I was not expecting how awe-inspiring Namibia can be. We arranged a three week trip driving around Namibia in a Landrover with a tent on top (supplied a brilliant company Safari Drive) and I researched the photographic possibilities. The red dunes at Sossusvlei and Deadvlei are high on the list, as is Spitzkoppe, these are very impressive but the unexpected was the landscape in general in the North West of Namibia (see my gallery) and the people. I found a book on my last day that I wish I had read before going Landshapes – The Geomorphology of Namibia it has no pictures but lots of drawings and gives you an insight on what you might see and the geology behind it (unfortunately it is not easy to get in the UK). I was also slightly handicapped by the distances –Marrienfluss Valley, Namibia we covered 3,600km off-road in 17 days – and the pressure to get places meant I didn’t take the time I wanted both to wait for light or explore the angles away from the track. My next trip to Namibia I hope to find a more leisurely pace so that I can try to capture the landscape.


Briefly – the geomorphology of Namibia stems from the Huab era (900-2,600 million years ago), given the Earth was formed 4,600 million years, or so, ago some of the rock in the Northern part of Namibia is the oldest on the planet! From around 300 million years ago Gondwana was covered by glaciers (it was over the South Pole) and many glacial valleys can be seen in the Namibia landscape. Finally a lot of the geomorphology was formed from the separation of Gondwana into Africa and South America (132 million years ago). In fact many formations in the Etendeka Highlands have matching formations in Paraná in Brazil.

Etendeka Tablelands in Namibia

After the breakup of Gondwana the dominant effect has been erosion. Around 70-60 million years ago Africa was lifted about 1km and there was initial a surface covering of sedimentary rock. This sedimentary rock has in general been eroded, especially as Namibia has been arid for millions of years and has minimal vegetation. Subsequent deep basins are filled up with sand (from the eroded sedimentary rock) and this has flattened the topography. However there remain many isolated igneous intrusions which poke through due to ancient tectonic upheaval. These igneous intrusions along with visible plate tectonics, eroded basalt features are now the dominant features in the landscape.

Spitzkoppe Namibia

Rivers and Geomorphology

An interesting feature of Namibia is that water impact on the geomorphology is different than most landscapes. Back of Epupa Falls on Kunene River on the border of Angola andThe only perennial rivers in Namibia are shared with its neighbours; they are the Orange, Kunene, Okavango, Zambezi and Chobe. Each of these functions as a national frontier with limited irrigation potential. Most rivers are ephemeral in that they are mostly dry but run only for short periods following rainfall in distant mountains. Often the start of river flow is out of the blue and can come with a flood. Ephemeral River in NamibiaThe river will then run for 1-2 days. Although the ephemeral rivers of Namibia have dry sandy or rocky river beds for most of the year, they are conduits for subsurface flow and contain a number of wetlands defined as ‘shallow, swampy or marshy areas with little or no water flow’ or ‘waterlogged solid dominated by emergent vegetation’. These dry river beds are habitat for much of the plant and animal life in the desert regions.

Namib Desert

The Namib Desert is a major feature of Namibia, stretching 2,000 km along its Atlantic coast. The Namib’s aridity is caused by the descent of dry air of the Hadley Cell, cooled by the cold Benguela current along the coast. From the Atlantic coast eastward, the Namib gradually ascends in elevation, reaching up to 200 kilometres inland to the foot of the Great Escarpment. Annual precipitation ranges from 2 millimetres in the most arid regions to 200 millimetres at the escarpment, making the Namib the only true desert in southern Africa. Having endured arid or semi-arid conditions for roughly 55-80 million years, the Namib is also the oldest desert in the world.

Dunes in Sossusvlei Namibia

The desert geology consists of sand seas near the coast, while gravel plains and scattered mountain outcrops occur further inland. The sand dunes, some of which are 300 metres high and span 32 kilometres long, are the second largest in the world after the Badain Jaran Desert dunes in China.

So overall Namibia has large desert plains with amazing rocks surrounding the plains and large rock sticking through very Tolkienest! There is always a WOW around the corner or over the ridge.


Panorama of The Bridge at Spitzkoppe in Namibia

On the photography front I found the scale of the landscapes a challenge. Using a 21mm lens the large mountains in the background disappear. The foreground is limited to some amazing treesQuiver Tree Namibia, wind-rippled sand, dirt tracks and the occasional animal. I have just been given Joe Cornish book First Light for Christmas and wish I had read the section “On the rocks” the is a lot to rock formations and wish I had taken more telephoto views. Lightning at Twilight in Etendeka Tablelands NamibiaWe went in late Nov/Dec 2012, this is beginning of the rainy season and the thunder storms where fantastic – I’m going to take a lightening trigger on my next trip – although I managed a few amazing shots after sunset on repetitive shots at slow shutter. Finally, if you get a chance go in a balloon in Sossusvlei.

Mist at Sunrise from balloon in  Sossusvlei Namibia

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