A Weekend in Homeb – October 2006
Rob gave me a wonderful little book called ‘The Namib’ by Mary Seely – which gives one all sorts of interesting bits of information about the desert. Dipping into this gold mine of facts and figures, he came across the name of a place called ‘Homeb’ situated in quite a remote part of the Naukluft Park. It had a fairly decent list of birds, amongst which was the Dune Lark, which is uncommon elsewhere but can be found in the dunes near Homeb. These little birds would be ‘lifers’ for us, so we decided to head off to Homeb.
Any visit to the Naukluft Park requires a permit, which I duly bought at the Reservations Office in Windhoek. Most of the time no-one even checks these , but we feel that it really is the right thing to do, so happily pay the $80,00 for the campsite and the permit to visit the area.
From Windhoek we took the route via the scenic Gamsberg and Kuiseb Passes. We’d seen the sign pointing to Homeb a few times before, but never been that way so we turned off the main road and headed into new territory. We’d been given a detailed map by the Parks Board, so were able to identify some landmarks along the way. Bakenkop was one of them and it was basically a koppie with a winding road leading up to a tower of sorts. Presumably a telephone or radio tower, I’m not sure.
Shortly beyond that, we came across a lonely tree in the middle of the veld and we could see that it had an enormous nest in it in which a pair of greater kestrels was nurturing a little family. We stopped to enjoy the sight of these birds, but unfortunately when Rob went a bit closer to try and photograph them, they all took to the skies. We drove off hoping that they’d come back soon and not be too disturbed by our visit.
The road then passed Mirabib, an enormous granite inselberg rising out of the plains. This area, covered with rich vegetation, also has a campsite, but we didn’t go and investigate as we wanted to set up our camp at Homeb before dark. Along the way we were amused to see dozens of rain gauges placed about a kilometer apart. Obviously they were bone dry because it was early in October, but judging by the number of them, someone was researching rain or fog in the area. They looked so out of the place in the desert that we couldn’t suppress our giggles every time another one came into sight.
The grass at that time of the year is quite yellow and not very long so one can see for miles and miles across the veld. The area looks quite deserted, apart from koorhaans and sand grouse close to the road, but occasionally one can spot the odd springbok, gemsbok or zebra grazing in the distance.
The approach to Homeb is quite dramatic and reminiscent of the Moon Landscape near Swakopmund. This area is described in Mary Seely’s book as the ‘Homeb Silts’ which are layers of soil laid down about 20 000 years ago when the Kuiseb River had a stronger flow and deposited mud and silt behind the rough walls of the canyon. On a walk the next day, we discovered an enormous conglomerate of calcrete embedded with round quartz stones. Apparently the quartz stones would have filled the river bed and then been slowly cemented together by calcium carbonate. When there was a change in the water flow channels excavated the area. It makes for an interesting visit and from afar it almost resembles Egyptian buildings on the banks of the Nile.
There was one lonely building at Homeb, which appeared deserted, but later turned out to be occupied. We passed this and drove on to the area designated as the campsite on the banks of the dry river bed. It was like an oasis, with trees lining the river bed as far as the eyes could see. Being the only people there, we had our pick of where to camp for the weekend. Even in October the heat was noticeable, so it was rather nice to have an abundance of shade to sit under.
The trees and shrubs found in the riverine forest were all different shapes and sizes. Many had been knocked over in floods, but those still rooted firmly were covered in pods and were home to lots of birds. Two species of fig, Ficus sycomorous and Ficus cordata were prevalent, as was the false ebony and the wild tamarisk. The trees and animals at Homeb have their water supplied by underground water stored in the sand of the dry river bed. Sitting in the campsite, it was hard to believe that beyond the leafy green trees was hard core desert!
As the crow flies, Homeb is about 75 kms inland from Sandwich Harbour on the coast. It is on the edge of the dune sea, so by turning in a full circle, when standing at a high point, one can see all different types of scenery from sand dunes, to veld plains and a lush river bed.
The campsite, like most sites in the Naukluft, could be considered rather inhospitable, with no ablution block or water. We didn’t mind this though as we were pretty self-sufficient and going without a proper loo and a shower for a night or two wasn’t the end of the world for us. All we had was a concrete braai area and a smelly long-drop, which I wouldn’t use because of the flies and creepy crawlies that lived in the hut.
Night fell early and we were treated to our usual display of the wondrous night sky. As we sat talking after our braai, a beautiful white owl flew overhead. We weren’t able to identify it, but hoped that it would be back the next night so that we could get a better look at it.
The next morning we packed our belongings into the bakkie, and armed with cameras and binoculars, walked across the dry river bed towards the sand dunes. It was quite difficult to get through all the trees that were growing in tangled profusion so closely together. Beyond these obstructions however, was a large open area and we were interested to see how eroded the ground was and split with deep cracks. Nearby we saw numerous tracks and footprints criss-crossing a small sand dune, obviously made by little creatures that had run through here earlier in the day or at night.
