When the fog arising from the cold coastline creeps inward, but is countered by the wind forcing it back, it results in a delightful play of colours at sunset. The artist of this painting seems to have been too liberal with the water on the tip of his paintbrush – the only place where there is too much of this precious commodity in an arid region. However, with every new stroke, the colours change and harmoniously flow into each other to create a different kind of magic. The outline of the mountain disappears, as it has artistically been blended with the sky above and the landscape below, resulting in a masterpiece in its own right.

©Annelien Murray

Even more fascinating, this fog sustains the creatures, critters and plant life in the area. Welcome to the Gondwana Sperrgebiet Rand Park, bordering the Tsau//Khaeb (Sperrgebiet) National Park that is well known for its diamond-filled frenzies of the past. It is exactly this historic snippet that led it to be closed to the public since 1908. One of its lesser known traits is its richness in flora and fauna. Since Sperrgebiet Rand translates to “the restricted zone’s edge”, it means that this park of 510 square kilometres shares a lot of similar features with its neighbour.

©Annelien Murray

Firstly, it boasts the most biodiverse desert on earth with its granite mountains, dry riverbeds and boundless plains, as well as the Nama Karoo on its eastern border, and the Namib Desert towards the northern border. The ecosystem itself is called the Succulent Karoo, which has been classified as one of the world’s 25 biodiversity hotspots. Why is this significant? The Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF) selects some of our planet’s most biologically diverse yet threatened regions. After identifying this region – the Succulent Karoo that stretches into South Africa – as a biodiversity hotspot amongst 25 worldwide, the organisation developed a 20-year conservation and development strategy for the region that started in 2003.

©Annelien Murray

According to CEPF, the vegetation of the Succulent Karoo remains relatively intact compared to other hotspots. Amongst its exceptionally diverse and unique flora, 40% of the species are endemic. However, climate change is expected to have a serious impact on the biodiversity in the years to come.

What to do

Freedom seekers, mountain bikers, hikers, campers, nature lovers and those who simply need a break, all seek refuge in this stunning location. When it comes to hiking and mountain biking trails, Klein-Aus Vista has got you covered. There is a choice of three routes: two long ones (30 to 40 kilometres) and a short one (about 5 kilometres). The longer trails are nothing short of challenging, as they mostly consist of narrow single-track paths through the splendid scenery that draws so many people from around the world. You might even catch a glimpse of the old train that comes by twice a day.

Make sure you stop along the way to smell the flowers. For this, you might have to slow down, since they are not always conspicuous due to their size, but they are there! I was amazed by a tiny purple flower growing in the middle of a rocky terrain without any other vegetation. Despite being battered by the wind and scorched by the sun, it was seemingly thriving. While I was looking down, my travel companion teasingly asked, “Did you find any diamonds?” Why would I be looking for diamonds if I found a much more valuable treasure? I knew then that my favourite flowers are those that grow in unexpected places.

©Klein-Aus Vista

© Klein-Aus Vista

Klein-Aus Vista is located outside Aus, where one of the world’s last wild horse populations roam. They have become such a major attraction that a viewpoint has been constructed at Garub waterhole to make visitor excursions as enjoyable as possible. It is situated near Lüderitz with its world-renowned ocean-fresh oysters and other seafood delicacies. The ghost town of Kolmanskop gives travellers a glimpse into the past where the frantic digging for diamonds began … and soon ended.

©Annelien Murray

Where to stay

  • The camping terrain is very popular and offers complete immersion in nature.
  • Geisterschlucht Cabin offers a simple yet exclusive hideaway and is ideally suited for families or groups of friends.
  • You might want to remember your cowboy hat because you will certainly feel the Wild West ambiance when walking into the Desert Horse Inn. The entire design is centred around the wild horses.
  • The rustic Eagle’s Nest Chalets, suited for self-catering, await those who yearn for solitude.

©Annelien Murray

©Frederik Schindler

©Annelien Murray

All visitors can enjoy a delicious meal at the “Desert Kitchen” restaurant. Nothing seems “deserty” about it. I mean, Namibia meets Italy with an hors d’oeuvre of home-made mieliepap ravioli with spinach filling and butternut sauce. For the main course, how about an oryx sirloin steak with Namibian Kiss red wine reduction served with sweet basil carrots and couscous? And the cherry on the cake is the “Diamonds & Dust” dessert that is a serving of home-made egg-free ice cream with mieliemeal (Namibian corn meal) crumble. The menu changes every night, so picking your next flavourful dish is only the start of an enticing culinary journey.

I know of a place where a tamed heart can gallop through an untamed wilderness, soar with the wind through the vast landscapes, be amazed by what nature can produce in such an arid region, and ultimately rediscover freedom.

First published in the June 2020 Edition of Michelangelo magazine.