Hardap Dam Recreational Resort
Entry: N$20 per adult per day, N$2 per child per day, and N$20 per car.
About 250km from Windhoek, and less than 25km from Mariental, lies the Hardap Dam, creating Namibia's largest man-made lake. This dams the upper reaches of the Fish River to provide water for Mariental and various irrigation projects. It is surrounded by a small reserve, complete with restcamp.
Hardap has clear signposts from the main B1, about 10km north of Mariental. The entrance gate is 6km from the road, and then the office is a further 3km. There is no public transport here, though in the high season hitchhiking in and out of the restcamp from the B1 turn-off should prove straightforward.
The origin of Hardap's name is uncertain. It is probably derived from a Nama name for a big pool that was flooded by the dam, though the word also means nipple (or possibly wart) in the Nama language – and one of the rounded hills around the dam is said to resemble a female breast.
The dam wall is 39.2m high and 865m long and was completed in 1963. It holds a maximum of about 300 million cubic metres of water, and covers around 25km2. Though it doesn't often fill, it will when the rains are exceptional. It filled to 97.7% of its capacity in early 1997, forcing the sluice gates to be opened at 09.00 on Wednesday 22 January – for the first time in 20 years. If they had remained shut, it would have flooded Mariental with the next rains. (This same 1997 season also saw Sossusvlei flooded for the first time in a decade.)
Flora and fauna
Hardap stands in the central highlands of Namibia, and its rolling hilly landscape is mostly covered in low-growing bushes and stunted trees. Its river-courses tend to be thickly vegetated, often having dense, taller stands of camelthorn and buffalo- thorn trees.
The most interesting birds to be seen here are often Cape species, at the northern edge of their range, like the cinnamon-breasted warbler, the Karoo eremomela, or the uncommon Sclater's lark. Others are Namibian species towards the southern edge of their ranges, like the delightful rosy-faced lovebirds.
Hardap's larger game includes Hartmann's mountain zebra, oryx, kudu, springbok, eland and red hartebeest. Cheetah used to occur, but they thrived and escaped on to neighbouring farms, so now they have been excluded. This is classic leopard country, hilly and thickly bushed – so these are the dominant predators, though they are seldom seen. There are no lion, elephant or buffalo.
A handful of black rhino were relocated to Hardap from Damaraland in 1990, and they have settled up towards the north of the park. They were introduced to the west side of the lake, but one has been reported as crossing the lake to settle into a territory on the eastern side.