sharp, threatening rocks were everywhere and I had to slow the car right down to try and avoid getting a puncture. We were so near the end of our trip - I was crossing my fingers that we wouldn't get a puncture now.
Then I saw the gates to the National Park and heaved a sigh of relief. Beyond the gates I saw looming mountains, standing elegantly and dotted with small green shrubs. The desert was certainly far behind us now.
The Roads are Incredibly Fun and Scenic
As we entered the national park, my spirits started to lift. Flat scrublands stretched out for as far as the eye could see in either direction of the car. Then straight ahead of us were the tall mountains, in the centre of our vision. They were deep brown in colour and tantalisingly beautiful. They stood contrasting with the crisp cyan sky which encased the land around us.
The bumpy gravel road stretched on ahead of us, rising up and down over many hillocks. It then turned, winding between the middle of two mountains. A steep drop appeared on one side as the road hugged the side of on of the mountains.
Can you spot our car?
Park Entrance Fees are Extortionate!
The campsite was right in the heart of the mountains, nestled in a deep valley. We stopped off at reception only to find that this campsite had no WiFi and no plug sockets. Eek - if our food wasn't warm and mushy now, it certainly would be tomorrow after a night in the warm as well. Poor milk and cheese.
When staying within National Parks, you have to pay a park fee as well as your general rates for camping. Surprisingly, this national park had the biggest fee of all (compared to Sossusvlei and Etosha) which I wasn't impressed with. This was the smallest national park we'd stayed at and probably the least visited so I had expected it to be a little cheaper. They also could only take cash which wasn't ideal as I was scarily low on cash.
A Hiker's Paradise
They gave us a map of the national park which had a couple of walks you can take. As exciting as the walks sounded, some of them were 7 hours long and that's at fast-person walking speed. It would probably take me a lot longer and man, 7 hours! You have to train for these walks. There was another walk you could take called the 'Olive Trail' which had a part where you had to enter a cave within one of the mountains. Within this cave, the ground suddenly drops away into a massive chasm and the path is literally some ropes along the side of one of the walls. You have to hold on to the ropes, your feet practically dangling in mid-air and try to walk to the other side. One wrong move could mean death. I mean, this sounded fun but probably not the best activity for someone like me who does no exercise and has never rock-climbed with ropes. let alone without ropes.
There were also some natural pools which we could visit which weren't super far away, only about 12km. I was very interested in visiting these but based on my low energy levels, I wasn't sure I'd quite fit it in for today.
It was time to drive to the campsite. The drive from reception took us deep into the valley. Greenery started to appear around us, something which I hadn't seen since I'd arrived in Namibia. We were soon surrounded by lush vegetation with a giant rock-face craning up on one side of us. Ahead the road dipped and my face lit-up with excitement. Our first river crossing! Well, it was more like a puddle-crossing but still, crossing water! Maybe our snorkel would finally come in handy.
A Lush, Green National Park - Very Different to the Rest of Namibia
Okay, we didn't quite need the snorkel, but it was good fun all the same trying to create as big a splash as we could. After splashing through the puddle the ground rose slightly again, the river staying on our left and running parallel to the gravel track. Suddenly, the road sloped abruptly downwards at about a 45% gradient. My heart skipped a beat in excitement. We put the car into 4x4 mode and took it slowly down the slope. The car descended beautifully and we reached lower ground which was now on the same level as the river, flowing smoothly beside us.
We had now reached the campsite and were the first ones here. Deciding which campsite to stay at proved tricky. We could pick a spot down by the river but it felt strangely dark and cut-off down here. Plus it was a massive mooch to the toilet. The other option was to camp at a higher level (back to the level we literally just came from at a 45% gradient) which was nearer the toiler block. In the end we opted to camp by the toilet block because, girl gotta pee in the night.
It was good fun taking the car back up the rise, although it proved challenging at points when we tried to take up up in low-range-gear mode. The car was roaring away but nothing was happening. It seemed to work best in 4x4 mode. We had so much fun we actually went up and down the slope a good four times before finally settling down at a camping spot.
The Campsite is Incredibly Beautiful!
The campsite was beautiful and incredibly peaceful. Green trees dotted the site, their long leaves draping down. The campsite was alive with bird song, bright yellow weavers and red-eyed bull bulls perched in the trees above. They took a particular liking to our lunch and cleaned off our bowls after we'd eaten.
The midday sun filtered down through the leaves, warming me as I bathed in the heat, wary that my days in the sun were numbered.
The ablution block was beautiful. As default it was locked up almost like a cage with a sign on it saying 'don't feed the baboons'. I guess there must have been issues with the baboons in the ablution block and they were forced to fence it up. You can quite easily open the latch to get in the block. The floor was beautifully tiled and the block was incredibly spacious. It looked like something you'd find in a high end hotel. I forgot to take pictures, but trust me it felt like luxury!
We spend the afternoon relaxing, feeling rather nostalgic as we reflected back on our time in Namibia. We knew we only had 2 more nights after this left in Namibia and 1 of those nights was in a campsite we'd already been to. That meant we only had 1 last adventure ahead of us.
That evening we ventured to the park's restaurant and enjoyed a delicious steak. I'm a meat-eater so it was heavenly for me. However, it was not vegetarian-friendly. When we arrived they gave us 2 options. I was anticipating 1 vegetarian and 1 meat. Nope. It was rump or rib-eye. I went for the rib-eye.
Hike at Your Own Risk!
By the time we arrived back at the campsite, it was quite busy. Most visitors here were French which was unusual as we had generally encountered Germans throughout the trip. I met a French woman in the bathroom as I got ready for bed. She began telling me about her experience on the 'Olive Trail' that day. Her description of the chasm which is known as the 'chain' was very traumatic. She told me that she didn't actually cross it as she didn't think it was physically possible of a woman of her build. She told me that because she was short and her arms weren't strong, she wouldn't have been able to support herself by grabbing the ropes and was convinced she would have fallen.
"I thought of my children back home." She spoke frantically. "I thought that they needed a mother so I didn't go across. I couldn't do it!"
I didn't blame her really. It sounded traumatic. Even as she recited the story, I could see the panic in her eyes. I hoped she didn't feel annoyed at herself for not completing the walk and tried to sooth her. She also told me that a young girl crossed it with ease, like it was second nature. Maybe she was part monkey. Who knows?
That night as we lay in our tent trying to sleep, some shrill cries sounded from very nearby. I cannot tell you for sure what was making the noise but it sounded at least 3 times. Perhaps it was a black-backed jackal. I felt a little worried as I clambered down from my roof-top tent to head to the bathroom but I'm telling this story know so can tell you I did make it back alive.
Do I Think The Namib Naukluft National Park is Worth Visiting?
So, what are my thoughts on the Namib-Naukluft Mountain Zebra park? I think it's a lovely place that yields some very scenic views. I'd only recommend it if you were an avid hiker. There wasn't really much else to do. It was not a safari location. For the high price, I was expecting slightly more. All in all, it was a beautiful place but I wouldn't go out of my way to visit.