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The Damara are thought to be the country’s original inhabitants, along with the Nama and Bushmen. They supported the German colonial forces at Waterberg and for their loyalty were awarded a large piece of land for their ‘homeland’, which has now become the province of Damaraland. Adjacent to the Skeleton Coast, the area is primarily used for agriculture now, although in the past they were traditionally copper traders, smelters, stock farmers, tobacco growers and miners.
Half of the Kaokoveld is located in Damaraland; this is one of Africa’s last wildernesses, and is a rugged landscape that stretches from the coastal desert plain to rocky mountains which have trees clinging to the side and a thriving population of the rare black rhino. The other half of the Kaokoveld can be found in Kaokoland.
Damaraland itself is split into two regions; the southern and northern areas.
Southern Damaraland is easy to explore on a self-drive basis, and highlights are the mountains of Spitzkoppe and Brandberg, the Petrified Forest, rock formations and a huge amount of Bushman rock art.
Spitzkoppe is part of a small cluster of mountains that rise from the gravel desert, and it looks over the plains from 600 m above them. The mountain is virtually impossible to climb due to the harsh weather conditions on the slopes of the mountain, but the lower slopes are interesting to hike on and there is a valley known as Bushman’s Paradise which is accessible via a steel cable. The rock paintings under the overhang have been vandalised, but some remain and the valley is worth a visit. The rock pools that form on the sides of the mountain are ideal for looking for shrimp and invertebrates which have adapted to the weather conditions by laying drought-resistant eggs.
The country’s highest mountain is the Brandberg, and at 2,573 m high it dominates the desert plains surrounding it completely. The mountains preserve one of the richest galleries of rock art in the world, and these are anything from 1000 to 6000 years old. The most famous of these is the White Lady, and luckily this is also one of the most accessible. Climbing in the mountains is challenging, but attractive to those of the climbing persuasion, and worth it for those who like to test themselves. To see the mountain from the air, sunrise hot air balloon flights are available, and are a spectacular way to enjoy the mountains from above.
The nearby town of Uis was once known as Uis Mine, and when the mine closed the population shrank drastically. Now, however, it is starting to thrive again, with tourism at the centre of this revival. There are display panels in the tourist information centre about the mine and local rock art, and the mines are also important. Guided tours to the top of the mines for sundowners make for interesting viewing, with the water providing an attractive backdrop to the beautiful colours in the sky.
The White Lady Hotel in Uis is a perfect lunch stopover en route from Cape Cross on the Skeleton Coast to Twyfelfontein in Damarland.
The Petrified Forest is a forest in which a number of petrified trees lie on a bed of sandstone, some partially buried, others completely exposed due to erosion. These are though to be logs carried down an ancient river and deposited on a sandbank which became petrified as the wood was replaced by silica.
Northern Damaraland has four areas which have been set aside for tourism, and human activity is limited in these areas; Palmwag, Etendeka, Damaraland Camp and Hobatere Lodge. To fully appreciate them, they need more than a day of exploration.
The best way to enter the province is along the coast; the gravel plains which can be seen on the Skeleton Coast lead to Damaraland and begin to rise until it reaches the edge of one of the largest sheets of ancient lava existing today. Dominating the scenery, the sheets are a characteristic red-brown-purplish colour. With low rainfall there is only a sparse covering of vegetation, mainly in the form of various grasses and Euphorbia damarana bushes which are poisonous to all animals but kudu and black rhino.
As you continue east the vegetation becomes lusher, and animals such as steenbok, baboon, kudu, porcupine, zebra, giraffe and springbok are commonly spotted. Less common are giraffe and elephant which have adapted to the harsh desert conditions. Of all the animals that live here throughout the year, the black rhino is the one seen least often; this is mainly due to the endangered status of the animal, and also due to the fact that they sleep under shady bushes throughout most of the day. Predators found here include leopard, cheetah and lion, and the birdlife is extremely interesting with several of the Kaokoveld’s ten endemic species of birds in the area. Black eagles can be seen in the skies as well, although they are not endemic to the area.
On the border of the Skeleton Coast the Palmwag Concession contains a fragile ecosystem, and with a day permit can be explored; this is a rough terrain and guided game drives are the best way to see the animals living here.
North of this concession is a small settlement called Warmquelle which was once an irrigation project in which an aqueduct was erected; this is now evident in ruins, and the settlement which is still in the area is quite small.
The northern edge of Damaraland is marked by Sesfontein, which was named after the six springs which surface nearby. The town is set between mountains in the Hoanib Valley, and is extremely photogenic. The most dominating vegetation here is umbrella thorns, mopane trees and fan palms. This was once an important military outpost, and a fort that was used during World War I is still standing; it has now been converted into a beautiful lodge with extensive gardens that were originally to provide the army with food. This is a very relaxed town and is the perfect place to come to witness the country’s ‘real’ town-life.