Travel Namibia 27 Shell middens from the earliest inhabitants, trade beads and ceramic fragments lie scattered over the area Namib dunes that seeps into the wetland, and is bordered by a barrier beach that protects it from the crashing Atlantic Ocean. It is considered to be one of the most geomorphologically active areas along the entire Namib coast, changing and evolving continually, its sandbars and beaches shifting with storms and currents. Historically, Sandwich Harbour was a commercial fishing and trading port, attractive for its fresh water, and supporting various enterprises including whaling, fish processing and guano collection. Evidence of human habitation and enterprise still remains. Shell middens from the earliest inhabitants, trade beads, ceramic fragments and remnants of construction lie scattered over the area as the shifting sands and winds absorb human history into the vast Namib Desert. Today it is a jewel- box surrounded by ochre dunes. Green phragmite reeds poke their heads out of the sand amidst the tracks of black- backed jackal, and in the distance pink flamingo dot the water, adding brilliance to beauty. * Guided trips to Sandwich Harbour leave from Walvis Bay and Swokopmund. n3 Drift above the dunes Tessa Clements took a balloon ride while on honeymoon in the Namib Naukluft park. " Where's the seatbelt?" I nervously asked our pilot as I clambered into the basket. The thought of hanging mid- air with nothing but a few inches of wicker beneath my feet didn't fill me with much joy. However, take- off was surprisingly tranquil. And any fear soon lifted when I realised we were already nearly fifty feet above ground – I hadn't even noticed we were moving. In contrast to the earlier buzz of activity as everyone prepared the balloon, time seemed to stand still as we floated over wind- swept crests of sand. A quietness hung in the air, with only an occasional surge of flames piercing the silence like an irregular heartbeat. As we glided northwards, distant mountains punctuated the outskirts of the desert like a protective ring while miniature ostriches ran along the ground beneath us. The first rays of sunshine danced across the desert shorelines picking out the rich tapestry of deep red and orange dunes. When it was finally time to land, heavy hearts gave way to grumbling bellies at the anticipation of a champagne breakfast. Dining al fresco on zebra, kudu and croissants proved to be the perfect end to the morning.
28 Travel Namibia Essential Namibian5 Stop off for Solitaire strudel u The secluded settlement of Solitaire sits in the desert like a pot of gold at the rainbow's end. A town where life's pace is so slow even the tumbleweed, if there were any, would be prosecuted for speeding, writes Beccy Mair. Trucks that have rusted gracefully into desert sands mark your arrival to this atmospheric little stop- off in the middle of nowhere. Solitaire is on the C19/ C14 junction, just on the margins of the Namib Naukluft Park. It is en route to Sesriem from Windhoek and Swakopmund and consists of a fuel station, general dealers and Café Van Der Lee. Between them they offer roadside respite, refreshments, birdsong by the pool, books, traditional jewellery, souvenirs, toilets, a campsite and tyre repairs. And they are all run by Moose, a charismatic gent whose baking is famous throughout Namibia. Your vehicle's dust trail on the horizon is his signal to fill the kettle, put bread in the oven for made- to- order sandwiches and perk up the coffee maker. His monster portions of apple strudel are an unexpected taste- bud revelation in the heart and heat of Africa – thick pastry crusts loaded with generous layers of sticky sweet apple, crowned by a celebratory crumble crunch you'd be mad to miss. n6 Stargaze u The Namib Naulkluft is reputedly one of the best places in the world to study the night sky because it is rarely cloudy and there is so little pollution. Danny Rosen, resident astronomer at Sossusvlei Mountain Lodge, reveals what he can see from his observatory on a clear, moonless night. " Sossusvlei Mountain Lodge has taken steps to entirely shield all the lights at the lodge, so there is absolutely no light pollution. With the naked eye you can see the Small and Large Magellanic Clouds, separate galaxies outside and far away from our home Milky Way. And through a telescope I can almost take guests for a walk on the Moon, exploring its craters and mountains. The " oohs" and " ahhs" never cease upon a first glimpse of the rings of Saturn, or the cloud belts and moons of Jupiter. Last night with a family from Germany and a couple from Nigeria we looked at the Great Red Spot, a hurricane- like storm, three times the size of the Earth, raging in the clouds on Jupiter. We also watched the shadow of Europa, one of Jupiter's four big moons, move across the cloud tops of the planet - over six hundred million kilometers away. I then moved the telescope around for a look at Alpha Centauri, one of the two stars, known as The Pointers, which point to the Southern Cross. Like the Southern Cross, these cannot be seen in the UK. To the naked eye Alpha Centauri is one brilliant blue- white star, one of the brightest in the sky. In the telescope, it is clearly seen as a double – two stars gravitationally bound and orbiting each other. The sight of the Southern Cross and The Pointers is enough reason alone to come to Namibia." n4 Search for a thousand- year- old beast q Witness the oldest giant specimen of an ancient fossil plant found only in the Namib Desert, writes Philip Dickson. The giant welwitschia is reputed to be over 1000 years old and, legend has it, so dangerous, that it has been caged in its own high- security compound with a viewing platform provided for the brave and curious. Obtain a visitor's permit with a rather wonky and faded hand- drawn map from the tourist information office in Swakopmund for just under two pounds and take the winding gravel road into the desert. The tranquil wilderness soon becomes eerily silent and empty, apart from the occasional glimpse of a family of ostriches scurrying away at high speed, or a lonely gemsbok striding across a distant sand dune. The 100 km circular route winds through barren rocky moon landscape where swathes of lichen fields are scattered along and around the lush Swakop River valley. Numerous small flowering welwitschias cling precariously on to life in the bare open flats, and then the road suddenly ends where the giant plant lives. At first sight the giant welwitschia resembles a huge coiled beast at least 2m tall and 5m across, lurking rather menacingly behind the wire fencing. Could this be where a man- eating myth comes from? Discovered in 1859 by the Austrian botanist of the same name, the Welwitschia mirabilis survives harsh desert conditions by absorbing and storing moisture from the sea- fogs as they roll in from the Atlantic Ocean. It produces only two strap- like leaves in its long lifetime, which can grow to more than 7m long, coiling around the plant in a labyrinth, becoming frayed and tattered by the searing desert winds. BECCY MAIR daviddaviddavid godny