Wedged between the Kalahari and the chilly South Atlantic, Namibia's charms are well known in neighbouring South Africa, but outsiders have only recently discovered its deserts, seascapes and bushwalking. Blessed with rich natural resources, a solid modern infrastructure and diverse traditional cultures, Namibia is a beautiful country of vast potential.
Namibia offers the safari savvy a fresh safari destination, with the seemingly never-ending expanse of the Namib desert, the vast Etosha salt pan, the eerily beautiful Skeleton Coast and the towering sand dunes of Sossusvlei.
One of the oldest conservation sites in Africa, Etosha sustains a huge variety of mammals and birdlife including the endangered black rhino and rare gemsbok. Dominated by the extensive Etosha salt pan, predators and plains game here are attracted to the waterholes, creating particularly prolific wildlife viewing during the dry season (June to November).
A landscape of rugged mountains, vast desert, magnificent burnt orange sand dunes, river canyons and clay pans, it is perhaps surprising that Namib-Naukluft sustains any life at all – and yet hyena, gemsbok, jackal and unique plantlife all survive in this hyper-arid region. See the spectacular Dead Vlei: a forest frozen in time, and a dawn visit to the world’s highest sand dunes at Sossuvelei is a magical experience.
The Kalahari Desert stretches across a section of Southern Africa and covers parts of Namibia, South Africa and Botswana. The section that crosses into Namibia includes part of the Succulent Karoo which is home to approximately 5,000 species of plant including many of which are endemic. Namibia is also known for its scattering of inselbergs (isolated mountains) which provide flourishing microclimates above the desert floor.
The map of Namibia shows a swathe of the southwest marked, intriguingly, “Diamond Area 1 (Restricted Area)”. Some of the baubles lying about there turn up in the shops—diamonds and semi-precious stones like topaz and tourmaline. And consider the hand-made jewellerywith traditional African motifs.
Another Namibian speciality is fur. Karakul, a variety of Persian lamb, is fashioned into stylish garments under the Swakara name. Leather goods are interesting, though here the source may be buffalo or ostrich.
Among native curios, look for dolls in Herero costumes, hand-carved tribal trinkets, Himba beads and jewellery, pottery and basketwork.
On certain goods, such as jewellery, overseas visitors are exempt from the local sales tax.
This is carnivore country, where the inviting aroma of a barbecue often ﬁlls the air. The local beef is good, but you might want to try something more speciﬁcally Namibian — venison or wild boar, for example,or even zebra. On the coast the accent easily switches from steaks and chops to fresh ﬁsh or seafood (for instance Lüderitz oysters and Namibian rock lobsters).
Thanks to the German connection, themenu will also include tasty sausages, salamis and a variety of smokedmeats to be consumed with copious amounts of pickled cabbage (sauerkraut).
German taste and the climate coincide to make beer drinking a popular pastime. The local beer is brewed according to grand old traditions formalized in the 16th century, but because of the heat the alcohol content is kept a few degrees lower than the European equivalent.
South African wines, which include some ﬁrst-class vintages, are also available. They have been making Cape wine since the 17th century. Most are identified by grower and grape variety: shiraz, cabernet sauvignon and the local hybrid pinotage among the reds; chardonnay, sauvignon blanc and chenin blanc the main whites.
Hunter-gatherers live in Namibia. The early inhabitants are thought to have been Khoisan speakers, including San (Bushmen) and Khoikhoi, or Nama, people.
Portuguese explorer Diego Cão marks his visit to Cape Cross by erecting a cross on the shore. His countryman, Bartolomeu Diaz,“discovers” Walvis Bay, but ﬁnding no fresh water he abandons thoughts of colonization.
In 1793 the Dutch claim Walvis Bay. But Britain soon annexes SouthAfrica’s Cape Colony (1795) and claims the adjoining Namibian coast.
The first German missionary station opens at Bethanie in 1814. The missionaries fan out through the territory in the mid century. They ask Britain for protection but this is refused. Britain annexes Walvis Bayin 1878. A Bremen merchant, Adolf Lüderitz, buys the small port of Angra Pequena in 1883 and raises the German ﬂag over what is to become the town of Lüderitz. In the 1880s and 1890s German settlers occupy other parts of South West Africa, signing treaties with native tribes. Swakopmund is founded in 1893 by Captain Curt von François and 120 German colonial troops. At the turn of the 20th century Herero tribesmen and Germans engage in years of bloody battles. The well-armed Germans win.
In 1908, Germans discover the world’s richest diamond bonanza in the southern zone of South West Africa; prospectors ﬂood in. During WorldWar I, on behalf of the Allies, South African forces capture South West Africa from Germany. “Undesirable” German settlers and military personnel are expelled. South Africa rules under a 1920 League of Nations mandate. When the United Nations succeeds the League of Nations after World War II, South Africa refuses to put South West Africa under UN trusteeship. The South West African People’s Organization (Swapo) is established in 1958 and in 1966 launches a guerrilla war for independence.
After UN-supervised elections, Namibia becomes an independent nation in 1990. Its ﬁrst president is Sam Nujoma, leader ofSwapo. In 1993 South Africa hands over Walvis Bay sovereignty to Namibia. Nujoma steps down after 15 years of presidency; Hifikepunye Pohamba, co-founder of Swapo, is elected president in 2004.