Once past the riverbed, it was a very steep climb up the sandy hill to the plains above. The view from up there was quite spectacular. One saw red dunes to the north and dark eroded landscape to the south, sliced in half by the riverbed and its green trees. It was really awesome to stand there and take it all in. The red sand dunes, which are the edge of the dune sea, formed a backdrop for the gravel dunes and plains covered with different grasses and succulents. One had to restrain oneself from taking too many photographs.
We set off across the plains to the dunes, where we hoped to see the Dune Larks. It was quite a long walk and the temperature was rising. After about forty-five minutes we reached the first of the dunes and it wasn’t long before we spotted the Dune Larks foraging around in the grass. They weren’t too keen on being photographed and flew off as soon as Rob approached them. However, between the two of us clicking away we managed to get some pictures of them to prove that we had actually seen them and for a positive identification. These larks must be well adapted to living in this arid area, because we didn’t see any other birds while we were there.
We stood for a while just marveling at the scenery and were rewarded by the sight of about five ostriches making their way over the dunes in the distance. Unfortunately they were too far away to get a decent photo, so we had to be content just watching them in such a beautiful setting.
As we made our way back to the campsite, we stopped to watch a rather magnificent looking lizard running across the hot sand. It looked like it has been wandering over an artist’s palette as its skin was a brightly coloured orange, with paler shades of brown and a bright white underbelly. It’s amazing how well these little creatures live in such a harsh environment. I wouldn’t have minded seeing the lizards that lift their legs up in turn to cool their feet from the hot sand, but we weren’t in luck. If this was indeed one of those lizards, the sand obviously wasn’t hot enough for it to do its little dance for us.
Once back at the camp, we decided to move the bakkie further into the shade so that we could have an afternoon sleep. One can move the vehicle with the rooftop tent up, but it has to be done carefully and slowly with me keeping up with the car as I hold the steps supporting the tent.
Our peaceful afternoon siesta was brought to an abrupt halt at about four o’clock when light aircraft started flying overhead. These planes bring visitors to see the dunes and the Kuiseb Canyon from the air and are very popular with tourists. In total we counted eleven planes in the space of about forty-five minutes – they must have been queuing up to take off from the Swakopmund Airport! I quite envied them, because the views from up there must have been superb.
We loved the idea of having the place to ourselves, a luxury that was to be short lived when a car pulled in and a lone man set up camp a few metres away from us. It’s amazing how one immediately feels put out by this, but a trip to an overcrowded New Zealand campsite put it all in perspective for us! We are so lucky in Namibia – the remoteness of the campsites usually makes for very quiet and people-free weekends away. And who were we to deny someone else the joy of spending time in that lovely place. When it became apparent that our fellow camper was there to photograph birds, it seemed rather a shame that we hadn’t made any effort to chat to him. Perhaps he would have thought it an intrusion if we had though.
Much to our disappointment, the enormous white owl didn’t come back again. Instead we were visited by a rather inquisitive white rooster who made himself at home in the camp. He greedily devoured the bread crumbs that I fed him, then spent the next half hour trying to digest them. At five the next morning his loud crows woke us up, a bit early for a Sunday, but we forgave him. When we finally rose for breakfast, he was strutting around the camp making guttural noises and pecking at the ground for bits of bread.
Homeb is delightful and actually exceeded my expectations, so it was rather sad to have to pack up and leave. As we had a valid permit for the Naukluft we decided to make the most of it and visit a few of the other view sites in the Park. And when a Parks Board Ranger stopped us about twenty kilometers from Homeb we were rather glad that we’d taken the trouble to buy the permit.
We took a different route back to the main road, this time passing some old mines, the Hope Mine and the Gorob Mine. We had to stop and photograph a sign proclaiming that we were crossing the Tropic of Capricon (sic). Our next stop was marked on the map as Zebra Pan. It consisted of a huge reservoir on the edge of the enormous dry pan. With no animals to be seen, it didn’t instill any desire to linger and we pushed on to the other side of the main road.
Here the scenery was wonderful and we saw lots of different buck along the way as we headed towards Blutkopje, an enormous granite outcrop on the eastern side of the Park. This area is much rockier than where we’d started out, with lots of different grasses and quiver trees dotting the landscape. Blutkopje was quite impressive, just by its sheer size, but it was very hot there and we battled to find a shady spot to have our lunch.
With time running out we rejoined the main road and made our way home on yet another new route, via the Bosua Pass. This route was not as pretty as it could have been, as huge fires had swept over hundreds of kilometers and we seemed to drive endlessly past depressing blackened landscape. It was a relief to get back into the Windhoek district which suddenly seemed quite lush after the devastation of the fire.
It had been a wonderful opportunity to explore more of what the Naukluft had to offer and we thoroughly enjoyed the weekend. I doubt whether the remoteness of Homeb would appeal to the masses, but we loved it and I’d love to go back there for another visit.