Tag Archives: Fairy circles

A visit to the Marienfluss area of Namibia

In my previous blog I wrote about what a beautiful oasis Marble Camp is.  It was a great spot for us to recover and prepare ourselves for our trip up to Camp Synchro on the Kunene River.  We met some other campers who were towing a trailer and they told us about Red Drum Pass that awaited us shortly after we left Marble Camp.  The Pass turned out to be relatively easy to negotiate, but the rocks were quite jagged and we crossed fingers that they wouldn’t damage our tyres.  Apart from a few small tears in the sidewalls of the tyres, we survived the climb up and over Red Drum Pass relatively unscathed.

The road up Red Drum Pass

From there it was a short drive to Red Drum, which, although it features on all the road maps of the Kunene region, is really no more than a junction marked by a red drum.  We came upon it quite suddenly and it took us a moment or two to realize that this was the famous Red Drum that everyone talks about.  We had to stop and take the obligatory photos to show that we’d passed it!  Rob looks a bit perplexed about something – probably wondering what all the fuss is about.

Rob at Red Drum

Once we turned off at Red Drum and headed into the Marienfluss, the going was a lot easier.  The Marienfluss is a valley that runs alongside the Hartmann Mountains in northern Namibia and it is definitely one of the prettiest areas in the Kunene region.  It is described as one of the southern Africa’s last wilderness areas because of its isolation, and it’s easy to see why.  Although it is dotted with little Himba settlements, they are few and far between so do little to change one’s perception of being in an undeveloped and remote area.  These colourful Himba ladies graciously allowed me to photograph them.  Unfortunately our idea of a reasonable price to pay for a photo was somewhat different to theirs – their thinking was more in line with what a model like Kate Moss would charge!  As a result their smiles turned to glares as we drove away.

Three colourful Himba ladies

We loved the beautiful fairy circles that dotted the Marienfluss and stopped often to photograph them, the yellow grass, mountains and red road.  The area has an almost ethereal quality about it.

The beautiful Marienfluss scenery

The road was very corrugated and sandy in patches.  It was quite sad to see how motorists had left the track often to get away from the sand and corrugations, causing the track to become ever wider.  Sometimes we had as many as six tracks to choose from.    Driving off the road is not encouraged as the damage to the environment is usually permanent.

The wide red road

There were lots of wild animals and birds to be seen along the way.  These ostriches made a beautiful picture in the landscape.

Ostriches in the Marienfluss

We also stopped to watch a Pale chanting goshawk swoop down and catch a snake.  When Rob set off on foot to try and photograph it, the goshawk flew off clutching its prey in its talons.  These are the magical moments on a trip and they need to be savoured without being in a hurry to get to your next destination.

Pale chanting goshawk with a snake

What a special time it was in this area.  If you’re prepared to put up with the atrocious roads to get there, the beauty will amply reward you for your tenacity and endurance.  Our destination for the day was Camp Synchro on the Kunene River – one of two camping places at Otjinungwa.  More about that lovely spot next week …..


Fairy Circles – footprints of the Gods!

High on our bucket list of things to see in Namibia has always been the mystical fairy circles that are found in Kaokoland.  Our dream was realized on our latest trip when we were driving through the remote Giribes Plains and the Marienfluss area, and there was great excitement in the car when we first spotted them.  Man has always been intrigued by things that have no explanation and fairy circles have had scientists baffled for decades.  The African people attribute spiritual powers to these barren sandy circles in the grasslands and call them the “footprints of the Gods”, but unless the Gods have big round feet, or round spacecraft, they could be wrong.

Fairy circle in the Marienfluss

Like the famous crop circles that show up in areas in the United Kingdom, fairy circles appear magically and come in all different sizes, ranging from small ones measuring about two meters in diameter to the larger ones that are about twelve meters across.  They are typically bare sandy patches surrounded by long grass.  Although extensive studies have been made on these circles, scientists can only tell us for certain that they grow and have a life expectancy.  Studies done on the circles in the Namibgrens Nature Reserve in southern Namibia have shown that small circles exist for approximately twenty-four years, whilst large ones last up to seventy-five years before vegetation takes over again.

Jane absorbing some magic!

There are a number of theories as to what causes them, one being that they are the result of harvester termites nesting underground, but digs have not proved this.  It was also thought that euphorbia plants left a poisonous residue in the ground that prevented anything from growing for years, but this too has not been proven.  We didn’t see any evidence of euphorbia plants in the entire area so think this is the least likely of the explanations.  Students from the University of Pretoria surmised that they might be hardpans – layers of soil that cannot be penetrated by water – which would prevent anything from growing in them, but if hardpans are the cause it doesn’t explain why they are circular.  So the mystery remains unsolved.

Fairy circles on the Giribes Plain

The circles appear at their full size or grow rapidly to the size that they remain at for the duration of their ‘lives’.  They are rather fascinating, don’t you think.  If you’re interested in sponsoring a fairy circle for yourself (which I think is a rather quaint fundraising idea), you can do this through the staff at the Namibrand Nature Reserve, who will mark it with a ceramic plate and give you the GPS co-ordinates of your fairy circle and then monitor it over a number of years to see how it behaves and survives.

Fairy circles on the Giribes Plain

Now don’t laugh when I tell you my theory of how they are formed.  I think the area is a giant cookie factory and there’s a benevolent being that comes along with an enormous cookie cutter to make grass cookies for the poor animals that have to survive in really harsh desert conditions further up the road where there is hardly a blade of grass to eat.

Springbok on the road to Orupembe

If you think that the fairies made them, well you may be right, as your guess is as good as anyone else’s.  If you have any ideas that you’d like to share, do leave a comment.

Landscape dotted with circles