Driving along the C1918 is surprisingly smooth. The road is virtually dead straight leading directly East from Henties Bay and the vegetation sparse against the pale sand.
I have just declared how nothing could possibly survive here, when we stop for a leg stretch, startling 3 korhaans who seem just as surprised to see us. They don’t bother flying off.
Miles and miles of inhospitable desert and blinding heat surround us. Our Nissan Navara 4×4, eats up the road and we muse for the 100th time how lucky we are to have secured a vehicle in a country that had no cars to rent. The choice and freedom to stop at will, take photos, or wander off along a track would not have been at all possible had we been dependent on a shuttle service.
Stopping periodically is indescribable. We step out of the cool bubble of our car and into a vacuum. A world without humans. Silent except for a vague breeze. Utterly still, except for a random piece of tumbleweed or the darting of a small bird. Goodness knows where it finds water or food! You aren’t sure if you should yell and leap about in wild celebration, or cower in awe.
There is absolutely nothing in any direction and it must be how it feels to be suddenly deposited on the moon. It’s surreal and serene. I was reminded of how vulnerable you are out here if there is say a problem with your car. Our litre of water wouldn’t last long at all. Luckily a car whizzes by every 30 minutes or so. It also seems as though everyone drives a 4×4. I guess who wouldn’t when it makes these incredible landscapes more accessible.
In the distance we can see some peaks that look completely out of place in the dead flat wilderness. Could they be the Spitzkoppe?
We pass an area that offers stalls displaying rocks, stones and minerals. It’s unmanned and a sign requests a “honesty” barter – rocks for water. A more inhospitable terrain for a market is hard to imagine. I notice a half filled plastic bottle sweating in the sun. Possibly left by someone. Maybe it will save someone’s life? I’m not ready to give up our remaining water.
We are drawn inexorably towards the mountain. As we approach we realise it’s not a single monolith but fascinating groups of rocks, boulders and hills, randomly arranged, tumbling over each other, often precariously balanced. We are enticed by a track leading into a hilly area with lots of intriguing branching routes leading through rocks. We admire some interesting plant life and even a few small trees. We weave through the boulders, compelled to travel on and on. Only the relative lateness and our hunger pangs make us stop for lunch. It’s 2pm, very hot, but a cooling breeze makes it bearable. We clamber around looking at interesting flowering cacti of different colours.
The rocks are mostly smooth as if weathered by water. We laugh about how this place makes Australia’s Uluru and The Olga’s look silly. We wonder if it’s potentially on the same latitude as the formations are so similar. We can’t believe it’s such a well kept secret!
The Spitzkoppe (from the German for “pointed dome”) also referred to as, the “Matterhorn of Africa”, is a group of bald granite peaks or inselbergs located between Usakos and Swakopmund in the Namib desert. The granite is more than 130 million years old and the highest outcrop rises about 1,728 metres (5,669 ft) above sea level. The peaks stand out dramatically from the flat surrounding plains. The highest peak Große Spitzkop is about 670 m (2,200 ft) above the floor of the desert below. A minor peak – the Kleine Spitzkop lies nearby at an elevation of 1,557 m (5,108 ft). Other prominences stretch out into a range known as the Pontok Mountains. (Wikipedia)
With every step, We snap another dozen photos, beyond blown away by the beauty of this part of the world and instantly convinced that this is one of the best places we’ve ever visited. There are caves that look like they have been scoured by centuries of wild water; interesting peaks and crags and even a scary looking sinkhole.
Back on the road we keep our eyes peeled for signs. The only one we see is so weathered that we can’t really make head or tail. We commit to the D1925 which our research says should be correct.
We reach a gate that seems unused and a track that seems unlikely to be the route to the Lodge. We still haven’t seen a single further sign and rely on Geoff’s hastily snapped Google map from when we had WiFi this morning. It can’t be right….What about the track marked by two tyres balancing on sticks that we passed? Surely not! We retrace our steps. Hmmm looks unlikely. In desperation I switch on the data on my phone. Nada. Unsurprisingly there is no coverage out here in the Namib desert. We decide to go back through the old gate. We pass two or three deserted dwellings. We kick ourselves for being so blasé in such a desolate and unforgiving environment. Africa is not for sissies.
Then, just as we are wondering if we may have to sleep in the car, we spot a boom gate, a small hut and yes! An actual human being. He is smiling and welcoming people into the camping area and he helpfully sends us off on an adjacent track which is clearly signed “Detour to the Lodge”.
Relieved to be on the right road, we immediately pull up against the base of the mountains, spill out of the truck to absorb the jaw-dropping scenery that envelops us. We take more pictures. Then we follow a winding track with intermittent signs reading “Lodge”. We hope that there is only one Lodge and that it is ‘our’ lodge. Eventually we see a formidable electric fence encasing some of the most breathtaking scenery yet. We suspect that we are skirting our lodge. It turns out to be the case and we have finally arrived at Spitzkoppen Lodge. What a magnificent place!
A sign implores us to stop and take a photograph. Who are we to argue? We are delighted with the result
Godfrey welcomes us with ice cold, vanilla-scented towels and chilled cucumber water. We drink thirstily, while he outlines the plans for the next two days and then drives us in a golf cart over a narrow, winding bridge to our chalet. There are 15 chalets, all perfectly positioned with unsurpassed views across an expansive plain looking towards the jagged mountain peaks. Our room is pure luxury.
