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Amidst the red table-top mountains of Damaraland, a wealth of rock engravings are etched into the Etjo sandstone, powerful reminders of the hunter-gatherers of old who gathered near to the spring in the dry season and chiselled thousands of animals into the rock.

The Huab valley in northwestern Namibia, a place called /Uis-//aes – place among packed stones – by the San/Bushmen who inhabited the area, or Twyfelfontein – doubtful spring – by farmer David Levin in the late 1940s, contains these remnants of the past that endure in the hot, dry landscape under the clear blue Namibian sky, linking us to our forefathers and our ancient past.

Created through hundreds of millions of years of geological upheavals, the porous wind-laid or Aeolian rock eroded and fractured along natural fissures revealing flat smooth surfaces that provided ideal canvases for the ancient artists.

The Lion-Man, Twyfelfontein Photo: Gondwana Collection

Namibia’s dry climate preserved these ‘prayers to the gods’ that are between 2,000 and 6,000 years old. Once thought to be merely educational in nature, maps of water points or a record of events, it has become apparent over the years that they have an important ritual and religious significance. The medicine man or shaman is believed to have entered a trance to communicate with the spiritual world to ask for food, healing, rain, luck for the hunt and protection for the people. The animals repeatedly engraved in the rock represent these entreaties to the gods that were of vital importance for people living off the land: the giraffe for rain, the ostrich for food, the zebra – luck for the hunt and the rhino, possibly for protection.

The shaman is thought to have chosen rock faces that not only served as suitable canvases but may have been portals into the other world. The act of engraving itself could have been a means of focusing energy to enter into trance. The animals are represented with elongated limbs or necks, as seen in the renditions of the giraffes, or like the well-known lion-man and dancing kudu, contain human elements or are half-human half animal, revealing the merging of the physical and spiritual worlds.

The Lion-Man, Twyfelfontein Photo: Gondwana Collection

Unlike the newer Bushman/San paintings that mostly depict people involved in everyday events from dancing to hunting, the majority of the engravings focus on animals and were most probably executed by the San’s ancestors thousands of years earlier.

The Twyfelfontein engravings, recognised for their cultural importance, gained world heritage status in 2007, the Twyfelfontein area offering one of the greatest concentrations of rock art in southern Africa. In the valley, six hectares in size, over 2,000 engravings or petroglyphs have been identified. The dark patina of iron and manganese oxides referred to as ‘desert varnish’, allows us to determine the age of the engravings, the darker rock being the older work.

The rocky floor of the Twyfelfontein valley holds the older, more symbolic art – lines, holes and circles – while the animal engravings appear higher up, suggesting that the animals and spoor engravings took over the value of the lower symbolic engravings. A well-known rock slab revealing circles within circles – approximately 4,000 years old – looks remarkably like a representation of the solar system.

World Heritage, a magnet for visitors: The valley of Twyfelfontein with thousands of petroglyphs. Photo: Gondwana Collection

Walking through this harsh rocky world, the visitor’s perception shifts from art gallery to cathedral of prayer as he attempts to understand the nature of the work and the artists. Twyfelfontein continues to amaze and take us on a journey into the past as we imagine the herds of animals once attracted to its trickling spring and the people who passed through, leaving their engravings to bewilder and enrapture future generations.

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The second Klein-Aus Vista Mountain Bike Challenge will be held on 29 and 30 April 2012 at Klein-Aus Vista, the Gondwana lodge near Aus in south-western Namibia. Participants can choose to compete in a marathon of 110 km or a half-marathon of 60 km with 60 percent of the route consisting of single tracks. It follows that marathon riders have to cover 55 km per day, while a day’s stage for the half-marathon is 30 km. There are four water and marshal points along the route. The categories, for men and women, are Elite, Master and Junior.

Monday, 16 April 2012 is the final day to register for the Klein-Aus Vista Mountain Bike Challenge. The registration fee is N$ 175. 

Piet Swiegers

The demanding route leads through a unique landscape of granite mountains, rugged valleys and meandering dry riverbeds. Many spots along the way afford grand views of the Namib plains – for safety reasons participants will probably not be able to appreciate them, however… Sections of the route follow a historic path which the Schutztruppe used during the First World War for transporting water with mules and ox wagon to their entrenchments at the western foothills of the mountains. The fortifications on the mountain slopes can still be seen today.

Naturally the scenic beauty of Klein-Aus Vista can be explored by mountain bike at any time other than the weekend of the race as well. There is a choice of three routes: two long ones (30 to 40 km) and a short one (about 5 km). The longer trails are a real challenge, as they mostly consist of narrow single track paths through the scenery of bush and rocks.

Martin Freyer was the winner of the Junior category in the Klein-Aus Vista Mountain Bike Challenge 2011.

Guests need to bring their own mountain bikes. If you would like to rent a mountain bike for your roundtrip through Namibia you can contact Cycletec in Windhoek. The bikes easily fit into a car when their front wheel is detached.

For those who prefer to explore the fauna and flora of the Succulent Karoo on foot there are six different trails to choose from. They are well marked and take hikers through the wildly romantic scenery of the Aus Mountains.

Track profile of the Klein-Aus Vista Mountain Bike Challenge 2012.

