Africa is well known for its abundant wildlife and rich biodiversity – but not often enough is the contrast of these great ecosystems expressed. The landscapes of southern Africa go beyond imagination as one moves from the deserts of Namibia to the floodplains of the Okavango Delta in Botswana. On a recent trip to showcase the best of Wilderness Safaris and southern Africa to the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), a new respect for these impressive landscapes was discovered.
Landing in a small Cessna 206 on the gravel landing strip in the middle Kunene region of Namibia along the western interior comes with a quick realisation that you have reached what some may call “the middle of nowhere”. My WTTC guest’s first question after touchdown was “why would someone have a camp here?” This is the very reason why the camp does in fact exist, giving guests a real sense of remoteness and being immersed into the wilderness.
The landscape brings a sense of complete alienation, as if you had somehow arrived on Mars. The mountains are spectacular and rain seems like a distant memory to the rocky surface. However, what seems like an inhospitable ecosystem at first slowly begins to show the magic of this desert. Endemic birds such as the Benguela long-billed lark catch your eye while desert adapted elephants bring a disbelief of the adaptability of these great mammals. The distant call of lions in the evening brings another level of excitement and respect to the diversity this harsh landscape can support.
The landscape of the Kunene region and Damaraland Camp sucks you into the vastness of this land that seems to go on forever. Departing Damaraland leaves you feeling privileged to have witnessed the sheer beauty and untouched natural wonders of this desert. However, just when you think you have been somewhere out of this world, Sossusvlei takes you on a whole other ride.
If the deserts of Damaraland are Mars then Sossuvlei is in a whole other solar system. The endless sand dunes of the Namib Desert here almost seem limitless and continue to the ends of the earth. The sheers size of the dunes is a world wonder on their own and the deep orange colour they possess is particularly striking. The old dried up vleis (swamp area) give a sense of an unforgiving landscape, yet trees adapt to it - and so does the wildlife. Springbuck and oryx brave these lands and somehow find refuge, while the breath taking views of the Namib Desert are enough to captivate your imagination and awe for decades.
Before the deserts of Namibia soak up all your curiosity, the Central Kalahari offers a different type of desert from the Namib. The Central Kalahari is not a typical desert in the typical dune like landscape of Sossusvlei, but one at first glance that mimics the characteristics of a slightly more hydrated landscape.
The Central Kalahari in Botswana gives you an immediate sense of untouched raw wilderness. The vast expanse of dry grasslands and scattered trees seem endless with wildlife well adapted to the conditions that boast a sense of survival of the fittest. The silence is met with low yet wide reaching roaring of the local lion pride led by a typical and rather large black-maned lion. The night brings a vast sky that brings out stars you will never see again once you leave this magical place and the Milky Way reveals why it is so called. While water, especially surface water, is something of a luxury to the great expanse of the Kalahari, the same cannot be said for the Okavango, in fact the very opposite is in place there.
The harsh dry landscapes of the Namib Desert and Central Kalahari become memories of a different world when entering in the Okavango. Here water spills into plains forming swamps from the annual inundation of the Okavango Delta, the final stop for the Cubango River.
The seasonal influx of water into the Okavango Delta brings about a massive diversity of plant and animal life, flourishing in this landscape. The water is crystal clear, the reeds and other rich flora essentially acting as filters for this incoming water that fills these lands. Broken up into islands from the surrounding and incoming waters, the wildlife is like no other. Large herds of buffalo and elephant create paths through the swamps visible from the air while high densities of predators take advantage of the various flourishing antelope species and other potential prey. After having seen the deserts of the Namib and Kalahari, the Okavango begins to feel like Heaven on earth for the wildlife it supports. However, one should not be fooled by the swamps of the Delta; the dry season is still very much a feature and brings a new challenge to the wildlife that finds refuge on the scattered islands in amongst the swamps.
At the end of such an exploration, one cannot help but leave these landscapes in admiration of the diversity Africa has to offer and even more so the adaptability of the wildlife and plants these amazing places support. Without doubt, southern Africa is place with magical beauty and ancient landscapes shaped over millions of years and we are privileged to live in time where the outcome has shaped Africa’s great diversity – from deserts to deltas.