We catch a lift back with Godfrey in the golf cart and head up to the rock pool for a swim. It’s hard to explain what has been created here. Artistically architected winding walkways, curve around the rock formations leading to a simple but stunning glass venue comprising the dining area and bar. It overlooks the pool and deck. It is a cinematic landscape, straight out of the Lion King. We feel like masters of all we survey.
The pool water is refreshing and we loll about sipping strawberry daiquiris until the sun is too much for us. We retreat to our room which is astonishingly cool despite the harsh landscape. A quick snooze and it’s time to head back for sundowners, delicious snacks and enjoy a view that slays from a couch high up on the rocks!
Dinner is delicious and we clean our plates delighting our charming waitress. Rejoicing in the cool desert air, we wander back to our room and sleep like dogs.
All promises to be out walking by dawn, have gone out of the window. We watch the sunrise from our room, sitting under a fleecy blanket while sipping hot coffee. It’s surprisingly chilly. The dawn light turns the surrounding rocks bright orange and the place is transformed once again.
By 9 it’s already warm and we head up for breakfast and some much needed WiFi. Delicious savoury pastries accompany boiled eggs and scrumptious game wors. Geoff does some work and I blog. We wander back to our room photographing everything again. The changing light shifts the shadows and creates a whole new perspective. We retake the same photographs because the mountains are so stunning we are scared to miss any of its moods.
We doze and read until lunch. It seems ridiculous to eat again, but fortunately it’s a light salad with game carpaccio and we find it impossible to miss, especially as it’s complimentary 😂. We contemplate a swim, but we’ve already had too much sun and we stare fascinated at the German tourists who have spent the entire day in the blazing sun around the rock pool. 🥵
We opt to go back to the room to avoid the heat of the day and we laze around again, luxuriating in having nothing important to do.
At 5pm it’s time for an excursion with Godfrey. On the agenda is a visit to the Rock Arch, some Khoi San paintings and another in particular – The Golden Snake.
We set off in the game drive vehicle with a noisy German family. It is a peaceful slow meander around one amazing formation or cluster after another. The light is turning everything bright orange. We see hyrax, squirrels, klipspringers, geckos and birds. Godfrey explains that they’ve had drought for 6 years. The rainy season ends in March and so far they’ve had only 3mm.
Godfrey leads us around enormous boulders and through secret little passageways that you wouldn’t suspect were there. Brittle trees cling to life between the rocks. Then we see it. The Arch frames a section of brilliantly blue sky. When we make it to the top a few minutes later, we are rewarded for our scrambling with panoramic views of the exquisite mountains beyond. We pose for a frenzy of photography. Quite reluctantly, we pull ourselves away from the incredible views and climb back down to re-join our group.
Spitzkoppe is truly unlike anywhere we’ve ever been in Africa (or anywhere I’ve ever seen before) and the photos certainly don’t do this otherworldly place justice. We drive through the cleverly located campsites, this one with a natural cave, that one close to a rock pool. We are excited to see people camping with their dogs.
Many examples of Bushmen artwork can be seen painted on the rock in the Spitzkoppe area. The Spitzkoppe Mountains were also the filming location for 2001: A Space Odyssey in the “Dawn of Man” sequences. We visit ancient Bushman Paintings, most of which are faded beyond recognition, but Godfrey points out a few images of rhino, zebras, a giraffe and humans that are still distinguishable on the rock. Even a scorpion features. This rock was apparently used as a sort of message board for the bushmen to share information with one another on the animals that had been seen in the area, hunting techniques and the number of people in their tribe. Considering the intense cold at night in winter and the unrelenting sun in Spitzkoppe, it’s pretty remarkable to imagine that anyone would elect to live here, but it is fascinating to learn about those who do make the desert their home and learn to thrive in its seemingly inhospitable environment. Godfrey treats us to a demonstration of the local click language and its symbols. Our tongues and palates refuse to cooperate!
As sunset approaches, we are drawn to the changing light and shadows. Even traversing the same sections in the vehicle, I have to take several dozen photos again — the strangely Mars-like landscape is even more striking when bathed in the deep light of dusk and every single step provides a slightly different angle to the jagged mountains looming behind us. I’m blown away by the beauty of where we are right now, the vermillion colours.
We’ve seen hardly any people outside the cities in Namibia and here there are a few groups of people camping, some even have their dog with them. I’m particularly surprised to hear that it’s the world’s second least densely populated country (after Mongolia).
It’s getting dark and thankfully cooling off by the time we reach the lodge in time for dinner. We watch the sun set and the horizon glow, while we sip a glass of wine. The first stars show themselves. Dinner is just as delicious as usual. We chat to Lorraine, one of the managers. She is amazed that we are South African and suspects that we are the first from our country to visit here. All their guests come from Europe, USA and even South America. We are surprised that she is surprised. She offers that South Africans frequent the camp areas – “It’s because they like to braai.” 🤔
The image below is representative of why Spitzkoppe is so unique. In a fast-paced, crowded world, it’s a privilege to find a place where we can be alone and recentre ourselves. Quiet moments spent overlooking a beautiful landscape are vital to us as individuals and photographers. The camera helps to focus deeply and absorb the spectacular, peaceful and dramatic essence of our surroundings.
Maybe this is what spiritual really means.