On the road: along the Canyon-Diamond Route - News - Gondwana Collection

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On the road: along the Canyon-Diamond Route

Avatar of inke inke - 15. June 2018 - Tourism, Gondwana Collection

On the road in south-western Namibia.

Ron Swilling

Sparkling stones, wild horses, sweeping desert vistas and old diamond-mining towns epitomise this section of Namibia . . . 

There’s mystery and intrigue to be had in Namibia’s south-western corner where diamonds were once so numerous that they were said to sparkle by the light of the moon. And, where champagne was cheaper than water. But, that doesn’t mean that you have to rush to get there. No siree. The canyon first needs its due respect.

This rugged and ancient smile in the earth is an awe-inspiring and auspicious spot on a Namibian journey to stop and take a long look at millions-of-years of Earth history. When human beings were not even a whisper on the wind, the sandy realm was up to all kinds of clever tricks, like compacting into rock, heating up, being carried by ancient rivers and eroding - all at the very slow place of eternity. 

Fish River Canyon

Standing on the edge of the world looking down to the meandering route of the Fish River, I am out of my depth perception-wise. No-one prepares us for such magnitude or magnificence, and it pushes us out of our normal boundaries of existence. When I recover from my knock from the ancient earth saying ‘hi, newcomer’, I take the slow drive to explore the viewpoints. I can feel the presence of something much larger than myself and am humbled in my role as a human speck on the planet. A very happy human speck nonetheless.

The happy speck is delighted to walk up the koppie at Canyon Lodge before a leisurely breakfast to watch the sun rise over the Gondwana Canyon Park, and to swim in the pool overlooking the landscape as the sun sets. During the day, I gulp down great dollops of charm and eat my fill of character, taking a walk in the rocky hills above Canyon Village and sampling fare at Canyon Roadhouse, where the automobiles of old have been assembled with so much love, humour and fun it puts a light-hearted spin to my trip and a spring in my step.

Canyon Lodge

Eventually, I’m back on the road heading south towards the Orange River that demarcates the borders of South Africa and Namibia. There are many gems to be discovered on Gondwana’s Canyon-Diamond route that skirts the Orange River, circling up towards Aus and Lüderitz. An old 1960s truck stops me on the dusty road. It seems fitting that it lies in the middle of nowhere-in-particular, just being and rusting slowly in this unusual frontier land. I walk around it, look in, ask what in canyon’s dust it’s doing out there. It responds with a creaky spin of its ancient fan, an eerie sound in an otherwise empty and silent land that follows me back to my car.

Back on track, I can’t resist a turn down Ai-Ais’s corrugated entrance for a ceremonial dip in the large swimming pool, naturally warm with spring water that bubbles out from a fault in the earth. And, after a picnic lunch under a tree, I return to the road and sandy never-ending landscape until the verdant strip of vegetation around the Orange River jolts me out of my desert reverie. It’s a slow journey along the river that peeps out here and there between the reeds and rocks, sometimes disappearing entirely. After a hundred kilometres I am back on tar, making my way past Rosh Pinah to Aus, and a few kilometres further to Klein-Aus Vista, my home away from home. Although that seems like a term lodges coined for their guests, I always feel completely comfortable putting up my small tent under the camelthorn trees in the small campground as social weavers tweet and fly around me. I know I am in wild horse country at this lodge imbued with the wild and wonderful spirit of the horses.

Klein-Aus Vista

At first light, I take the short drive to the Garub viewpoint through the spectacular scenery where Pro-Namib meets desert in bands of earthy colours. It’s a cool, silent and crisp morning in the hide and there’s not a horse in sight. I fetch my small gas cooker from the car and boil some water for a cup of coffee. I’m sipping merrily, feeling the warm liquid flow through me when I notice something in the distance. At the same time, the golden morning sun appears on cue, anointing the horses’ manes as they make their way towards the waterhole, moving faster and faster, dust exploding at their feet, until they are galloping in with an eagerness and mounting excitement that is tangible. The morning has never seemed as holy. The century-old population has surfed the wave of droughts that continually ravage the desert land, their numbers tempered by the harsh seasons and nature’s way. They have been my first glimpse of undomesticated horses that have formed cohesive family groups over time with all the dynamics and fluidity of animals in the wild, and they make my heart dance a joyful jig to witness their wild beauty and boundless freedom.

Wild Horses of the Namib

I watch group after group come in to drink, appearing as dots on the horizon and becoming clearer as they move in. When the sun rises and the day becomes uncomfortably warm, a rumbling stomach tells me that it’s time to make my way back to Klein Aus Vista for breakfast. I leave the lodge’s series of walks through the hills for the next day and drive into the desert towards Lüderitz. The sleepy town woke up with a start when a diamond was discovered by a railway worker in 1908, followed by a diamond rush that saw diamond towns pop up in the desert like grass shoots after the rain. The wind and sand didn’t act as a deterrent, neither did the lack of water, which had to be shipped from the Cape.

Walking around the abandoned diamond mining town of Kolmanskop, I try and imagine the high standard of living that was once enjoyed here, where ice was delivered daily to every household in the small settlement that housed a small hospital, recreation hall, butchery, shop and skittle ally. Kolmanskop is a photographer’s dream, and I seek out shadows and peeling wallpaper in the dilapidated houses that hold a loveliness of their own as the desert reclaims its territory.

Kolmanskop

Exploration follows in Lüderitz, with a drive to Diaz Point, where the intrepid Portuguese explorer erected a cross in 1488. Later in the town, I sample oysters at the Diaz Coffee Shop, visit the old Felsenkirche, take a boat trip and marvel over life in the gnarled and rocky hands of the desert.

Klein Aus Vista provides a good base for another day, until the road to Keetmanshoop calls. As with every good and hearty journey, this doesn’t just mean just travelling the distance, but pausing along the way and savouring the trip. Alte Kalköfen, marked with an old lime kiln at its entrance, is a good place for lunch and a walk around its lithoparium, the only place in Namibia that is licensed to propagate lithops, the hardy ‘stone plants’ with their delicate blooms. And, at Seeheim, I make a stop at the hotel with its mounted animal life for another dose of Namibian character. I once again feel myself being taken back in time to imagine what is was like a century ago when the bustling railway settlement even sported its own very popular brothel.

It’s all history now, a delicious taste of intrigue from the past. It’s part of the exciting and ever-fascinating routes through Namibia, where history shakes hands with spectacular scenery and other-worldly landscapes to provide a journey of a lifetime.

Lüderitzbucht
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