Klein-Aus Vista also offers guided drives through Gondwana Sperrgebiet Rand Park for guests to familiarise themselves with the fascinating plant and animal world of the Succulent Karoo.

Links
Mountain Bike Trails at Klein-Aus Vista

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Situated 12 km west of Rundu, Hakusembe River Lodge makes for the perfect stopover on the way into Caprivi and to the Victoria Falls. The river scenery forms a delightful contrast to the bush savannah, semi-desert and desert in the rest of the country.

The 10 chalets (with air-conditioning) offer magnificent views of the river and the lush vegetation which teems with diverse birdlife. Our guests can enjoy the enchanting atmosphere during dinner in the restaurant and with a drink at the bar. The swimming pool invites to cool off on hot summer days. A campsite is also available.

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Since Gondwana took over the lodge on 1 December 2012 a new lodge manager has been appointed; the chalets and other facilities have been renovated. Staff underwent training to enhance their skills. Furthermore a new boat has been acquired for the river cruises. Here our guests have the opportunity to take a closer look at grunting hippos and sunbathing crocodiles – from a safe distance, needless to say…

A special treat for romantic stays is a floating chalet on the river, offering great views and spectacular sunrises and sunsets. Or join an excursion to the cultural village nearby.

The attractions of this region are the Popa Falls, the abundance of game in the river scenery of Caprivi and, naturally, the Victoria Falls.

More information about Hakusembe River Lodge  you will find on the Gondwana Collection Website.

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Once upon a time a giant snake dwelled in southern Namibia. Every so often it devoured the sheep and goats of the people and finally they decided to kill the snake. Armed with spears and accompanied by their dogs the men set out for the hunt. They encircled the snake, kept it at bay with torches, shot arrows at it and thrust spears into its body. Even though it was a giant snake it stood no chance against the superior numbers. In its death throes the snake tossed and turned, tearing deep furrows into the ground.

Nama legend about how the Fish River Canyon was formed. Source: mural in the Cañon Village

Nama legend about how the Fish River Canyon was formed. Source: mural in the Cañon Village

An old Nama legend explains in this vivid manner how the Fish River Canyon was formed. Geologists offer a more prosaic but no less fascinating explanation. It also involves an epic death struggle – though not of a snake but of a super-continent and it does not happen overnight but goes on for hundreds of millions of years…

Once upon a time in the area of today’s canyon there were deep fissures in the earth’s crust. Some 350 million years ago part of the surface caved in along those fissures and a rift valley, about 20 km wide, emerged. The Fish River chose the rift for its bed. Due to the low gradient the river meandered through the valley in wide loops – also called a meander belt.

The ancient southern super-continent of Gondwana disintegrated some 120 million years ago. South America and Africa drifted apart. The rims of the African fragment rose – Namibia’s interior is a high plateau even today – and with it the drop to the sea level. Starting from its mouth, the Gariep (Orange) River dug deeper into the earth and the Fish River, its tributary, followed suit on the high plateau in southern Namibia. Thus its shallow meander belt turned into the Fish River’s winding system of gorges.

Fish River Canyon, (5 Cent), issued in 1981

Fish River Canyon, (5 Cent), issued in 1981

Standing at one of the viewing points on the edge of the canyon you are able to visually relate to the geological explanation. You are on the shoulder of the rift, looking onto a plain below – the floor of the rift valley. The plain is also termed the ‘upper canyon’ and the meandering gorges that have been cut into it are the ‘lower canyon’.

In total the Fish River Canyon is about 160 km long, up to 27 km wide and 500 m deep. It is seen as the second largest canyon on earth – after the Grand Canyon in the US. Hot springs are found in some places on the canyon floor: at Sulphur Springs, several kilometres south of the main viewing point, for example, or at the Ai Ais spa.

The canyon is situated in the Nama Karoo on the western fringe of the summer rain area. Rainfalls are unreliable and limited to small areas at a time. The annual average is around 80 to 100 mm. Thus the gorges of the Fish River and its tributaries have served local inhabitants as lifelines for hundreds of years. Rock engravings testify to the presence of people in ancient times. In the 19th century missionaries wrote about groups of Nama living there. From 1890 onwards the Nama were displaced first by German settlers and later by South Africans. Now they live in places like Warmbad, Keetmanshoop and Bethanien. Efforts to protect the canyon started relatively late, if compared to Etosha National Park in the north, for example. The canyon was proclaimed a national monument only in 1962 and a nature reserve in 1968.

'Hell’s Bend' in the Fish River Canyon at the main viewing point. Photo: Gondwana Collection

'Hell’s Bend' in the Fish River Canyon at the main viewing point. Photo: Gondwana Collection

Looking at the canyon landscape it is hard to believe that is was – and still is – utilized for livestock farming. Many farmers, however, were forced to give up due to overgrazing and a prolonged drought. As a result a private nature reserve, Gondwana Cañon Park, was established on the north-eastern boundary of the national Ai Ais Richtersfeld Transfrontier Park.

The famous 80 km canyon hike from Hiker’s Point to Ai Ais (5 to 6 days) is part of the national park. In Gondwana Cañon Park hiking tours with or without mules are offered in the wilderness of the canyon landscape some 40 km north of Hiker’s Point.

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