It is a frequently repeated observation that Namibia is a country God made in anger. As evidence for this the Namib is the oldest desert on the planet and Namibia has among the lowest rainfalls of all countries on Earth. There is no permanent water between the rivers that define the country’s southern and northern borders. None whatsoever. What there is, is a lot of sand, and most of the rest of the landscape is covered by dark volcanic rocks.
Even when the dunes shimmer in searing summer heat, in the anvil grip of the hottest summer days, if you look you will see life in all its unexpected glory – the arid equivalent of what Charles Darwin called “the tangled bank” of life. Most conspicuous are the ostriches, springboks, Hartmann’s mountain zebras and oryx antelope with their heat-coping adaptations which don’t require water on a regular basis. There they amble, grazing on desert grasses and lichens, seeming to float on the heat mirages of midday.
The Namib is also a place that seems to define space. When the sun rises and sets it is hard to distinguish where the earth ends and heaven begins. The Kulala Wilderness Reserve is bordered to the south by an adjoining private desert reserve and to the west by the Namib-Naukluft National Park creating a vast, uninterrupted conservation area of around 75,000 square kilometres. And beyond that open communal lands just carry on and on.
Little Kulala echoes the sense of space and silence of the surrounding desert in its use of natural materials, the harmonious use of desert colours, its horizontal lines and a generous sense of space. It looks like something Frank Lloyd Wright would have designed had he been around to do so. Each spaced out unit is surmounted by a sleeping deck called a “star bed”.
If you brave it out – even if the desert wind is up – a night spent under a Namib sky will be one of the most memorable of your life.
Words: David Bristow
Photos: Roger de la Harpe
Travel writer David Bristow and photographers Roger and Pat de la Harpe stayed at Little Kulala in the Kulala Wilderness Reserve, researching the legendary dunes of Sossusvlei and the Namib sand sea as part of their African Icons project. Follow their progress on Facebook or Twitter.