From the glorious rock formations of Spitzkoppe, Erongo and the Brandberg in the south to the equally glorious red-rock, wild-desert mountains around Palmwag in the north, Damaraland is one of Namibia's most dramatic collections of landscapes. Hidden in the rocky clefts is Twyfelfontein, which along with the Brandberg contains some of Southern Africa’s finest prehistoric rock art and engravings, and there's even a petrified forest nearby, as well as palm-fringed, oasislike valleys. Damaraland is also one of Southern Africa's most underrated wildlife-watching areas. One of Namibia's last ‘unofficial’ wildlife regions, it's home to critically endangered black rhinos, desert-adapted lions and elephants, as well as the full range of Namibia specialities such as gemsbok, zebra, giraffe and spotted hyena.
This combination of wild landscapes and wild creatures is Damaraland at its best. Plan to stay here as long as you can.
These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Damaraland.
Twyfelfontein (Doubtful Spring), at the head of the grassy Aba Huab Valley, is one of the most extensive rock-art galleries on the continent. In the ancient past, this perennial spring most likely attracted wildlife, creating a paradise for the hunters who eventually left their marks on the surrounding rocks. Animals, animal tracks and geometric designs are well represented here, though there are surprisingly few human figures.
One of Namibia’s most recognisable landmarks, the 1728m-high Spitzkoppe rises mirage-like above the dusty plains of southern Damaraland. Its dramatic shape has inspired its nickname, the Matterhorn of Africa, but similarities between this ancient volcanic remnant and the glaciated Swiss alp begin and end with its sharp peak. First summited in 1946, the Spitzkoppe continues to attract hard-core rock climbers bent on tackling Namibia’s most challenging peak.
Tsisab Ravine is the epicentre of the Brandberg's rock-art magic. The most famous figure in the ravine is the White Lady of the Brandberg, in Maack’s Shelter. The figure, which isn’t necessarily a lady (it’s still open to interpretation), stands about 40cm high and is part of a larger painting that depicts a bizarre hunting procession. In one hand the figure is carrying what appears to be a flower or possibly a feather. In the other, the figure is carrying a bow and arrows.
This cave, 3km off the road, contains the famous humpbacked white elephant painting. Superimposed on the elephant is a large humpbacked antelope (perhaps an eland), and around it frolic ostriches and giraffes. The Ameib paintings were brought to attention in the book Phillips Cave by prehistorian Abbè Breuil, but his speculations about their Mediterranean origins have now been discounted. The site is open to day hikers via Ameib Gästehaus.
One of Damaraland’s most remote natural attractions is the highly mysterious-looking Messum Crater, which comprises two concentric circles of hills created by a collapsed volcano in the Goboboseb Mountains. The crater measures more than 20km in diameter, creating a vast lost world that you may have all to yourself.
The petrified forest is an area of open veld scattered with petrified tree trunks up to 34m long and 6m in circumference, which are estimated to be around 260 million years old. The original trees belonged to an ancient group of cone-bearing plants that are known as Gymnospermae, which includes such modern plants as conifers, cycads and welwitschias. Because of the lack of root or branch remnants, it’s thought that the trunks were transported to the site in a flood.
Numas Ravine, slicing through the western face of the Brandberg, is a little-known treasure house of ancient paintings. Most people ask their guide to take them to the rock facing the southern bank of the riverbed, which bears paintings of a snake, a giraffe and an antelope. It lies about 30 minutes’ walk up the ravine. After another half-hour you’ll reach an oasislike freshwater spring and several more paintings in the immediate surroundings.
One of the very few wineries in Namibia, this is a lovely spot to come for lunch. In the afternoon you can enjoy light meals – cheese and cold-meat platters – while tasting their wines and other products, and take a tour of the gardens. Apart from schnapps, the winery produces Colombard, a white wine, and Paradise Flycatcher, a red blend of ruby cabernet, cabernet sauvignon and Tinta Barocca. The winery is 4km east of Omaruru on the D2328.
Southeast of Twyfelfontein rises a barren 12km-long volcanic ridge, at the foot of which lies the hill known as Burnt Mountain, an expanse of volcanic clinker that appears to have been literally exposed to fire. Virtually nothing grows in this eerie panorama of desolation. Burnt Mountain lies beside the D3254, 3km south of the Twyfelfontein turn-off.