Imagine a place so remote that you do not see another human being for days. Imagine a trail through desolate valleys, over mountains and across large flat plains of sand, rocks and tufts of dry grass. The Naukluft Hiking Trail in Namibia takes you through such a place.
It all starts at an old house perched on top of a small hill in what is known as the Namib-Naukluft Park in South Western Namibia. Hikers Haven is the base camp of this incredible trail. Here one can enjoy one last beer, grilled steak and warm shower. There after follow 8 days of carrying a heavy backpack through some of the most beautiful and desolate areas Namibia has to offer.
Normally one needs to get up at about 5 in the morning to be able to hit the trail by 7. Day one is no exception, and covers a distance of 14km. There is a lovely lookout point at “Panorama” as one starts rising up into the mountains a few kilometers into the hike. Spend some time here and enjoy the view of the plain below.
From here the trail steadily rises higher up into the Naukluft Mountains. A good spot for lunch is “Fontein Kloof”. There are some large trees for shade and the spring usually flows.
As with most of the overnight shelters on this trail, the shelter at “Putte” for tonight is merely a square stone structure with a wall about 1.2m high, over which a tin roof is supported by some steal pipes. The floor is gravel. Approximately 150m from the shelter is a borehole with a big flywheel that needs to be turned for water.
Day two is 15km in length and takes one into the famous Ubusis Kloof or ravine. The descent into the ravine is accomplished with the aid of a number of chains, some of which are up to 30m in length and act as aids down the cliff faces. As one descends further down, a geological time capsule is exposed in the layers of rock to ones sides. The scenery is quite breathtaking.
Ubusis hut is the only “normal” accommodation on this trail. This hut used to be a small vacation home many years ago when the area still consisted of farms. Water is supplied by means of a wind pump and borehole.
Day three takes one back out of Ubusis Kloof the way one went down the day before. At the top, once one reaches Bergpos, the trail turns due north across Kudu Plains. This day is only 12km long and is considered the easiest of all the days.
At the end of the Kudu Plains lies the Adlerhorst overnight shelter, which can be reached by the early afternoon. This leaves plenty of time to admire the scenery and relax a bit. Water is again supplied via a borehole with a handle on top of the pipe.
When we got there, the opening of the borehole pipe was covered in hundreds of bees desperately waiting for someone to turn the handle and pump some water out for them. Nobody got stung even once. It seems as if they realized that the humans coming to this place were their only hope of getting some water.
The fourth day tends to be a bit tricky, and is quite long at 17km. The tricky part comes when one has to descend a waterfall in a dried out river bed with the help of a long chain. The angle of the rocks makes this a difficult descent.
Further on there is another steep descent down the side of a mountain of loose slate. In the past this has been the cause of injuries to hikers slipping on the slate.
The Tsams-Ost overnight shelter contains a large water tank on a perch that is supplied with water from a borehole and wind pump. It is possible to have a cold shower standing underneath the tank.
The next day, day five, starts off with a stiff climb up the mountain behind the Tsams-Ost overnight shelter, and covers another 17km.
Some hours later one reaches Melkbos Plain. This plain involves many kilometers of marching along sandy tracks and through dried out river beds. It is here that one is most likely to see herds of antelope such as Eland or Kudu grazing on the sparse grass and vegetation.
The Die Valle overnight shelter is surrounded on three sides by mountains, and the sun tends to set rather early behind these mountains. Water is left here in a small water tanker which may not contain much water especially at the end of the hiking season, so washing is very limited on this day.
Day six tends to be the longest and most difficult of the whole trail. Even though it is only 16km long, one spends most of the day going up.
Immediately after leaving the Die Valle overnight shelter, there is a 200m vertical climb to the top of a waterfall. There after one follows a gorge and stream that feeds this waterfall for most of the day, climbing ever upwards.
It is along this gorge that one comes across some interesting geological formations called Tufa. Tufa is a sedimentary rock containing a lot of carbonates that are deposited by means of water. It often forms at waterfalls or streams. Here in this gorge, the Tufa looks like a gigantic solidified waterfall. Higher up one comes across a huge fig tree whose roots run all along a small cliff face.
Once on top of the gorge, there is a small flat plateau to cross before starting the long descent along an old jeep track to the Tufa overnight shelter. Be careful at the bottom of the track as the shelter is almost hidden amongst some bushes to the left. Water is again supplied in the form of a borehole next to a dried out stream bed about 150m from the shelter.
Day seven covers 14km and takes one to the highest, and usually the coldest point of the hike at Kapokvlakte.
From the Tufa overnight shelter, the trail crosses some very large boulders as it heads in the direction of the mountains again. At the base of the mountains that eventually lead up to Kapokvlakte, there are some chains to help one up some of the more difficult cliff faces.
Once at the top, the trail follows a steadily rising dried out stream bed until it reaches the top at World’s View. The name is very appropriate, as one can see for many kilometers into the distance. It’s a good place to stop for awhile and admire the view across the plains below, and to the mountains on the other side. From here the terrain is fairly flat and the going easy.
The Kapokvlakte overnight shelter is usually reached by early afternoon. The shelter is hidden behind a clump of bushes which are virtually the only larger vegetation in the area. The rest of the plateau is covered in short grass and the occasional small bush. Kapokvlakte can get very cold at night, and the use of a down feather sleeping bag is a must here.
The last day has finally arrived. By now everyone is dreaming of fat steaks and beer, but there is still a 16km slog ahead. A few kilometers across the top of the plateau, and the trail makes its long descent along a winding gorge down to Hikers Haven.
As the day gets warmer one can hear more and more insects and other small creatures in this lonely gorge. Be careful of picking up rocks. Very often there are scorpions hiding underneath them.
As one gets lower down the trail, there are small pools with large trees on the sides which make for good resting spots. A few hundred meters from Hikers Haven, there is a camp site. Here one may come across the first other humans again after having spent so many days in the wilderness. By now you may also spot the roof of the old house at Hikers Haven. Just a few hundred meters more and one is back. What a time it had been!
Now one can finally get a hot shower again! For those that brought vacuum packed meat and managed to keep it cool in their cars over this period, there will be a feast tonight!