HEADBANGER – THE IMAGES
by Brian Neebe
Chapter 3 – SOUTH WEST AFRICA.
Land of contrasts.
Not a hell of a lot was known about SWA back in 1977. Etosha was the main attraction with the hot springs at Ais Ais and adjacent Fish River Canyon about it. The Kalahari Gemsbok National Park bordering South Africa was also an attraction. A friend told me all about the magic dunes at a place called Sossus Vlei, and so we set out to discover more.
The first thing you noticed on crossing the Orange River, with no border formalities at the time yet, were the sections of long straight roads. They seemed to go on forever.
Ais Ais Hot Springs and Fish River Canyon.
Sesriem and Sossus Vlei.
To get to Sossus Vlei you first had to get permission from the farmer at Sesriem farm. The original house as depicted here still stands today at the main entrance complex. It had already been taken over by nature conservation, and the farmer was care taking until proper officials were installed. As we arrived quite early, we checked in accordingly, set up camp in the small adjacent Camel Thorn camp site, and set off to explore the nearby Sesriem Canyon. Sossus Vlei we would tackle early the next morning.
Note old stump out in the desert to the right. This was still there in 2006. See similar images taken for comparison.
The above images were taken 29 years apart. The extent of development and the growth of the camelthorn trees is clearly visible. From here a tarred road leads down to the actual Sossus Vlei area to accommodate all the tourist busses and ordinary motor vehicles. Maintenance on the old gravel road must have been extremely heavy. Back in 1997 however things were very different. To get down to the vlei area required crossing the Tsauchab River to the SE and going round the mountain overlooking the farmhouse, where another track led down on the other side of the river. Access was through a farm gate to which we had been given a key to a padlock.
In the darkness of a 6am morning we cautiously worked our way down this track with weak head lights picking our way. It was like a foreign world we were entering.Sossus Vlei itself needs little introduction and is world renowned for it’s magnificent sand dunes and old camelthorn graveyards. The change of dune colours in the rising sun is one of natures great stage shows. We played around in the dunes until the rising heat of the day became uncomfortable. On the way back we stopped the car in this wide expanse of nothing and walked off in different directions to appreciate the vasteness our situation.
Just below where you cross the Tsauchab River, it disappears into a narrow cleft in the conglomerate rock surface into an average 10m deep mini canyon. In the very old days it required 6 “riems” tied together to lower a bucket into the pool of water in the dark depths below. Access is via a path down from a parking area further down stream. Once in the canyon it narrows down to about 3m wide and runs for about 1km upstream until you reach the pool. In the opposite direction it widens out into the river course that flows in good years down to Sossus Vlei itself.
After a cold and uncomfortable stay in one of the new “resort” cottages at Hentiesbay, we took the road north that skirted south of the Brandberg Massif, heading for the Tsisab Revine.
Here we planned to look for the famous White Lady Painting, and found a very nice rustic camp site right at the start. With a fast setting sun and lion pug marks on the ground, we nervously set up camp and got a good fire going. But the night was quiet and we set off early the next day up a well sign posted path. There were many other paintings along the way but the White Lady took the cake. Known as the Maack Shelter, below a large overhanging rock, and protected by steel bars to prevent people either pissing or throwing water over the artwork to bring out the colours, it was well worth the walk and effort.
Khorixas and Twyfelfontein.
Indicated in my old AA Map Book as the village of Welwitschia, Khorixas wasn’t anything more than an old police outpost, and we wondered where the hell we could set up camp. The answer came just a little further on at a newly opened lodge and we pulled in to a great welcome from the owners. I forget their names today, but what an outstanding couple they were.
It was like a real oasis in a desperate land, and we spent 2 days here relaxing and being entertained. Following directions from our host, we set out each day to explore the rock engravings at Twyfelfontein, the burnt mountain, the petrified forest, and the nearby organ pipes – a natural rock formation in a nearby river bed.
The name comes from a somewhat unreliable spring quite high up the valley. The owner of the original farm sunk his own well here with great effort, which can still be seen today and is still running. It is also renowned for it’s rock engravings, some of which can take you breath away. I have been here 3 more time since this first visit, and have never walked away without a feeling of great awe for these old artists.
The Petrified Forest.
Estimated to be about 280 million years old, these fossilized trunks of ancient trees lie exposed today in the open. How and why this happened is another storey.
The “Organ Pipes”.
Just a natural rock formation in a nearby river bed.
This world renowned national park needs little introduction today, but way back in 1977 it was a long way from home and still had an aura of adventure to it. The historical old fort dominates the main Namutoni Camp, and it’s history is worth reading. Other camps at this time were the western Okaukuejo Camp and the centrally situated Halali Camp. There is a very good network of roads in and around the park, with plenty of interesting waterholes to stop at and watch for game. Below is a small essay on the Namutoni Fort, and some random images of wild life.