Weekend at Spitzkoppe – Matterhorn of Namibia

Anyone who has traveled from Windhoek to Swakopmund will be familiar with the imposing outline of the Spitzkoppe mountains.  Standing on a flat plain at an altitude of 1728m above sea level, they should be clearly visible.  Often, however, they are shrouded by haze or dust.

The highest peak is 700m and is known locally as =/Gaingu, meaning the last large mountain on the way north (isn’t that quaint!)  It sits proudly alongside other domed mountains called the Pondoks, which is the local vernacular for small rounded huts that are made from branches and cow dung.  Further west lie the Little Spitzkoppe. These granite inselbergs have been eroded over time by wind and weather and shaped into the interesting rocks that so many folks have come to love.

Pondokke

Spitzkoppe is an easy three hour drive from Windhoek and as we’d never camped in the area before we were keen to experience it for ourselves.  We arrived quite late in the afternoon and were a little dismayed to find that all the regular campsites were already occupied.  By regular I mean those campsites that had a 44 gallon drum serving as a dirt bin – there were no other facilities on offer, not even toilets or water, at least that we could see!    We drove around until we found a nice spot right up against an enormous granite mountain – in fact a sheer cliff rose hundreds of meters above us, making our car look quite dinky by comparison.

Campsite at Spitzkoppe

Sunset at Spitzkoppe

Night fell quickly as the sun sank down behind the mountain and it wasn’t long before we were treated to the sight of an enormous orange full moon that made the need for torches quite unnecessary.

Moon over Spitzkoppe

Rob soon had a fire going and we sat chatting about the prospect of seeing new birds the following day.  Our Roberts Bird Guide told us that Herero Chats were endemic to this area and they would be lifers for us.  It’s always exciting to notch up a lifer and to get a photo of one is an added bonus.

We were up early the next morning and after breakfast, we walked a short way from our campsite around the base of the mountain, where we came to a clearing with a thicket of bushes covered in purple tubular flowers.  This turned out to be a magical spot as the flowers attracted the Dusky Sunbirds and there were literally dozens of these lovely little birds flitting from bush to bush drinking in the nectar.  Rob was in his element photographing them and we spent a good hour there totally enthralled at the spectacle before us.

Dusky sunbird

We eventually dragged ourselves away and headed back across the plains to an area called Small Bushman’s Paradise where rock art adorns the faces of enormous boulders.

Along the way we noticed some mountaineers attempting a particularly steep and difficult climb.  The enormity of what they were doing struck us when we saw how small they looked against the rocks meters above us.  This area is a favourite with rock climbers and over the years many have met their fate on these perilous mountains.

Rock climbers

It gets quite hot walking, even in winter, so it’s always a good idea to carry plenty of water and something to eat.  We had lunch in the shade of some big boulders and managed to tick off a pair of Herero Chats, although getting a decent photo of them proved somewhat difficult.  The birdlife in this area is quite magnificent with about 200 different species on the list.  There are also a number of animals to be found, but they made themselves very scarce during our visit and we were out of luck until the following day.

By mid-afternoon we were ready to head back to camp and take a rest.  The campsite offered up no shade at all so it was rather hot inside the rooftop tent.  We did manage to sleep for a bit and were woken rather rudely by birds gathering outside.  I had thrown some breadcrumbs out for them and as we’d taken our cameras up with us, we were able to photograph them from our own ‘bird hide’.  Starlings, Mountain Chats and Hornbills all fought over the scraps of bread as we clicked away happily unseen above them.

Montiero's hornbill

It had been a magnificent day and we’d had plenty of exercise, sunshine and birds to photograph.  Once again the moon gave us a special show as we bid farewell to the day.

We packed up our belongings the next day and drove to all the places that we hadn’t been able to go to on foot.  Our first visit was to the southern part of the area where the boulders were spanned by an enormous natural arch of rock.  From here the Erongo Mountains were clearly visible in the distance.  The guide book told us that there were some old graves on the way to Bushman’s Paradise, but try as we might we couldn’t find them.

We stopped off at a disused water reservoir that was covered with bushes and trees and were delighted to spot a pair of black mongooses.  The black mongoose (Galerella nigrata) is a fairly rare specimen in Namibia and is mainly found in the Erongo mountains.  I had been fortunate enough to spot these elusive creatures on two previous occasions and had a hard time getting Rob to believe that I’d actually seen them!  I was therefore especially pleased when we came across the pair at the reservoir and Rob was able to see them for himself.  They were rather shy though and ducked into the undergrowth and although we waited for a good half hour for them to reappear, they must have been watching us and kept hidden.

From there we moved on to Bushman’s Paradise, on the eastern side of the area.  Here there is a climb up a steep incline, with assistance provided by a thoughtfully placed chain handrail.

Handrail at Bushman's Paradise

From the top it’s a short walk to a rock shelter in which a number of paintings can be found.  This art, believed to have been the handiwork of the San people some 25 000 years ago, was created using extracts from vegetables, blood from animals as well as the urine from dassies (Rock Hyrax) and even Ostrich egg yolks.  It was a sacred area for the nomadic people of old and many of the paintings depict their spiritual practices.  We watched in horror as other visitors placed their hands on the paintings.  This is causing significant damage to these ancient paintings and we wondered why their guide didn’t dissuade them from doing this.  Often visitors wet the paintings to make them clearer to photograph – another reason why they are fading at a faster rate than ever before.

Our time at Spitzkoppe was drawing to an end.  It had been a wonderful weekend and we were happy to take away lots of happy memories of our two days there.  As we drove out we passed the local Spitzkoppe community, who farm the area with goats and cattle.  The area abounds in semi-precious stones and these also form part of their income as visitors are always keen to buy them.

Well worth a visit, we will definitely be going back to Spitzkoppe before we head home to South Africa.

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