NamibRand Nature Reserve

NamibRand Nature Reserve

Around 400km south-west of Windhoek and south of Sesriem, the NamibRand Nature Reserve protects a beautiful area of desert. Low dune fields cut into the desert plains compliment mountains that are visible in the distance. At sunrise the contrast of the ochre sand, yellow grasses and long dark shadows make for spectacular photography. It’s a magical, captivating place.

Covering an area over 2,150km2, an area equivalent to about half the size of Belgium, the NamibRand Nature Reserve is one of Southern Africa’s largest private nature reserves. Established in 1984, the vision of J.A (Albi) Bruckner, former livestock farms were amalgamated in order to protect this unique environment and its rich biodiversity.

The reserve is defined by the striking Nubib Mountains to the east and shares 100km of its border to the west with the main Namib-Naukluft National Park. Within these borders there are a wide variety of desert landscapes and environments; from huge red sand dunes to vegetated inter-dune valleys and sand and gravel plains interrupted by mountain ranges and inselbergs. It’s a spectacular area of desert.

The remoteness and solitude of the area is best enjoyed on a guided walk or nature drive or by gazing out at the stunning surroundings from the comfort of your lodge. As only the second place in the world to be designated as a Gold Tier International Dark Sky Reserve, a glance skywards at night should not be missed.

History of the NamibRand

The reserve was formed from a number of separate farms established in the 1950s to eke out an existence, farming in the desert. Several severe drought years in the 1980s demonstrated that farming domestic stock here just wasn’t viable. There were even allegations of farmers opening their fences to game from the Namib-Naukluft National Park, only to kill the animals for their meat once they left the park.

Game was the only option, and this survived well on the farm Gorrasis, owned by J.A (Albi) Brückner (a businessman, rather than a farmer, who’d bought the farm for its landscapes). In 1988 Brückner bought out two neighbouring farms, Die Duine and Stellarine, and gradually the reserve was broadened from that base. Now seventeen former livestock farms have combined to form the reserve and various shareholders have contributed money to the reserve. All the landowners involved have signed agreements and adopted a constitution, which sets the land aside for conservation in the present and in the future.

The NamibRand’s Flora and Fauna

The NamibRand is not primarily a wildlife destination, the flora and fauna that can be expected here are roughly similar to that in the western areas of the Namib-Naukluft National Park. However, although the wildlife might be harder to find it is no less rewarding or interesting. In order to survive in this harsh environment, animals have developed fascinating physiological and behavioural adaptations. Some of the animals found in this environment are endemic to the area, being found nowhere else on the planet.

Mammals of the NamibRand

The vast reserve is home to gemsbok, springbok, kudu, Hartmann's and Burchell's zebra, giraffe, klipspringer, steenbok and hartebeest. Most numerous are the gemsbok and springbok, the latest game census estimated their numbers to be around 3,200 and 12,400, respectively. There are also red hartebeest to be found in the reserve, and blesbok, which have been introduced from South Africa. Visitors may also be lucky enough to catch sight of leopard, spotted and brown hyena, black-backed jackal, bat-eared and Cape fox, caracal or one of the cheetah that have been introduced here as part of a conservation programme.

On a visit in June 2014, we were stunned when on a cool, very overcast afternoon we spotted no fewer than ten aardwolves and eight black-backed jackals on our afternoon nature drive in the reserve. Even our guide was excited about these sightings, though he was quick to point out that we were perhaps luckier than most. Even without this, it was a very memorable drive and sunset, as the sun made a late appearance for spectacular sundowner drinks.

Another species of particular interest is the Grant’s golden mole, which is only found on the west coast of Southern Africa. This blind, nocturnal, mostly solitary animal ‘swims’ through sand during the day to escape the heat of the desert. At night the animal comes alive, scampering across the dunes in search of prey. If you are lucky enough to glimpse this rare animal at night, you may witness it diving back into the sand to grab invertebrates that it has sensed by detecting their vibrations.

Birds of the NamibRand

For the ornithologist, over a 150 species of birds have been identified in the reserve. This includes the massive but endangered lappet-faced vulture with its 3m wingspan, the Ludwig’s bustard and Namibia’s only true endemic bird, the dune lark. Often seen skipping up and down the sand dunes, this bird persists exclusively in the driest part of the country and survives with limited moisture and predominately on seeds and insects.

Other species of interest in the NamibRand

As well as the impressive larger birds and mammals within the reserve there are many fascinating smaller creatures, which could be missed as they scuttle beneath your feet. Many have unique adaptations, which have evolved in order for them to thrive in the dry, desert environment. For example the dancing white lady spider that lives in a 30-40cm long silk lined burrow and uses a ‘dancing’ action to drum on the sand to communicate with other spiders. Or look out for the wheel spider, which has developed a unique escape mechanism of ‘cartwheeling’ down the sand dunes to evade predators. The well-known ‘sidewinding’ adder is also found in the reserve, one of the few snakes in the world with eyes on the top of its head, you may find it using its unique method of locomotion to traverse the reserve’s sand dunes.

Activities in the NamibRand area

Depending on where you are staying within the reserve there are a variety of activities on offer, from a guided nature walk to quad biking to a trip in hot air balloon.

Driving excursions in the NamibRand

Take to a 4x4 vehicle with a guide and be driven around this undisturbed and sometimes alien landscape. Choose a time and distance to suit you from a 1-2 hour sundowner drive to a full day outing including a peaceful, remote picnic. This is a great way to get a sense of the scale of the reserve and to experience the variety in the landscapes.

Walking trails in the NamibRand

Whether you would like a guided nature walk or you would prefer to find your own way on a marked walking trail, both are possible within the reserve. For the more adventurous traveller TokTokkie trails offers a fully guided trip of 2 nights and 3 days in the southeast of the reserve. The trail has been designed at a leisurely pace and hikers retire to a two-course meal, hot bucket showers and a camp bed under the starry Namibian skies at two camps along the route.

Other activities in the NamibRand

Depending on exactly where you are staying there are many other activities on offer during your stay on the NamibRand nature reserve. Experiencing the reserve from the air is possible in a hot air balloon or a scenic flight or at speed back on terra firma on a quad bike trail through the dunes.

The NamibRand’s Stargazing

Because of its exceptionally dark night skies allowing for outstanding astronomy, The International Dark Sky Association (IDA) designated the NamibRand nature reserve a Gold Tier International Dark Sky Reserve. It was only the second place in the world to receive the Gold or ‘darkest’ accolade in 2012 and it was the first in Africa.

The NamibRand has worked hard to adapt all artificial lighting used by properties within the reserve to meet the IDA standard, to maintain not only an unspoiled night sky but to maintain the environment in its most natural form for both the human and animal inhabitants. A stay at Sossusvlei Desert Lodge complete with its sophisticated observatory, Meade LX200R 12 inch telescope and resident astronomer will give you the best insight, in the area, into the wonders of the night sky.
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