Damaraland is one of the most scenic areas in Namibia, a huge, untamed, ruggedly beautiful region that offers the more traveller a more adventurous challenge. Here there are prehistoric water courses with open plains and grassland, massive granite koppies and deep gorges. Towards the west, the geography changes dramatically with endless sandy wastes, that incredibly are able to sustain small, but wide-ranging, populations of desert-adapted elephant, black rhino, giraffe, ostrich and springbok. These animals have adapted their lifestyles to survive the harshness of the sun-blistered, almost waterless desert spaces. Elephant move through euphorbia bush country, and can travel up to 70km in a day in search of food and water and unusually, do not destroy trees in their quest for food. Follow black rhino cow and her calf in typical Damaraland 'melkbos' terrain. Together, Damaraland and Kaokoland are known as the Kaokoveld.
Damaraland is the old apartheid name given to the region south of Kaokoland and north of the main road to Swakopmund. It extends 200km inland from the desolate Skeleton Coast and 600km southwards from Kaokoland. The name Damaraland is derived from the fact that the Damara people live in this area (they were relocated here as a result of the Odendaal Plan in the 1960's). The name Damaraland is still commonly used in tourism circles, although the entire region has now been renamed; the southern section now lies in the Erongo region while the north forms part of the Kunene region.
Highlights of the area include:
- The Brandberg - Namibia's highest mountain and home to the famous 'White Lady' Bushman Painting.
- Twyfelfontein - a wonderful rocky outcrop with thousands of Bushman engravings.
- Spitzkoppe - a typical pointed inselberg, and a place of great mystery to the ancient San people
- The Petrified Forest - which is millions of years old.
- The Vingerklip (finger rock) - a towering finger of limestone that rises 35m above its base.
The Brandberg 'the fire mountain' is named after the effect created by the setting of the sun on its western face, which causes the granite massif to resemble a burning slag heap glowing red. The Brandberg (and the Spitzkoppe) is a favourite place for climbers in Namibia, and both mountains contain a high density of San (Bushman) art. The main attraction at Twyfelfontein (doubtful spring) is its large gallery of rock art, one of the most extensive in Africa.
Two other well-known geological features close to Twyfelfontein are the Organ Pipes and the Burnt Mountain. The Organ Pipes are a distinctive series of dolerite pillars that have been exposed by erosion and can be viewed in the small gorge on the left hand side of the road leading to the Burnt Mountain. This flat-topped mountain derives its name from the piles of blackened limestone at its base.
The Spitzkoppe (sharp head) is one of Namibia's most recognizable landmarks. It's shape has inspired its nickname, The Matterhorn of Africa,' but the similarities begin and end with its sharp peak. It is actually the remnant of an ancient volcano, formed in the same way as the Brandberg and Erongo massifs. It was first climbed in 1946 and is now a popular climbing destination with local and foreign mountaineers alike, with plenty of technical climbs available.
In the caves and ravines of the area many prehistoric rock paintings have been found and none more famous than the 'White Lady' of the Brandberg. First discovered in 1917 by the German surveyor Dr. Reinhard Maack on a descent from Konigstein, the painting remained relatively unknown until 1948, when the French archaeologist Abbe Henri Breuil copied it and brought the painting to light. Initially it was speculated that the 'White Lady' was a painting of a European woman, although the painting pre-dates the arrival of Europeans in the area by centuries - recently the sex of the 'White Lady' has been bought into questions and it is considered likely that she is in fact a bloke! (Perhaps the earliest recorded case of cross-dressing?) The figure stands about 40cm high and in one hand carries what appears to be a wine glass and in the other, a bow and several arrows. Its hair is straight and light-coloured, distinctly un-African - and the body is painted white from the chest downwards. It is believed to be a central figure in a bizarre hunting procession which includes several women, one of which has skewered an antelope with gemsbok horns and striped legs.
The trees of the Petrified Forest were uprooted some 200 million years ago and were swept along by rivers in flood, covered by sediments and then subsequently uncovered by erosion. Your local community guides will provide more of an insight into the area, whilst ensuring that pieces of petrified wood are not removed.
The 35m-high Vingerklip (finger rock) is also known as Kalk-Kegel (limestone pillar) and rises above the Bertram farm. It is an erosional remnant of a limestone plateau and was formed over 15 million years ago. The large cave in it's base, surrounded by rubble, gives the impression it will topple over any minute. It was first climbed in 1970 by the American Tom Choate.
A new addition to tourism in the area is the exciting addition of Rhino and Elephant tracking safaris. Proceeds from these safaris go towards the preservation of these animals and there are numerous guided safaris to Damaraland and these offer an informative way of visiting the area.
The area has a wide variety of accommodation ranging from campsites to up market lodges, a few of the highlights include one of Namibia's best camp sites can be found near Twyfelfontein. The community run, Aba-Huab camp is well worth a visit for those interested in camping. The Namib Desert Elephants often visit the campsite in search of water, the elephants have been known to destroy the reed shower blocks in extremely dry seasons. Other recommended places to stay in Damaraland South include Bambatsi Holiday Ranch, Brandberg Rest Camp, Brandberg White Lady Lodge, Camp Kipwe, Damaraland Camp, Doro Nawas Camp, !Gowati Lodge, Mowani Mountain Camp, Twyfelfontein Lodge and Vingerklip Lodge.